22 November 2007

Thankful for Fruitcake

I've had a couple of comments asking about the specifics of the fruitcakes I review; that is, which one's the best? How does one compare to the other? How would you rank them, on a scale of one to four citron pieces?

I've specifically tried to keep my reviews generic for the simple reason that different people like different things in their fruitcake. As I've said from day one, my favorite fruitcake is the one from the Trappists at Gethsemani Farms. But I've gotten a lot of comments from people who are passionate about other types of fruitcake, such as the more Southern-style fruitcakes of Southern Supreme. Far be it from me to rain on anyone's fruitcake parade--I'm on your team, guys. So my intent here is to really describe what the fruitcake is like, so that you can decide if you want to give it a try. Of course if it's really crappy, I'll let you know, but a lot of them are pretty good, just maybe not my favorite.

That being said, I do have a review and rating list over on the side there. Since I started reviewing fruitcakes, I've found that you CAN lump them into general categories, and I've tried to do that with my labels, also posted over on the side. If I get ambitious I might break down further my reviews and ratings by type. In the mean time, let this post serve to explain how I really feel about the fruitcakes I've eaten.

I like monastery fruitcake. I have not tasted one monastery fruitcake that I didn't like. They consistently excel in the quality of their ingredients and their rich, dark, boozy taste. They also seem very competitively priced, particularly if you buy directly from them as opposed to through a reseller (like Williams-Sonoma or Chefshop.com). You'll notice on my ratings scale that all of the monastery fruitcakes have bubbled up to the top. If I received any of these as a gift I would be a very happy camper (that is, if I hadn't already eaten my share of them back in April).

As I look at the ratings list, I see that a lot of the Southern-style fruitcakes are in the middle of the list. If all monasteries were raptured up (hmmm . . . would that happen?), the Southern-style fruitcakes are a good bet. These tend to be more candy-like, sweeter, and non-alcoholic, with a lot of nuts. They have pretty good ingredients, with maybe a bit more corn syrup or margarine in the mix. I miss the booziness of them (somebody help me with another adjective other than boozy, please!), but if you don't like that, these are the type for you.

The fruitcakes to avoid like the plague (and, I fear, the ones that people are most familiar with) are the mass-produced fruitcakes: the bottom of the rating scale. These are the Twinkies of the fruitcake world, except even Twinkies have redemptive qualities (sponginess, bizarre creamy filling) that these fruitcakes, already a scorned dessert, do not. Do not buy these and caution others to stay away.

Then there are the one-offs, or maybe I should call them "gateway" cakes: Harry and David, and Old Cavendish. Harry and David is a mass-produced fruitcake that actually tastes good. And Old Cavendish uses dried rather than preserved fruits, which results in a fresher, more quick-bread type flavor, although make no mistake, it's still all fruitcake. Both of these have slightly non-traditional, more approachable flavors than some of the others. Use these to lead your fruitcake-hating acquaintances into the fold. Pretty soon they'll be chowing down monastery fruitcake with the best of them.

18 November 2007

Review: Our Lady of Guadalupe Monastery Fruitcake

There is nothing wrong with this fruitcake.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey is in Lafayette, Oregon. I paid $33.17 to receive 2 one-pound fruitcakes--but that included about $10 in postage. This was back about a month, and now when I see their site, I don't even see the option to purchase the one pound fruitcake. Instead, they have a three pound loaf, which comes in a "handsome container," something I missed. They must change their offering seasonally--this being gladsome fruitcake season and all.

The one-pound fruitcakes are really adorable:

Maybe a little perspective is needed here. Here's the box next to the horrible Hickory Farms fruitcake tin:

They're really tiny but would be perfect for giving. I imagine this is an easier size for the abbey to handle during non-fruitcake season, as well.

So here's the cake itself:

You'll have to excuse the shrink wrap on there; I had already cut into the other one-pound cake and didn't want to have two going at once. Isn't that a cute little size?

The ingredients panel on the box has to be one of the most intimidating and truthful lists ever. I felt like I was reading the small print on a contract, what with the parentheses and brackets- inside-of-parentheses. Every single ingredient, whether it be in the cake, the preserved fruits, or the enriched flour, is there for all to see. This is a full-disclosure list of ingredients. That being said, I didn't find anything too horrible besides the expected chemicals in the preserved fruit, margarine instead of butter, and artificial butter flavor to make up for it. The list also included a delightful little ingredient named "Sheri-rumco Flavor." I'm guessing this gives a . . . hmmmm . . . sherry- or rum-like flavor? In any case, I could find no evidence of this ingredient or the manufacturer of it anywhere, on all of the Internets. Go ahead, Google it. I'll wait.

Didn't find anything, did you? All right, all right, maybe you did, but not much, eh? Well, anyway, it's in this cake, along with brandy, which taken altogether give a pretty good, boozy flavor - not overly so, not underly so, just about right.

This isn't a cake for people who don't like chunks. The batter in this fruitcake serves as binder for good-sized chunks of pineapple, cherries, raisins, walnuts, and pecans. With honey and the aforementioned alcohols and alcohol flavors, one ends up with a really nice, balanced, good-tasting monastery fruitcake. I've been contentedly munching my way through a pound of it for the past couple weeks, and enjoying every slice.

I really like the small one-pound boxes. Although these may not be available year-round, for those of you who want to give just a small amount of fruitcake as a gift or hostess present(unappreciated you will be if you choose to foist a full-size fruitcake on the unappreciative masses), you may want to consider these cute little numbers.

UPDATE: Commenter JP (thanks) has also waxed poetic about this fruitcake, and pointed out that one-pounders are still available (and individually, as well) at chefshop.com. Chefshop also has a story up about the monastery.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Yep, the monks have sold out of their fruitcakes. So as JP indicated, the best place to get them is chefshop.com.

AND ANOTHER: I think we bought 'em all, folks. Looks like chefshop.com is out as well.Check the comments for any updates.

09 November 2007

Stranger than Fruitcake

I've been getting A LOT of food catalogs. Go figure, huh? All those companies from whom I've ordered fruitcake have now got me on their lists--I've gotten at least five fruitcake catalogs. But I've started to receive other food catalogs as well--rather interesting, because I always like looking at food. Oranges, King Arthur flour, etc. But the strangest one yet is the Wolferman's catalog. Maybe this is a thing in Kansas City, where they say they got their start, but I'd never heard of them. Ready? English muffin gift baskets.

They have a bit of a history--I guess the Wolferman English muffin is slightly larger than a regular one. They also make a few other carbs, like tea breads and coffee cakes.

I've never, ever heard of this before, but actually, sounds like it'd be a great thing. I think I'd be quite happy to receive a pile of breakfast carbs.