17 July 2007

The best chocolate evah

Here in Chicago and, I believe, making their way across the US, is a chocolatier called Vosges--"Haut Chocolat." They have lovely chocolate. Lovely, expensive chocolate. The last time I bought a box--and it was for giving, no way would I purchase for myself--a box of 16 cost me $40. They were absolutely delicious--exotic, bizarre collections of flavors I would have never expected but were addictive once I tried them.

About a year ago, I was pointed in the direction (by a friend who owns the Hop Leaf bar here in Chicago) of a Madison, Wisconsin chocolatier by the name Gail Ambrosius. I hesitate to say that she's "just as good" because that seems to be discounting her chocolates in some way. Her chocolates are exotic, wonderfully fresh, delicious little chunks of heaven. But get this--24 chocolates for the same price I paid for 16. That's 8 more pieces of lovely, people. I strongly recommend that you check her out. Her chocolates are available at two locations in Chicago as well as all over Madison, and of course, she does mail order. I don't know how much they mark her chocolates up in Chicago--but heck, Madison's only a four hour drive away . . .

Yup, nothing about fruitcake here, and I'm really not a big chocolate person, but she's just really great.

06 July 2007

Review: Assumption Abbey Fruitcake

The latest fruitcake is from Assumption Abbey, located in Ava, Missouri. This abbey website has won me over with one of the best photos ever, of monks injecting cakes with alcohol. (The rest of the site is very nice, as well—I encourage you to go to their main page for a peaceful mini-retreat). There’s an interesting back story on how the abbey came to the fruitcake business. You can read parts on their website, but there’s also an interesting article here.

The two-pound cake cost $28, shipping included, and arrives in a pretty basic, unassuming tin. Nothing fancy here--the fruitcake I received was simply wrapped in food service plastic wrap, no fancy shrink wrap.

This is a dark, boozy cake, as all abbey fruitcakes seem to be (bless the Roman Catholic Church, which is not alcohol-averse). Fruits in this cake include raisins, pineapples, cherries, currants, citron, as well as orange and lemon peels. Nuts include both walnuts and pecans.

As for the rest of the ingredients, they’re pretty basic. Butter, eggs, all good stuff. The worst ingredients are corn syrup--not even high fructose--and fake vanilla. However, as I continue to review fruitcakes, I’m starting to wonder about the preserved fruits used. They tend to be full of scary-sounding preservatives, like sodium benzoate, sulfur dioxide, and sorbic acid.

Really, now, in days of yore, when they were first making fruitcakes, how did they preserve their fruits? Certainly not with sodium benzoate—I’d hazard a guess that it was not available in days of yore. I’m inspired, now, to review a fruitcake that uses dried rather than preserved fruit. Although most dried fruits have sulfur in them, maybe dried-fruit fruitcakes will have a few less icky preservatives. A dried-fruit type of cake may also convince those people who are frightened of shiny green and red fruit to come to the dark side and become fruitcake-lovers. The texture of the cake should be different, too.

But I digress.

The alcohols in this cake are wine and rum. The rum (which is what the good monks are injecting in the photo) gives the cake that good, boozy flavor, a bit lighter than bourbon. Both the flavor and texture of this cake are similar to the other abbey fruitcakes.

To conclude, then: this is a delicious abbey fruitcake. It seems like you can’t go wrong with an abbey fruitcake. They consistently deliver a quality, well-made cake that tastes great.

The Assumption Abbey Bakery is celebrating their 20th anniversary in the fruitcake business, and that’s reason enough for me to promote this fruitcake to the top of the list of abbey fruitcakes for this holiday season. And why not? Although Gethsemani is still my favorite, heck, it’s my blog.

So let’s keep ‘em in business another 20, eh? Here’s hoping for great fruitcake until 2027 and onwards.

UPDATE: Looks like no one other than Williams-Sonoma sells Assumption Abbey fruitcake. For $11 more. Don't gild W-S's pockets and make your own lighter--shop direct!!