20 December 2009
16 December 2009
12 December 2009
Well, what the heck, I review fruitcakes, let's take a look at the one that's just laying there, waiting to be purchased, right? This fruitcake, 16 ounces of it, cost me $4.99, plus I think I got some extra savings on it through the grocery store. Obviously, no shipping.
When I googled "Village Fair fruitcake," I was pointed directly to the website of Benson's Bakery, which makes me happy, as this was one of the fruitcakes I had on my list to review. Although this is a southern bakery (hailing from Bogart, Georgia), the quality of this cake places it decidedly into the Mass-Produced category.
Here's a photo of the fruitcake itself, in all of its pre-cut glory:
The fruits and nuts include golden raisins, cherries, orange peel, pineapple, and (interestingly) dehydrated papaya, and the nuts include pecan and walnut pieces. All of this is cradled, however, in a batter filled with ingredients typical of a mass-produced product: corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, and preservatives.
The flavor and texture is nothing fabulous. The batter is more like a pound cake batter than other cakes I've tried. The fruits and nuts are cut fairly small, to match the smallness of the cake, but it's a bit dry. Also, I think it's the dried papaya that adds an almost a gristly texture to the cake.
So, once again, this is a cake that makes me understand why so many people dislike fruitcake. As for where it should go on the rating scale . . . hmmm, I'll put it between Turnip 1 and 2 because of the interesting collection of fruit and absence of vegetables.
04 December 2009
27 November 2009
Here's a photo of the fruitcake (you know how I am with photos, I apologize for the ugliness of it; still, in my defense, this is not the most beautiful fruitcake):And here's a photo of the ingredients:
So as I had mentioned in my previous review, this fruitcake is different from many of the "standard" fruitcakes (which is why it's in my Other category) for its use of dried fruit rather than candied fruit. This absolutely gives it a different flavor from other fruitcakes made with the candied fruit--"candied" being the operative word here. Most fruitcakes are very, very sweet because of the candied fruit, and this one, while certainly sweet, does not have the cloying sweetness that (some of us like but) may turn some people off.
This is quite a scrumptious cake, and as I had mentioned in my previous post, I'd call it a "gateway" fruitcake, similar to a "gateway" drug, indicated if you fruitcake-lovers want to start getting friends and loved ones hooked on fruitcake. In general constitution, it is similar to other fruitcakes: batter, fruit, nuts, liqueur. But the dried fruit gives it a more fresh, quick-bread type flavor. The cashew nuts in particular I find very interesting--they certainly give this cake a different mouth-feel, being a bit softer than a pecan or walnut. I have a special fondness for the elegant flavor of a date, and this cake includes them, as well. And just as I enjoy dates in my baking, I dislike prunes, and this cake, in contrast to their non-organic cake, is bereft of them.
I took at look at my previous review, and I'd say that in general what I said there holds true. This is a well-balanced, fresh-tasting, all natural cake that I could see being pulled out for Christmas breakfast due to its general quick-bread like flavor. The added benefit to this cake, of course, is that you can bring your organic foodie friends into the fruitcake fold.
22 November 2009
Aren't they pretty? I've gotten at least one catalog from each of the companies I've purchase fruitcake from. Roughly clockwise from lower left, Holy Cross abbey, Collin Street (just part of the big sheaf of papers they sent me), a very low-budget Assumption abbey, the Sisters Sweet Shoppe in Columbus (aka Grandma's bake shoppe), Southern Supreme, and Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit. Not showing is the Wisconsin Cheeseman one I received after this photo was taken. And I'm sure I received a couple Gethsemani, but must have tossed those. I do dearly love going through catalogs. Everything seems so new and exciting!! I have to say I would still consider buying something from the Wisconsin Cheeseman, as long as its not fruitcake. They didn't seem to be plugging it too much--only had one meager entry about the fruitcake, and another entry about some fruitcake cookies. But the cheeses look pretty good--I guess I've lived close enough to Wisconsin for long enough that I can always appreciate a big tub of cheese spread.
14 November 2009
07 November 2009
The festival is held in January this year (January 23, to be exact) to avoid all the crush of holiday festivities and so that people can bring their leftover fruitcakes to the festival.
What I like best are these crazy, random themes for this and previous festivals. This year's is "Food of the Pharoahs." Ms. Roper adds (and this is a sentence you don't hear too often), "Hopefully we'll have the pyramid done by January."
Has anybody else been? Heard of it?
20 October 2009
Pretty simple, but I'd say rather cute, with a sort of old-timey-as-conceived-in-the-sixties feel to it.
A really happy-looking cake, I'd say. The cake itself is light yellow, having no molasses, brown sugar or booze in it. First ingredient? My un-favorite: raisins. However, although you can definitely taste them, they aren't quite as insufferable as I've had in other cakes. The rest of the ingredients are not too bad for a mass-produced: yes, there are colorings (what cake with preserved fruit doesn't have 'em), invert sugar, and margarine, not butter, but this is the first cake I've seen that contains buttermilk. The only fruits are three: raisins, glacéed pineapples and glacéed cherries. The nuts: pecans and walnuts.
These glacéed cherries are quite good: definitely a better quality than most, though as you can see, if you're not into those three fruits, this is not the cake for you. Because of the fruit combo, this cake tastes a bit like a pineapple upside-down cake--it's got that sweet, caramelly taste, and I'm sure the raisins only enhance that flavor. The cake to fruit ratio is quite good, with a bit of batter in there that you can taste for itself, not just as something that holds the fruit together.
Sigh. Have I become a softy? Have I, alas, just tasted too many fruitcakes, and am starting to cut some a break? Or were the mass-produced fruitcakes I had tried earlier really that bad? Because this one was really not that bad. Maybe as I try other fruitcakes, I'm just giving them the benefit of the doubt. After all, last year's Grandma's fruitcake did not light up any of my lights, but my family liked it.
I guess I can finally admit that this sort of generic fruitcake does have a place in the fruitcake spectrum. Maybe after all of these years, I've found a few mass-produced fruitcakes that are not excruciatingly bad. This one was a pretty good tasting, rather sweet, standard fruitcake. Would I buy it again? Probably not: if I were to buy any fruitcakes again, they would probably be from the smaller fruitcake bakeries, like any of the monasteries and maybe even the Southern-style ones, before I'd go to one of these. I prefer to support something artisanally made, or family-made, rather than support Big Bakery.
That being said, I don't think I'm qualified to say who's a big bakery or not. Who's to say that Georgia fruitcake is not as big or bigger than Yahoo? And frankly, I've not seen any of the monastery fruitcake operations. So I have to use the quality of ingredients as a guide to what I choose.
Still, I'm going to put this one on the top of the mass-produced. Its ingredients were not terribly horrible, it had a tastefully cute tin, and the flavor was, well, it was okay--I won't be throwing this one away. The quality of the glacéed cherries certainly redeems it.
And I may be back for this cake. I just can't get over its cuteness.
17 September 2009
In any case, I've received my Texas Manor fruitcake, which I will review soon, but I wanted to report on the catalog I just got. It's from Holy Spirit Monastery, and it looks like they did a redesign on their packaging. I don't think I got one of their catalogs last year (I tried their cake the first time at the end of last year, and did an online purchase), but it's very nice indeed. They have a few different fruitcake size options, and also sell other items, like fudge, including one that I would love to try: "Southern Touch," which contains peaches, pecans and a touch of peach brandy....yum. In any case, if you look at my review of this cake, previously they had a rather austere but real tin. I'm just checking the catalog right now and they might have ditched the tin altogether: they say that the round cake as well as the loaf are "packed in attractive gift boxes." They are actually pretty cute boxes, but it doesn't look like they've updated their website to match their catalog, so I can't show them to you.
Here's what's weird, though: the original tin I got last December had a sticker on it proclaiming the cake to be from "Brother Basil's kitchen." When you go to the website, there is copy there describing a Brother Patrick as their master fruitcake-baker. However, my catalog disagrees, claiming that indeed Brother Augustine is the master fruitcake-maker. So who is it?
Frankly, Ragtime Cowboy Joe (yeah, I don't know him, either) could make my fruitcake--I don't care, as long as it's good. Most monasteries don't really say who, in particular, makes their cakes. It's kind of funny that Holy Spirit is trying to put a human edge on this and just succeeds in confusing me.
It don't matter. This catalog looks darn good, and also includes some pretty calendars if you're into contemplative abbey photos, as well as other foodstuffs, like apple butter and some Trappist coffee from Venezuela. I think the catalog contains a much nicer presentation of their products than their website. If you're into fruitcake, you may want to request one. I'm thinkin' I need a bit of a Southern Touch to my holiday season . . .
12 September 2009
27 August 2009
I love date-nut cake. I've made them myself from some really delicious California dates, so I have high hopes for this cake. Plus, it's brandy-dipped--how can that be bad?
Look for a review soon!!
15 August 2009
The Georgia fruitcake company is the second fruitcake company hailing from what is evidently the Fruitcake Center of the Universe: Claxton, Georgia. Both the Georgia fruitcake company and Claxton fruitcake have similar histories: a mysterious Italian man comes to Claxton, opens a bakery, and apprentices guys who eventually go off on their own to make fruitcakes.
With such similar histories, I am really surprised that the fruitcakes themselves are so different.
I bought four pounds worth of fruitcake in the middle of June. Yes, let me repeat, FOUR POUNDS OF FRUITCAKE IN THE MIDDLE OF JUNE. What I do for this blog. In addition, I have yet another cake (the date-nut cake from New Camoldoli Hermitage) waiting for me to review once I finish this one. So I actually have SEVEN POUNDS of fruitcake in my fridge. Luckily I am surrounded by fruitcake lovers, so was able to share some of my bounty.
On to the Georgia fruitcakes. The Georgia fruitcake company provides fruitcakes to the military. So instead of coming in a pretty tin, the fruitcakes I received were vacuum-packed into their tins, so they looked more like funny-looking cans of coffee than fruitcakes. The cans themselves are quite cute, but again, nothing fancy from a gift-giving standpoint:
First thing on the ingredients list is cherries. There is a lot of red fruit in these cakes, but it’s a good quality, size, and texture. Other fruits are pineapple and raisins, but not too many of the latter. (I’ve mentioned in the past how I really don’t like too many raisins in my fruitcake. I really consider it the filler dried fruit—a raisin is to a baked good what a carrot is to frozen mixed vegetables.) Nuts include pecans, almonds, and walnuts. Like the Claxton fruitcake, it contains orange peel, but also contains lemon peel, neither of which are terribly pronounced but, I’m sure, add to the overall effect. The nut mixture, I’d say, is different than the Claxton fruitcake—the Claxton fruitcake contains more almonds, which gives the cake a different texture and less of that nutty flavor you get from walnuts and pecans. Bad things are the partially hydrogenated vegetable shortening, some artificial flavoring, and sodium benzoate and sulfur dioxide as preservatives (I don’t think you can get away from some of those preservatives if you use, ahem, preserved fruit). I’m not sure why I continue to call candied fruit “preserved fruit”. It’s so unappealingly technical—yet truthful. Maybe that’s why.
The main and, it seems, only difference between the regular fruitcake and the one called “Womble’s” (named after the owner) is the addition of my favorite booze, Kentucky bourbon. So this is truly a treat and a category-spanner: a Southern fruitcake that contains booze.
The one big problem I have with these cakes? Lack of a hole. What, you say, a hole? Why would I have a problem with the lack of something that isn’t really there to begin with? Well, I’ll tell you.
A good work-around is to cut the whole cake in half. Then you can stabilize one half as you begin sawing off one end.
The fruitcake smells great and really looks and tastes much more like a monastery cake than a Southern style cake. It has more of a cake-like batter, and although it’s recommended that you chill the cake for cutting, it doesn’t stand the risk of falling apart like some Southern-styles do. The batter in these cakes is an integral part of the overall flavor of the cake, and strikes me as similar to the Gethsemani batter. That being said, both of these cakes are a bit sweeter than monastery cakes, which is pretty typical for Southern-style cakes.
So, the conclusion on these cakes: a very good, almost monastery-type cake, with the sweetness of a Southern-style cake. I’m happy to know that our armed forces are fortified by good-tasting, quality fruitcake. And I love the fact that you can get one with whisky in it. I’m going to move these to second in the Southern-style fruitcakes ratings list, but will add an asterisk to the Womble’s cake since it’s been doped with whiskey. Mary of Puddin’ Hill still tops the list because it’s got the best ingredients and is a great example of a truly delicious Southern-style fruitcake.
04 July 2009
Yes, that means two fruitcakes. And I definitely want to experience the fruitcakes that come vacuum-packed into a can like so much coffee. So I have four pounds of fruitcake coming my way, to be reviewed as soon as they come.
UPDATE: Just ordered them, and there's no shipping - how nice!
29 June 2009
Hi - sorry I've been so tardy. For some reason I haven't been in the mood for fruitcake, lately. Maybe because it's been so cold for summer here in the Chicago area. It seems the warmer it gets, the more I want fruitcake--specifically, a Southern-style fruitcake. Yes, I know it's perverse, but there it is. That's what eating fruitcake year-round will do to you.
So I'm leaving it up to the 1.25 people left reading this blog to help me select which Southern-style fruitcake I'll try next. Which would you choose?
Sunshine Hollow Bakery -- the fruitcakes look good, but I'm sorely tempted by the Woozy cakes.
W.H.O. Women - A North Carolina charity, I'm checking to see if these are even available outside of the holiday season. UPDATE: they do ship year-round.
Sunnyland Farms - From Georgia, their special ingredient is grape juice. A sad replacement for booze in my opinion, but I'm game.
Yahoo Texas Manor Fruitcakes - This one might be on the edge of Southern and Mass-produced. A sort of mass-produced Southern cake, maybe? But look at this adorable cake--I might need to get one of those, too!
Georgia Fruitcake - I find this one very intriguing. The cake hails from Claxton, Georgia, home of the Claxton Fruitcake. How one town can support two fruitcake companies, I don't know.
See how many I still have to do? And these are only the Southern-style. Sheesh. Anyway, please vote in the comments, and write-ins will definitely be considered, as well--that's how I found the lovely Holy Spirit Monastery fruitcake. Happy Fourth of July to everyone!
30 May 2009
16 May 2009
I received the very wonderful gift of a set (white and dark) of Robert Lambert fruitcakes, for which I very much thank the sender. This is just a review of the white or lighter fruitcake – I still have the other little treasure in my fridge. It’s a beautiful fruitcake, but the price—the price. $50 for a 16 oz cake. That’s about $3 per ounce--roughly 3 times the price of most other fruitcakes I’ve reviewed. Is it worth it? Yes--once in your lifetime, it’s worth it. This fruitcake rocked my world. This could lead me down the path of seeking out higher-end fruitcake or, dare I say it, creating my own. Definitely a fruitcake for foodies.
The tiny-tiny, precious little loaf comes looking like a present from heaven, and smells divine. I undressed the cake like a lover. Here’s the cake itself:
Ingredients are all natural and the strangest ever. Dig the fruits: white raisin, dried pineapple, glacéed cherries, coconut, candied Meyer lemon peel, blood orange peel, bergamot peel, Rangpur lime peel, and Buddha’s hand citrus. The nuts? Brazil nuts, almonds, walnuts, and pecans. It is seasoned with ginger and brandy. This is what the $50 is going towards, I’d guess.
This is definitely a fruitcake for grown-ups. It contains large chunks of stringy, hairy things (the aforementioned peels, as well as the coconut). The cake batter itself is much like a good pound cake and, as is usual for a fruitcake, merely serves to bind the fruit together. The flavor? Exotically interesting, distinctive—a whole different fruitcake experience. It has a very heavy peel and ginger taste. It’s delicious and one of a kind, but a bit exhausting.
A couple years ago, my boyfriend and I went to Las Vegas and had dinner one evening at Guy Savoy, in Caesar’s Palace. It was the most fabulous dining experience of my life. The service was unobtrusively doting, the décor, fabulous, and Céline Dion’s husband was eating dinner with a group of Québécois a couple of tables away. There was someone designated to fold your napkin and put it back on the table for you if you went to the washroom. There was a little chair for my purse. And the food blew my mind. You get the idea. This fruitcake is like Guy Savoy. One time in your life you must try this fruitcake.
This is number one with a bullet, to the top of the Other category. I look forward to eating the next one.
04 January 2009
I have no fruitcake left in my house because I brought the remainders of the many cakes I reviewed this year over to my family's Christmas celebration. As I've already mentioned, just about all of my siblings and my Mom are fruitcake lovers from way back. So all the family tried the cakes I had in my freezer: Grandma's, Jane Parker Dark, Holy Spirit, and Hermitage Big Sur. Alas, there was no more Mary of Puddin Hill, for I had eaten all of that one . . . definitely my favorite Southern-style fruitcake.
It's always so interesting to get feedback from the family. For one, Grandma's got pretty good marks, after all my bitching and moaning. The reason, primarily, was that in contrast to the heavier, alcohol-rich flavors of the two monastery cakes, and the dark flavor of the Jane Parker, it was lighter, with a more approachable cake flavor. As for the brother-in-law whose mother's fruitcake reminded me of the Jane Parker cake . . . I think he liked it, but of course he still likes his mother's better.
One other thing I want to pass along--the Hermitage Big Sur cake fell apart after freezing. That one seems very alcohol-drenched and that may have had something to do with it. I may have cut the slices really thin, too (I freeze the cake in slices, not whole). It still tasted good, it was just kind of a mess.
So, the fruitcake slate is swept clean, a new year is upon us, and I look forward to more sweetness and good baking in the future. Happy New Year to all.