- Monastery fruitcakes: fruitcakes made exclusively by Catholic religious orders (Trappists, Benedictines, etc). My personal favorite, these are usually made with a minimum of artificial ingredients and have a rich flavor due to lots of preserved fruit and alcohol in the batter. They also might use darker sweeteners like brown sugar.
- Southern-style fruitcakes: these almost never contain alcohol and focus a lot on nuts, like walnuts or pecans. They tend to be from bakeries in the US South, like Texas or Georgia. You might see just a few more shortcut ingredients like margarine, high fructose corn syrup, and preservatives, but not a lot. These often are almost candy-like, with batter being used primarily to hold all the ingredients together. As of this post, the number one spot is not filled in: that's because I have a new number one in this category, Mary of Puddin Hill, which I will review very soon. After I eat more of it.
- "Other" fruitcakes: Notice that the fruitcakes there are not numbered. That's because I'm not really comparing them to one another. These are one-offs, and I'd recommend them for people not that into fruitcake. They have slightly non-traditional flavorings or ingredients (like a bit of cinnamon in the Harry and David cake, and dried fruit in the Cavendish), which might make them a bit more accessible to those not into the more hardcore fruitcakes above. So far, I have two on the list, and I liked them both. I'll need to review another one like this soon.
- Mass-produced fruitcakes: Avoid all of these. OK, I'll say a bit more. I fear that these are the ones that give fruitcake a bad name. Most of these come very nicely packaged, with beautiful tins, etc. But these also have the worst ingredient lists: stocked full of high-fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, preservatives, turnips (no, really), and other unpleasantness. And it shows in their flavor: too sweet, strange textures, just really nasty. And remember, I like fruitcake.
So, there you go. I hope these lists makes things a bit more clear.
I certainly didn't know when I first began this folly that there were actually different types of fruitcake. Ah, how naive I was then--three years younger, and a few pounds thinner.
And to answer another common question: no, I'm never going to make my own fruitcake. Why should I, when so many other people already have?