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.

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