31 December 2011

Happy New Year from Mondo Fruitcake!

A very happy and tasty 2012 to all. I'm heading into my "I'm done with fruitcake" season soon, though I still have a stollen to enjoy. All the best to everyone in the new year!

27 December 2011

Crikey! Suspicious Activity/National Fruitcake Day

Something horrible happened to the blog, somewhere right around Christmas, I think. Thanks to blog follower vkrn for pointing it out. I blame those fruitcake haters. Seems about right that a blog glorifying the fruitcake would be assaulted right around the holidays.

Anyway, stand proud in your love of the fruitcake. Today is National Fruitcake day! Send one to your friend/neighbor! Mention to a colleague at work how much you enjoyed X or Y fruitcake that you had over the holidays! I challenge you to do one positive fruitcake-related thing today. The world will be a better, more tolerant place for it.

17 December 2011

Review: WHO Women Cranberry Orange Walnut Cake

I am going to have to re-think my fruitcake categories. The "Other" category needs to be redefined a bit. I was recently asked about trends in fruitcake, which I hadn't really thought about before (and shame on me for that). What I came up with in response to that question was the trend of remaking the concept of a fruitcake, normally through rejection of the standard-issue candied fruit. Instead, I'm seeing (or at least being made aware of) more cakes that contain either house-made candied fruit, in the case of the Robert Lambert cakes, or dried fruit, such as the Old Cavendish cake. Perhaps this isn't a trend at all but rather something that's been out there for a while, and I've started to discover it as I surge further into the dense forest of cakes of a fruity nature. Regardless, I think this type of fruitcake deserves a category more defined than "other." I would welcome your recommendations as to what this new category would be. Dried-fruit fruitcakes? Gastronomic fruitcakes? Locavore fruitcakes? New wave fruitcakes? Feel free to comment or jump over to the Facebook page to share your thoughts.

In any case, such a fruitcake is the WHO Women Cranberry Orange Walnut cake. Even by its name can one see that it is not defining itself as a fruitcake. Just as no one names a child Adolf anymore, it seems that the very word "fruitcake" might have negative connotations and so is being avoided. That being said, this is one of those alternative cakes that doesn't strictly evoke the flavor of a traditional fruitcake, either. Several readers had recommended this cake; when I went to their site, I didn't see anything specifically called a "fruitcake" so I contacted their customer service and was told that the Cranberry Orange Walnut was the closest thing.

The one pound cake cost $11.95; they also have 2- and 3- pound cakes. With shipping, the cost was $18.15. Here's what the cake looks like:
No hole. I'm not super keen on that (see my previous post about the importance of the hole), but really, not a huge deal. The ingredients? Fabulous: orange peel, dried cranberries, walnuts, brown sugar, flour, dates, butter, eggs, vanilla, a bit of sodium caseinate (not sure if that's part of another ingredient or added for emulsification/stabilization). What? No cherries, citron, pineapple, you say? Correct--this does not contain the standard trinity of candied fruit.

Here's a shot of the cake, sliced:

Chock-full of all the good stuff. As for the flavor: it's not a standard fruitcake. This cake reminded me of the cranberry-orange quick bread that you may be familiar with, with a bright, citric flavor from the cranberries and orange peel. However it is much denser and has a more intricate flavor due to the walnuts and dates. I'd compare this to the Bien Fait cakes in nature because of the use of dried fruit. Hmmm, maybe that new category I mentioned is dried fruit cakes (rather than candied fruit cakes).

This is a very delicious cake, and could be another good alterna-fruitcake on your holiday table. It might be even more delicious with a discreet dousing of rum or brandy. I'm going to put it up towards the top of the "Other" fruitcakes list, but beware: my rating lists may be evolving soon!

09 December 2011

Alabama Fruitcake Redux

Hello all, just heard from Joseph, a dedicated blog reader who's been eating his way through the fruitcakes I've rated. He strongly recommends the Alabama fruitcake I had referred to in a previous post. Says Joseph, "I loved this cake. It is slightly on the sweet side but it was very moist and soft. It had a good balance of fruit and pecans to cake and the pecans and fruits were of good quality."

06 December 2011

Review: Sunnyland Farms Dark and Light Fruitcakes

The more I taste fruitcakes from Georgia, the more I like them. As I had mentioned in a previous post, I bought a set of fruitcakes, the light and dark fruitcake, from Sunnyland Farms. Sunnyland Farm's main business is pecans, so although I was expecting the fruitcakes to have pecans in them, I wasn't expecting anything fabulous. But these are pretty darn good fruitcakes.

I was sent the catalog after my order, something I usually don't like because a) I've already bought what I want, why have a catalog, and b) it's a waste of paper and postage. But I actually enjoyed the Sunnyland Farms one, and read it from cover to cover--at least the bottom of each page, which contained a running commentary of things about the company as well as descriptions of many of the workers there, which was really heartwarming. How nice to be featured in your company's catalog!

Back to the fruitcakes. I bought the fruitcake combo, containing two 1 pound, 7 ounce loaves, one each of the dark and light fruitcake, both containing pecans. All of Sunnyland Farm's prices contain shipping, so I paid (and you would pay) $39.70 for the home box--unadorned fruitcakes. They also have a gold-foil gift box available for $43.20.

Neither of the cakes contain booze, but there's enough flavor in each of them where I didn't really miss it. Yup, that's me, the "I love booze in fruitcakes" woman, saying that. I think the secret ingredient in both that added a bit more flavor was juice: orange juice in the light, grape juice in the dark. Let me break them down a bit.

The dark fruitcake contains brown sugar and molasses, dates, dark raisins, your usual candied fruit trinity of cherries, pineapple, and citron, and a dash of lemon peel. Here's a cake where I actually didn't mind the raisins! They were well integrated into the cake, and they weren't terribly dry or overpowering in their raisiny-ness. Perhaps they're macerated in the grape juice? I'll see if I can find out. I think the juice definitely adds another element to the cake. The brown sugar and molasses gave this cake a truly dark flavor, and I always enjoy the extra complexity dates give to the mix. The thing that makes the flavor of this cake distinctive, however, are the spices: cinnamon and cloves. Cinnamon! I don't think I've seen cinnamon in a cake since the Harry & David one.

The light fruitcake shares the same fruit mixture, but replaces the brown sugar and molasses with regular sugar, and golden raisins instead of dark. There are no spices, but there is orange juice, and I think that addition gives the cake a bright, distinct flavor. It's a very happy looking cake, too, as evidenced by the slices below (light fruitcake on top):

Both fruitcakes share what I feel is a good balance between cake and fruit and nuts. There is enough space between the ingredients where you can taste the cake, and it has a nice, cake-like texture, not gooey.

These were really nice cakes. Since my top Southern style cake, Mary of Puddin Hill, is really no longer available (see the update and comments here), I'm going to move it to the bottom of the list, then move Georgia/Womble's up and these right below. Georgia up, Texas down.

04 December 2011

Bakermaid - for high end department store fruitcakes

Thought this was interesting. A reader had asked about a fruitcake assortment that she had loved. While perusing my list of fruitcake links (you can see them over on my Mondo Fruitcake stack) I came upon one for a wholesale company, Bakermaid. They don't provide a whole lot of detail, as they are wholesale, but they do mention a few of the stores that they bake for. So if there's a particular department store cake you love, but can't find, maybe this can help.

30 November 2011

Review: Eilenberger Bakery Texas Pecan cake

Hello, all. OK, I've gotten over my grumpiness and have decided to finally review this cake. In case you're wondering why I'm grumpy, it's because I ordered the Texas Pecan cake, not the fruitcake, from Eilenberger. So what you're getting here is a review of a pecan cake, not a fruitcake. And that is exactly what I got.

I bought the 1.5 pound Texas Pecan cake, which cost $23.95 plus shipping. Shipping was $7.50 to the middle of the country, so the total was $31.45. As I had previously posted, it's a very cute box--I'm a sucker for dogwood blossoms:
Very cute. Here's a photo of the cake, done in the style that I can only call "MondoFruitcake Ugly:"

Lots and lots of pecans. And some fruit. You would have thought at this point, noting how many pecans there were, that I would have thought to myself, "gee, where's the fruit in this fruitcake?" I even went so far as to TAKE A PHOTO OF THE INGREDIENTS, included herewith, without noticing the name:
Or maybe I was distracted by this:

This picture implies that Eilenberger has been around awhile, and indeed they have been around since 1898, per their website. Their website also mentions that they are "the oldest bakery in Texas still operating in its original location." And that's saying something, considering all of the fruitcake companies based in Texas. I actually think it's really cute.
In my defense, most Southern style fruitcakes are very, very nutty. And there are some fruitcake makers nowadays who, in an effort to shirk the scourge of the fruitcake name, choose to call their fruitcakes something else. For example, I hope to be trying a sample of the Women Helping Other Women Cranberry Orange Walnut cake very soon. I contacted their customer service and asked "which cake is the most like a traditional fruitcake?" and that's what they told me. They don't actually have a cake called a "fruitcake," yet they have several cakes that contain fruit. Hey, I'm not judging; I can understand why they might do it. But enough excuses; let's get on to the cake.

As you can see from the ingredients, there is a lot of icky stuff, but I will believe them when they say that it contains less than 2% icky, since most of those ingredients (except for the high fructose corn syrup) seems to be part of the candied fruit. There are some nice pieces of fruit in this cake, though not as much as a regular fruitcake. That could be an advantage to those who aren't super into the fruit in a fruitcake.

This cake DEFINITELY has nuts in it--that nut being the pecan. I am a fool for a good pecan. It's my favorite nut. In texture this cake resembled some of the more candy-like southern cakes--barely enough "cake" to hold the ingredients together, and that "cake" was more like candy--very sweet and gooey in texture.This cake really accents the pecan, with a hint of some candied fruit, in an almost candy-like batter.

What I don't like about this type cake is that I feel the batter holding the ingredients together has an uncooked quality to it and tastes a bit like raw dough.

This would be a good cake to get if you a) really like nuts; b) like a very sweet, candy-like cake without a lot of cake in it, and c) like a fruitcake without so much fruit in it. Hmm, just re-read that last sentence. A non-fruity, non-cakey, non-fruitcake.

Buy it if you like pecans.

26 November 2011

Lookee what's coming!

Look at what I literally found at my doorstep today (albeit in boxes):

That's the Women Helping Other Women Cranberry Orange Walnut cake on the left, and the Sunnyland Farms dark and light fruitcake combo on the right. It is truly the gladsome fruitcake season!

25 November 2011

Guest review: Beekman 1802 Fruitcake

Happy day-after-Thanksgiving, and welcome to the gladsome fruitcake season! Our friend vkrn is back with a guest review. This time she's reviewed the Beekman 1802 Fruitcake sold on the Williams-Sonoma site.


I stumbled upon the Beekman 1802 Heirloom Recipe Fruit Cake on the Williams-Sonoma website when I was surfing for interesting untried edibles. Always a sucker for any food marketed as traditional, I plunked down $45 (sans shipping) for what Williams Sonoma called a "moist, dense cake bursting in flavor." As Beekman 1802 sells its fruitcake only through Williams-Sonoma, you are unable to buy the cake via Beekman 1802's own website, but the company does devote considerable webspace to describing the history of its fruitcake and gives you a link to its recipe. 

Beekman 1802 was founded by the self-styled "Fabulous Beekman Boys," otherwise known as Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell. Ridge is a physician and former VP of Healthy Living at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and Kilmer-Purcell is an author and regular contributor to NPR and Out magazine. They now run a farm and store where they sell their own products such as cheeses, soaps, and other sundries.  The company names itself after William Beekman, who was something of a master of all trades. As a boy, he had fought in the Revolutionary War, and later settled down to become a merchant, judge, and state senator. Beekman 1802 promotes two different versions about the fruitcake's origins. The first one states that Beekman's housekeeper named Generous created a locally famous alcohol-soaked fruitcake that she sold during the holidays for extra cash. The story printed on the box itself states that Beekman himself was the mastermind behind this supposedly popular product. Whatever the case, now Black Cat Bakery in Sharon Springs, NY, bakes the Beekman fruitcake. 

The cake arrived in a sturdy brown cardboard box, impressive for its size and 1 1/2 lb heft, and nestled amidst sparse tufts of dried straw. What's baked into the cake is straightforward: dried figs, dates, dried apricots, golden raisins, dark raisins, dried cherries, dried pineapple, pecans, butter, white sugar, brown sugar, eggs, salt, white flour, and Lairds Applejack Brandy. Kudos to Beekman 1802 for banishing unpronounceable ingredients.  As unadorned as the box, so is the cake's appearance itself, plainly wrapped in cheesecloth -- none of those festive nuts or glistening red and green cherries studded on top. Instead, the cake boasts a thick crumbly crust, baked a deep tan, that is relatively hard to cut through. Unlike other fruitcakes, the interior is also relatively dry -- it would be a stretch to say it was even moderately moist. That, as well as the pronounced lack of any alcohol flavor, made me wonder where the Lairds Applejack Brandy had gone.  Because my cake was so dry, cutting it did not yield nice thick slices like those pictured on the Williams Sonoma website. Instead, my slices tended to crumble into a messy pile. Perhaps the dryness reflected the vagaries of the bakery's oven. Biting into the cake, while not precisely the equivalent of taking a mouthful of sand, did not have me rapturous over a moist crumb. Instead, I was glad to have my tea at hand to wash it down.  Such a dry cake made the individual pieces of fruit stand out, only because they tended to fall out of the surrounding cake. The figs -- listed as the most common ingredient -- were certainly an aggressive presence, because I was biting into them frequently and their numerous tiny crunchy seeds unfortunately compounded the sensation that I was delving into gritty sand rather than a fruitcake. Much less notable were any of the other fruits except for the raisins -- again, a detraction. Finally, I didn't note any significant contribution of pecans, which was unfortunate because I like a balance of fruits and nuts  Let's just say I wasn't looking forward to demolishing the remains of the Beekman fruitcake, and it sat around like a large brick in my kitchen for a few days before gradually disappearing. 

Worth the $45? I would vote to invest that cash towards another fruitcake.

22 November 2011

That which is unattainable is highly prized.

I want this. This is what I want. Celui-la, j'en ai envie.

Friend of Mondo Fruitcake Glenn called my attention to the fruitcake made by the monks of the Cistercian Abbaye Val de Notre Dame. It looks delicious, and has a really interesting back story that involves (slightly) the Abbey of Gethsemane in Kentucky, where my favorite fruitcake comes from. You can read more of the story of the fruitcake here. It seems they got the idea of selling fruitcakes from the Abbey of Gethsemane and went down there around 1985 to learn more about business operations (but not surprisingly, didn't share their fruitcake recipe).

The article I linked to above is an old article and seems to be referring to another monastery, but Glenn has done his detective work and believes he has figured it out. He explains more below:

Now there isn't a lot of info online but what I was able to gather is that this fruitcake was originally made by the monks of the Cistercian Monastery of Notre Dame in Hockley Heights, which is situated in Orangeville, Ontario, just outside of Toronto. These monks were from the same order of the Oka monastery in Quebec.

About 10 years ago, the Monks at Hockley Heights, due to low vocations, were forced to leave and the monastery was taken over by a Ukranian order of Studite monks. By leaving Hockley Heights, they returned to Val Notre-Dame Abbey at Saint-Jean-de-Matha in Oka, Quebec and took the fruitcake with them. This is now the home of the fruitcake which they now sell on their website.

Intriguing! According to the article there may be green tomatoes in the mix, which blows my mind. Regardless, it's yet another fruitcake to add to the monastery fruitcake "to be reviewed" list -- and there aren't too many left. Other than New Skete in New York, I believe I've tried pretty much all of the monastery fruitcakes in the US.

But here's the kicker. Take a look at the sales conditions:
GAAAAAH!!! So close, yet so far away.  No worries, I will work my connections and see what I can do. But one day--this cake shall be mine.

Thanks very much Glenn for bringing this fruitcake to my attention!

19 November 2011

Golden apples.

I just received a newsletter from June Taylor, a company based in Berkeley, California, USA, that sells locally to farmers markets and have quite interesting organic products.

They have a fruitcake, called here a Christmas cake, which looks quite lovely. The fruit is macerated in port; the cake is soaked in brandy. I have a sneaky suspicion I would be transported if I purchased this cake, much as I was with the Robert Lambert fruitcake.

But. $50. For one pound. This cake must be made from angel’s wings, jackelope whiskers and unicorn horn.

Still hope to try it one day!

Update on Mary of Puddin Hill

They are, then they are not. A reader had mentioned a while ago that she had received word that Mary of Puddin Hill might be closing. However, their site is still around.

I e-mailed their customer service to see if I could find out more, but my e-mail bounced. Sometimes some companies just aren't as on top of their Internet traffic as others, but still. Does anyone have any updates?

12 November 2011

Dag nab it. Ordered the wrong cake.

I was planning on providing a review of the Palestine, Texas Eilenberger Fruitcake. Unfortunately, after perusing what I actually received, as well as their site, it looks as if I got the Texas Pecan cake. Dag nab it. Listen, I only have a certain number of calories I can expend each holiday season eating fruitcake. I'm sure I've devoted at least 500 of them to eating something that isn't even a fruitcake. Shame on me.

I need a while to brood over this. Review of this cake (heck, I ate it, might as well review it) coming soon.

01 November 2011

Next fruitcake is from.....

The American South. Texas, to be exact. This time, a recommendation from a reader, Eilenberger from Palestine, TX. Here we go--it's fruitcake time!

31 October 2011

Do it yourself boozing?

Don from Virginia wrote me to ask about a fruitcake he remembers:
Also, years ago I got a fruitcake from some monastery or abbey that required me to drizzle bourbon or maybe brandy over the cheesecloth and then reseal on a periodic basis until the holidays.  Strong but very good, not to be served to minors.  Any idea about who that may have been, and is there still such a cake?

Anybody know which one this may have been? Of course I could see any number of fruitcakes benefiting from a good dosing.... And thanks Don for writing!

15 October 2011

Review: Abbey of the Genesee Rum fruitcake

I purchased the two pound rum fruitcake from the Abbey of the Genesee. They also have a one pound cake (suitable for giving) as well as a larger round cake in a decorative tin. Didn't order it but based on the photo here it looks like a standard tin that I know I've seen with another fruitcake. The two-pound cake was $19.95 with shipping which ended up being $26.75 to the middle of the country.
The cake came in a pretty commercial-looking package:

Here's a close up of the ingredients, too:

Not great (do I mean the photo, or the ingredients? A little of both). Besides the standard ingredients, there were hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils, corn syrup, artificial flavors, agar, maltodextrin, locust bean gum, and some preservatives.

Here's the cake, denuded of its packaging:

There is a glaze on top, probably the apricot concentrate, which was neither distracting nor gooey, and gave it a nice finish.

As you may have seen from the ingredients, the nuts in this cake are just marked as "nuts." I think we've seen this before--I'm guessing this is a way to hedge which nuts you choose to include, based on world nut stock prices, etc. Helpful Brother Paul at monksbread.com confirmed with me that they are almonds and walnuts. I have to say I like an almond in a fruitcake. The Claxton fruitcakes contain them. Their sweetness is a nice counterpoint to the darker richness of the walnut, and they give a nice texture to the cake.

The fruits were your standard fruitcake mix (cherries, pineapple, fruit peel), with the addition of my personal favorite, the date. The booze was, as noted by the name, rum. There was a good amount - you tasted it throughout.

Although the guar gums and preservatives worried me, the flavor was actually very good. There was a good amount of cake to fruit, so you could really taste the cake. The cake itself did not seem gooey or uncooked, but rather had a nice quick bread density: rich and moist.

Yup, I've been eating it happily lo these many weeks since I originally posted about having purchased it. It's a good one!

So now onto the next. What shall it be? I'd love your suggestions in the comments!

A few more slight changes to the site

Thanks for the feedback on the menu pages. I also miss all of the fruitcakes just dwelling there on the right-hand side of the page, but I don't miss the clutter, so I've posted the top-rated fruitcakes in the four categories (Monastery, Southern, Other, and Mass-Produced) over on the right. Also added a gadget for the most looked-at posts. Hope that helps!

By the way, Abbey of the Genesee fruitcake will be posted soon, what shall I do next? Please post in the comments! I would love to do this one, but unfortunately as of this posting it's not yet available. Silly Neiman Marcus - don't they know that fruitcake season is year-'round? At least for some of us...

05 September 2011

Menu items have been moved

So I removed the fruitcake ratings from the right side of the blog and put them on their own page, which you can get to from the right side.

Is it clear? Can you see it? Let me know in the comments!

21 August 2011

Next fruitcake: Genesee Abbey

Hello! It's been a crazy busy summer for me but I've managed to get around to ordering a fruitcake. This time it's from the Trappist Genesee Abbey in New York. I think this is one of the last monastery fruitcakes I have to cover -- but someone please correct me if I'm wrong! You all know by now that, in general, monastery fruitcakes are my favorites. So I'm looking forward to this one. I still have at least 6 others on my radar to review, can you believe it? Eilenberger bakery, June Taylor, Dancing Deer Harvest cake, Neiman Marcus.... welcome to fruitcake season!

22 May 2011

Mary of Puddin Hill closing?

Carolyn, one of my blog readers, subscribes to Mary of Puddin Hill's e-newsletter. She recently forwarded along shocking news: Mary of Puddin Hill is closing as of May 21. Here's more from MoPH:

Mary of Puddin Hill today announced that it will close effective Saturday, May 21st. Efforts to sell or merge with another bakery company will continue.

Owner Ken Bain further explained that the largest fruitcake company in Texas, Collin Street Bakery of Corsicana has disclosed plans to build a megastore in Greenville similar to their stores in Waco and Corsicana.
To continue to compete we would have to do extensive remodeling or relocate, equip with the newest baking equipment and add the newest digital age media tools to our marketing efforts.
We are deeply grateful to our many longtime friends and customers throughout Texas and America.  We are especially humbled to have been able to continue the rich legacy of the Horton, Lauderdale "Puddin Hill" story over these past ten years.

There doesn't seem to be anything more on their web page, and it is to be hoped that they can find a buyer to carry on the tradition. Seems weird that there actually seems to be a fruitcake competition down there in Texas.

It's a very sad deal, as this is one of the more delicious Southern style fruitcakes I've had. You might want to buy one now!!

29 April 2011

The recipe for Kate & Will's wedding cake

If anyone should know how to do a proper Christmas cake, or in this case, wedding cake, Fiona Cairns should, as she created the cake for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Here's a link to it on the ABC News website. How I would love this for my own wedding cake. I think in the US, if fruitcakes are EVER used as wedding cakes, they tend to be called the "groom's cake." Anyone care to comment?