23 December 2010

Thoughtful, Detailed, and Intelligent....

That's me. At least that's what the Wall Street Journal says. The Wall Street Journal, by the way, are completely my fruitcake homies. They often publish nice articles about fruitcake. This article is not really one of them--you have to wade through the usual fruitcake jokes, etc. to get to mention of me. But I gotta say, the Fred Schneider song about fruitcake, although annoying, is pretty cute in that B-52's sort of way.

Hey, by the way, just got the loveliest surprise ever -- mini-fruitcakes, a Dundee cake, and a stollen from the woman who makes the best home made fruitcakes ever, Veda.

Christmas will be great. To all a great fruitcake!

19 December 2010

Guest review: Bien Fait bourbon and brandy fruitcakes

With great pleasure I present a guest review from vkrn, a reader who first suggested the Bien Fait cakes.


I purchased both the Bourbon fruitcake with nuts and the Brandy Fruitcake with nuts online from Bien Fait, a small bakery in Greensboro, Vermont, which gives all its proceeds to Greensboro Wonder & Wisdom, a local nonprofit which works with children and seniors.  Bien Fait offers their bourbon fruitcake with or without nuts (walnuts and pecans), and their brandy fruitcake only with almonds, so fruitcake fanatics who don't have allergies to those nuts can breathe a sigh of relief.  In addition, to round out the ingredients, Bien Fait uses currants, figs, raisins, cranberries, golden raisins, brandy, prunes, dates, apricots, orange peel, and lemon, in the brandy fruitcake; the bourbon fruitcake contains raisins, golden raisins, figs, bourbon, prunes, currants, dates, apricots, walnuts, pecans, and orange peel.  They emphasize that their fruit contains no preservatives or artificial flavorings, a welcome relief from the commercial fruitcakes in the stores now (Costco, that means you).

Both the brandy and the bourbon fruitcakes come in unassuming brown thin cardboard boxes, about 3/4 the size of a red brick.  The box is adorned only with an oval Bien Fait sticker on top, and the fruitcake itself is wrapped in holiday-themed tissue paper.  Underneath the tissue paper are the cakes, first bundled in two layers of plastic, with cheesecloth still wrapped tight up against the cake itself.  The fruitcakes come with little external adornments, but their simple packaging completes the air of homemade goodness, which Bien Fait supplements with a little card sporting pictures of its bakers, hearty-looking New Englanders topped with hair netting.

The cakes themselves were crammed with nuts and fruit, with no need to wonder when you'd bite into another morsel.  I'd even hazard to guess that they were 90% fruit and nuts.  For this fruitcake lover, the generous portion of fruit and nuts made for great mouthfeel and chew, and there was enough orange peel to make me happy.  Both the bourbon and brandy options were dark cakes, which were moist, not pasty or dry.  With the fruit, the cakes ranged possibly a little overly sweet -- they would be great paired with tea or coffee.  Only the subtlest hint of alcohol lingered in the mouth after every swallow, to the point where I wouldn't be concerned about feeding the cake to youngsters.  Possibly a touch more alcohol would have balanced out the sweetness.

For fruitcake lovers, these cakes are definitely a must-try -- and this is coming from someone who has made it her mission systematically to order the best-quality fruitcake on the US market, and who eternally regrets missing out on fruitcake while in Scotland on business.

The cakes are priced at $15 each, very reasonable if you were local and picking up the cake at Bien Fait's Vermont store.  But they do tend on the small side if you consider the price plus shipping.  Keep in mind, though, that all proceeds support the nonprofit Greensboro Wonder & Wisdom.  Bien Fait fruitcake is therefore a small indulgence for your tastebuds, while your money goes to benefit children and seniors in this difficult economic climate.  It's a rare opportunity to buy online while also supporting local efforts to improve American communities.

Review: Bien Fait

The people at Bien Fait Specialty Cakes graciously sent me two of their cakes to review. Because I've had inquiries about cakes that don't contain nuts, I asked for their bourbon fruitcake without nuts. They also said that their Golden Jewel cake is fairly well known, so sent that one along. Both cakes are $15.00 for a one pound cake, and shipping to my location runs about $11.70 ($8.50 for one cake).

Although there are no tins for these cakes, the packing is pretty cute: a plain box but a cute label:

And then each cake is wrapped in pretty tissue paper. This was the fruitcake:

And this was the tissue used on the Golden Jewel cake (sorry, it's blurry but still cute):
Another thing I really appreciate: both cakes were packed with a plastic bag and tie. Mary of Puddin Hill does the same thing, and I really like it--they have already anticipated your need to pack up the cake for future eating, and are helping you make sure that your cake stays fresh.

Both cakes come swaddled in cheesecloth, as they are both soaked in liquor. Here are photos of each. And if you think my photos couldn't get worse, well, I took photos of the fruitcake with my new phone, so feast your eyes:

The bourbon, no nuts, and
 The Golden Jewel.

So on the fruitcakes themselves. I'll start with the traditional bourbon fruitcake. Here are the ingredients:

Yes, a lot of raisins, and also molasses, which often translates to a burnt, raisiny taste that I'm not particularly fond of, but that was not the case here. The fruit was all good quality, not dry or too sweet. There was a good cake-to-fruit ratio here, with the fruit well distributed throughout the cake. There was a bit of that quick-bread type quality due to the dried fruit and general lighter taste.  However, because of the light aura of bourbon wafting throughout the cake, this one still tastes more like a fruitcake and less like a date nut bread, for example.

Figs are a funny fruit--if you've ever eaten a Fig Newton you'll recognize the funny texture that the seeds give to anything they're in, and the same is the case here--so if you don't like figs, don't get this cake.

This cake resembles, in many ways, its Vermont neighbor, the Old Cavendish cake, except that unlike that cake, it contains booze. But they both use dried rather than candied fruit, and both have a fresh, quick-bread type flavor. This one leans more towards a traditional fruitcake taste, with the inclusion of the booze, and I like the no-nut option.

I may need to create a new category, eh? That "Other" category is getting long and heavily weighted with cakes that use dried rather than candied/preserved fruit. Maybe "Modern"? "Lighter-tasting?" "Dried fruit cakes" (though that doesn't sound tasty)?  Suggestions welcome--please comment.

And so, on to the Golden Jewel cake. Per Bien Fait, this cake has become quite popular, and they call it (deservedly) a "tropical twist" on a classic fruitcake. Here are the ingredients:

Yah mon! Definitely more tropical. When I first unwrapped it, it looked similar to the Robert Lambert white cake, albeit a lower budget one. And I would say if I had to draw a similarity, it would be to that cake, or even to the Swiss Colony Macadamia Nut cake. All three share a vaguely similar pound-cake like batter. I must warn you that if you don't like the texture of coconut, don't get this cake. The shredded coconut gives a rich but also slightly hairy texture to the cake.

And yes, this is absolutely tropical tasting. Between the pineapple and the coconut, as well as the rum, you get a bit of a piña colada or maybe even ambrosia-like flavor. The apricots really make their presence known as well, and I found the cranberries to add a refreshing tartness that I would have liked a bit more of.

So is it really a fruitcake? Well, there's fruit and booze in it, so yes, I guess so, but it's definitely non-traditional. Ah-HA! Maybe I have a new category name right there!

By the way, the profits from the sale of these cakes support Wonder and Wisdom, a non-profit in Greensboro that conducts social and cultural enrichment programming.

15 December 2010

Do you booze-up your store bought cake?

Do you "doctor up" your store-bought fruitcakes?

I've heard from several people who use their own ingenuity (and their own booze)to spike up a cake that they like but feel could use a little lagniappe. Right on, to those of you who do. I'm a bit too lazy to even do that, but I bet that would really punch up the flavor on your cake.

This came up recently with the College of the Ozarks cake. Its cake-to-fruit ratio is such that it could definitely handle a shot or two without damage. As my reader Al-in-chgo recently wrote me, "Perhaps this has occurred to you, but the Southern fruitcakes with their teetotaling tradition make excellent vehicles for a buck-up with booze. Some people recommend injecting the spirits via eyedropper; I just say pour some on and when it all soaks in, it's sterile enough to stay in the fridge another six months. "

Well-said, Al!

So, I ask you: do you dose your cake? Discuss!

Do you doctor up your store-bought fruitcakes? Add a comment!

12 December 2010

Next up: Bien Fait

Next fruitcake will be a couple from Bien Fait Specialty Cakes in Vermont. One of my readers purchased a couple of their cakes, and will be sharing her reviews as well.

Meanwhile, buy some fruitcake! I mean buy some good fruitcake!

03 December 2010

Review: College of the Ozarks

I bought the cute little one pound cake from the College of the Ozarks. A reader had mentioned this college and I find the whole premise of the college intriguing. Each student MUST have an on-campus job. One of those jobs is selling their food products, only one of which is fruitcake: they also sell summer sausage, apple butter and jams, and corn meal and other milled products. You can read more about their fruitcake-making history here.

This cake is fairly pricey: I paid $24 for the one pound cake, shipping included, and the other sizes (two and three pound, as well as mini fruitcakes) range in price from $30 to $36. That puts it on the higher end but still within range of most other fruitcakes.   I couldn't resist; I also bought the summer sausage and a jar of apple butter. The sausage is waiting to appear at an upcoming Christmas party, but the apple butter is delicious.

Here's what's printed on the box it came in:

Quite an interesting school seal, isn't it? The tin is quite attractive, with a drawing of the Williams Memorial Chapel, the centerpiece of their campus:

Here's the cake:

So cute! Definitely has that homey quality to it.

Onto the cake itself. Here are the ingredients:

I guess I'd prefer butter to margarine, and gee, guys, could you get into a bit more detail besides "candied fruit" and "nuts"? Considering how some of the ingredient lists I've seen contain enough parentheses and brackets to choke a lawyer, I would appreciate a bit more. From my un-scientific analysis, it looks like the nuts are walnuts and pecans, and the fruits are raisins (uh-oh), cherries, and citron. All are chopped to a nice size, not too large, and they are well integrated into the cake.

The cake is very nice, a golden pound cake type batter: not gooey, but still rich. There is a very nice ratio of cake to fruit--enough fruit where you know it's a fruitcake, but enough cake to be able to taste and appreciate its quality.

The taste is NOT raisin-y. I think that flavor that I dislike may come from a combination of molasses and raisins, but this cake did not suffer from that sort of caramelized yukkiness. On the contrary, this fruitcake had a nice, clean, cakey and fruity flavor. There is no booze add additional dimensions of flavor, so you taste pretty much fruit, and cake.

So now I come to my dilemma: what kind of fruitcake is this? Would it classify as Southern? It's not nuttily candy-like, but I've had other Southern cakes that are not out and out gooey candy-like confections. Monastery-type, of course, is right out; I'm sure both the monks and C of A would agree there. It could almost be an "other," because it doesn't claim to be a Southern fruitcake, and has that lighter taste that many of the cakes in that category have. Seeing as College of the Ozarks is right outside of Branson, which is very close to the Arkansas border, I'm going to proclaim this a Southern fruitcake and add it at number three on that list, and with a bit of rearranging, we'll have Claxton, C of A, then Collin Street and Southern Supreme.

A note here about ordering from C of A: they do not have online ordering, nor do they take credit card numbers over the phone. When I called, they said that I could place my order and they would bill me, but my 21st century mind could not fathom the idea of someone shipping me something with that amount of trust, so I sent in a check with my order blank and received my order promptly. And do pop for some summer sausage or corn meal--support the students, buy local(ish), and buy American!