27 August 2009

Next up: New Camoldoli Hermitage Date-Nut Cake

Next up will be the Date-Nut cake from New Camoldoli. I had previously reviewed their fruitcake, which although it appears last on the monastery fruitcake list, was still much better than any of the mass-produced fruitcakes.

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

Review: Georgia fruitcake and Womble’s fruitcake (2 pounds)

UPDATE: As of December 2013, the Georgia Fruitcake Company doesn't seem to exist anymore, at least not on the web. Anyone have any updates? Please leave them in the comments below or on Facebook.

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:

I was a bit disappointed to not have that lovely “whoosh” and aroma of coffee when I opened the tins using my can opener. Here’s a photo of the cakes themselves (try to tell them apart—no difference, really, other than the poor photography):

Both cakes contain a lot of good quality preserved fruit in a very nice, cakey batter. These cakes are much more like a monastery fruitcake than the usual almost candy-like consistency of the Southern-style fruitcakes.

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.
I’ve just done a quick look through all of the fruitcakes I’ve reviewed. The basic shapes are either rectangular or round. The rectangular ones are very easy to slice: basically, you slice them like you’d slice a loaf of bread. I usually cut into a cold fruitcake using a serrated knife, with a sawing motion. You have to stabilize a fruitcake to cut it, because it’s hard to cut through. With a loaf, you simply hold it and start cutting off the end. With a round cake, you again need to hold it to cut, but then after you’ve cut your first slice, you need to wiggle it away from the rest of the cake. That’s where the hole comes in handy. You can get one hand in there and sort of rock the slice out. But when your cake has no hole, this is a problem. I ended up cutting very ragged slices and would often leave half of the slice behind as I tried to lever it away from the rest of the cake. Is this a huge problem? No, I guess not. But it was a niggling annoyance, and I don’t like to be pecked to death by tiny ducks. Those niggling annoyances build up, and suddenly you’re honking your horn and shaking your fist at people on the way to work (not a true story, but you know what I mean—these things add up).

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.