27 December 2012

Review: Robert Lambert Winter Fruitcake

My fruitcake-disliking husband bought the Robert Lambert Winter Fruitcake for me for my birthday. At $55 for one small cake, this is quite a statement of love. As you all know, I really enjoyed the white fruitcake that Robert Lambert makes, so was intrigued to see if there was an appreciable difference. I had recently re-tasted the white at the fruitcake tasting a little while back, so the memory was still fresh in my mind when I cut into this one.

Here's what the Winter fruitcake looks like:

And now unwrapped:
A slightly different garnish, but very cute all the same. And here it is in its nude glory:

The difference between this cake and the White is that it focuses primarily on dried fruit except for glacéed apricots, and also includes tropical fruit juices, cardamom, and cinnamon. Perusing the ingredient list, that juice is guava/peach, and the dried fruit are pineapple, nectarines, and cherries (as well as white raisins). You have quite a few different peels in this cake: Rangpur lime, Meyer lemon, blood orange, and grapefruit. Just as with the White, there is coconut, which adds a distinctive flavor and texture (some might call it hairy but it doesn't bother me). Four kinds of nut: pecans, almonds, walnuts, and Brazil nuts, the latter chopped rather largely. By the way, I have been corresponding with Robert and he said that he often will blanch his walnuts as a way to remove a bit of that bitter taste you can sometimes get from that nut. So bakers, take note.

And on to the taste: delicious. This one might even beat the White cake, in my opinion, because of these delicious pops of acidic freshness you get from the dried cherries and that tropical juice. My fruitcake-disliking husband even tried a bite and agreed that it is a tasty breakfast quick bread. The crumb is very much a poundcake-like crumb, rather moist and with a non-cloying sweetness.

I tried a slice of this in a fruitcake duel this morning with a slice of the Heritage Baking cake, which is also hanging out in my fridge, and the difference in sweetness is pronounced. The Lambert cake has a good balance of cake, citrusy and nutty notes, as well as the zing from the dried fruit and richness from the coconut. The Heritage Baking, on the other hand, has a very classic rich, syrupy, buttery sweetness, almost like pancakes with syrup. Neither were bad, just very different one from the other.

This very well might be my new favorite. A definite good one for foodies and someone who thinks that all fruitcakes are the same. A delicious holiday breakfast treat. But NOT for someone who is looking for the classic fruitcake taste.

19 December 2012

Review: Heritage All Butter Fruitcake

Heritage Baking Company in Ontario, Canada sent me one of their fruitcakes to review. If I had purchased it, the cost would have been $26.95 (Canadian), but the shipping to the US would have been a whopping $23.00! So if you're considering purchasing this cake and you live in the States, you may want to reflect on my description and decide whether it's worth the investment. Kristi at Heritage Baking tells me that as they see their U.S. sales increasing, they plan to renegotiate their U.S. shipping rates for 2013.

The cake I received was wrapped in a beige box with a happy seasonal ribbon.The label on the box described the contents and the ingredients:

I realize that photo might be hard to read (what else is new), but the ingredients are fairly straightforward, and do include butter. Nuts are pecans; fruits, pineapple, cherries, and raisins; and the alcohol, brandy. don't be afraid by the lengthiness of the ingredients; they are in French and English, and list out the colorings, etc., that go into the candied fruit, as we've seen in other cakes.

Here's the tin:

A bit plain but nothing wrong with that. Here's the cake out of the box:

And finally, the cake, unwrapped:


The decoration on top (pecans, green pineapple, cherries) is simply that, an applied decoration. I mean, there's pineapple, cherries, and pecans throughout, but the pineapple is not green throughout (thank God), and the pecans are good size chunks but not whole. I think there's a bit of a glaze keeping it all on the top of the cake. The glaze, unlike others I've tried, is not thick, but does manage to do the job of keeping all the decoration on top.

The cake itself has a pound-cake like crumb. There's a pretty balanced proportion of fruit to cake, meaning that there's a lot of fruit and nuts, and big chunks of them as well, but you also can see and taste the cake in each slice. Although Heritage says that they macerate their fruit in brandy, there is NOT a strong brandy note in this cake. I hardly recognized any alcohol note, though there may very well be a bit of it in the raisins.

This is a dark cake that contains brown sugar, and you might already know how I feel about raisins in my cakes, but this is not a terribly "dark" tasting cake. The scent as well as the taste is redolent of butter and a general sweet, candied flavor from the fruit. The fruit itself tastes as it should - the cherries have a Maraschino-esque flavor, and you will definitely taste the pineapple due to the large chunks.

I'm going to put this at the top of the mass-produced fruitcakes list, due to the overall quality ingredients, better than those of Yahoo, which was previously at the top of the list. It's a good value for the money, too--if you live in Canada, where shipping is only $11. For those of us Stateside, you may want to find something within our border that will meet your fruitcake needs, but for those of you in Canada, you could consider this if you want a good fruitcake at a nice price.

At times I feel like I'm getting soft on mass-produced fruitcakes. But I shouldn't prejudge a cake simply because it goes into my "mass-produced" category, should I? I think that after all these years and having tried at least 31 different fruitcakes, I've simply found a few good mass-produced ones.

à chacun son goût.

09 December 2012

Recipe review: Fiona Cairns Rich Tamarind Fruitcake

As I mentioned in my previous post on the fruitcake tasting, my friend Laura's contribution to the event was a homemade fruitcake using the Fiona Cairns' recipe. You can see the beautiful results below; my friend Laura is an excellent baker and, evidently, food stylist, as she made the cake look gorgeous.

This recipe is definitely for a dark fruitcake, similar to what I call Monastery fruitcakes on my ratings page. Reviewing the recipe, you'll see that it contains molasses and brown sugar, and, in a surprising twist, tamarind concentrate. I have some of this in my house, but have never used it for baking; rather, I use it for cooking Indian food:

Tamarind paste brings a sour, fruity note to food. I know that may not sound terribly pleasant, but it's an essential component of Indian cooking, used to offset heat or sweetness, really just as a counterpoint to the other flavors going on. And I feel it's an essential component to the deliciousness of this cake. Because it was, indeed, delicious.

Here's a slice of the cake:

It contains cherries, currants, and gold and dark raisins, as well as walnuts and almonds, well distributed throughout the cake. The cake itself is rich and spicy, containing almond flour, orange, and lemon peel as well as crystallized ginger, all adding to the complexity of the flavor. Plain ginger would add one note, I think, but crystallized ginger adds a flavor and a texture that steps it up a notch. Laura tells me she followed the recipe faithfully (as she does any time she tries a recipe the first time), but admits that she may have rolled just a bit more crystallized ginger into the mix. I don't care--I can eat crystallized ginger like candy.

A strange ingredient in this recipe, I think, is "apple pie spice." It just seems very un-British. Basically, it's cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and ginger. I guess I'm a spice snob, and prefer to have my spices individually named. Interestingly, though, "apple pie spice" describes a specific flavor profile, different, say, from "pumpkin pie spice," which contains cloves. So there you have it -- you have an apple pie spice profile in this cake, augmented with the citrus rind and crystallized ginger.

And of course, there's booze -- brandy (Laura used cognac). The fruit is macerated in the brandy, along with the tamarind paste, which will definitely impart a different flavor to the fruit than if it were just soaked in brandy alone. And after baking, of course, the cake was fed with brandy. The cake we tried was a young cake--only about a week old.

Before I get into the taste of the cake, I should call out one other unique ingredient - bitter orange marmalade. Yup, in addition to the orange peel, lemon peel, oh, and I forgot, there's mixed candied peel in there as well, which Laura said she bought from King Arthur Flour. It was a challenge for Laura just to collect all these ingredients, and I've heard that from other fruitcake bakers--maybe that's why there are so many commercially-made fruitcakes. People just give up! Anyway, back to the marmalade, just another addition to the macerated fruit which imparts another layer of complexity to the flavor of the cake.

On to the flavor. This cake was delicious. It reminded me of a salted caramel, a combination of richness, sweetness, and a spice/salty edge. The scent was boozy, sweet, spicy. The cake was moist but not wet, rich, and sweet. There was this note of spicy, buttery saltiness to it. Again, I know that sounds weird, and let me assure you it tasted like sweet fruitcake, but that additional note, just like the salt on a caramel, enhances the underlying sweetness and makes it that much more delicious.

What can I attribute this note to? I think it's a combination of the crystallized ginger and the tamarind paste. The crystallized ginger imparts a warm spiciness when you hit a piece. Worcestershire sauce also contains tamarind paste, and it's often used to add a deep savoriness (maybe one would call it umami?) to dishes. I think that tamarind imparts a certain je ne sais quoi to this cake, which makes all the difference.

And yeah, I went there - referring to Worcestershire sauce when talking about a fruitcake. I don't know if that comment will win any fruitcake converts. But regardless, this is a fabulous cake recipe, which I recommend!

01 December 2012

The Fruitcake Tasting

Last night I was invited to a party with a fabulous theme: a Fruitcake Tasting! A group of friends gathered to have pizza and then finish the night with a "flight" of fruitcakes. Here's a photo of the collection:

Clockwise from lower left, we have a chunk of my wedding cake (Veda's Dundee cake); a Gethsemani Farms fruitcake; Fraters from Holy Cross Abbey; a homemade fruitcake by my friend Laura, made from Fiona Cairns' recipe for Will & Kate's wedding cake (Rich Tamarind Fruitcake); the Sunnyland Farms light and dark fruitcakes; and finally, the vintage 2011 and 2012 white fruitcakes from Robert Lambert.

Oh, and of course, it wouldn't be a party among friends without:

Fruitcake martinis! Recipe courtesy of Wegman's. They were EXTREMELY sweet, and frankly I don't recommend them with fruitcake, but they'd probably be delicious at a holiday party with savories--they actually did taste like fruitcake. (We splashed in a bit of Cointreau, which didn't hurt a bit).

We started the tasting, similar to a wine tasting,with the lighter tastes first. I suggested, since so much sweetness might quickly spoil our palates, that we start with the Robert Lambert cakes. They, as usual, were delicious. Pretty much everyone else at the party was a fruitcake noobie, but all were foodies, so this was a nice way to start--there were some comments like "I never expected a fruitcake to taste like this!" As for noting the difference between the two "vintages"--one fruitcake was actually from 2011, and is aged for a full year--I can't say we noticed a huge difference. There were some subtle differences in flavor, but nothing so striking that I would recommend one year over the other.

On to the next - I think we went to the Sunnlyand Farms light fruitcake. It was an excellent contrast to the Robert Lambert: sweet, bright, and non-alcoholic. The group really got into thinking critically about the differences, noting the differences in flavor and texture from the previous cake. One observation about this cake was that, where the Lambert cake might be nice in the morning with a cup of coffee, having an almost quick bread texture (or at least a lot more cake), the Sunnyland farms cake was much sweeter, more like a candy, and definitely more like a dessert.

And to the next (and I gotta tell you, fruitcake fatigue was already setting in): my wedding cake. The cake itself, I gotta admit, had been through a lot in the past month: it had seen three different states, a wedding, being chopped up, and had been sitting wrapped in plastic for about 3 weeks. It was still tasty and boozy, and the marzipan adds an element of richness, but the fondant was pretty tired at that point, and people found that to be a bit too sweet.

Next we got to the beauty in the middle of the table: the Fiona Cairns Rich Tamarind Fruitcake, made by my friend Laura, who is a magnificent baker. As I believe I've already noted in this blog, really, nothing beats a fresh, homemade fruitcake. We all agreed on this, and this was my personal favorite. I took a big chunk home and plan on reviewing the cake recipe in a later post. It was delicious: moist, flavorful, chunks of candied ginger, interesting spices, just really good.

Finally, running on fumes, we all took a deep breath and dove into the last one we could handle: the Gethsemani Farms fruitcake. Honestly, I think we could have stopped (hey, fruitcake is rich), but I insisted, because all the previous cakes contained cognac or brandy, and this was our first fruitcake containing bourbon.

So, sports that they are, the guests dug into one last slice. One guest immediately did NOT like it--the taste of bourbon did not suit her. Others liked it.

My conclusion from all of this? It's kind of hard tasting so many fruitcakes at once! The taste is so rich and sweet that your tongue quickly gets burnt out. At some point our conversation flowed towards what would be a good palate cleanser for a fruitcake tasting--certainly not oyster crackers! Maybe a nice dry champagne would have done the trick (or a shot of bourbon, as I suggested). All the same, I think it was really fun trying different fruitcakes, comparing and contrasting, and I would guess that, although I might not have created any fruitcake addicts, I think we definitely had some fruitcake converts, or, if nothing else, some people who could at least defend the fruitcake's right to exist.

You may have noticed that there were a couple of fruitcakes that went uneaten--the Sunnyland farms dark and the Fraters. Yup, we just couldn't--fruitcake satiation. The Fraters were nice parting gifts for everyone, and I suspect the Sunnyland dark will be enjoyed by Sherry, the hostess, along with the remnants of all the rest of the fruitcakes. I have to say that the "after" photo of the table looked very similar to the "before" photo--we were eating very skinny slices, and there was a lot of fruitcake left over.

I happily left the party with chunks of a couple of the cakes, and I look forward to reviewing the Fiona Cairns recipe very soon. Thanks Sherry and all the fruitcake tasting guests for the good food and conversation--we may have short-term fruitcake burnout, but at least it was from some good tasting cakes!

30 November 2012

Mary of Puddin Hill back in business

A commenter clued me in that Mary of Puddin Hill is producing cakes again. I hope they're still of the same good quality. This is exciting news!

18 November 2012

My favorite fruitcake of all.

Wanna see my favorite fruitcake of all time? Here it is!

My wedding cake -- and of course, being Isabelle from THE Mondo Fruitcake, it HAD to be a fruitcake. Veda's Dundee Cake, to be more specific. 

This is the reason the posts on this blog have been so few--I got married on the 4th of November, and here was the beautiful cake, all fruitcake, decorated by Festive Flamingos Cakery in Bristol, Wisconsin, in the most gorgeous way! Everyone admired the cake--it was simply beautiful. The cake topper was composed of two tatted hearts edged in Swarovski crystals. Tatting is a form of lace making that I do, so I created those. Isn't the cake gorgeous? Here we are enjoying our first slice as man and wife:

He is a wonderful man: he doesn't like fruitcake at all, but willingly ate the cake I fed him. Now that's love.

Many people tried and enjoyed this cake at the reception--it was delicious. Similar to a slice of wedding cake I had shown earlier, the cake was enrobed in a layer of marzipan and fondant, both of them delicious.  I may have made a few fruitcake converts! We also had a dessert bar for non-fruitcake-eaters. And as a gift for the way out, guests had this:

Boxed slices of fruitcake to take home, which many did. To my delight, however, there were many boxes left over, so I contentedly ate my way through the remainder when I returned home from the honeymoon. It was a fabulous day, and it warms my heart to know that fruitcake was a part of it.

I'm not sure how many more fruitcakes I'll be eating this year, but I will be back on track soon, and some friends are having a fruitcake tasting at the end of the month, including some vintage fruitcake, so I'll be sure to report on that.

....because it's fruitcake season, people!!

13 October 2012

Vintage fruitcake

Was just perusing my highly-rated fruitcakes list for the fruitcake tasting in November, and I noticed that Robert Lambert is selling vintage fruitcakes: that is, a fruitcake that is one year old. To some, "vintage fruitcake" could mean "old stock." Many fruitcakes are already aged a certain number of days or weeks in order to mellow or improve the flavors, so presumably that's the point of this one.

Unfortunately in my household a fruitcake never sees its one year birthday; they get eaten too quickly. So I don't have much experience with aged fruitcakes.

The idea of a vintage fruitcake tickles my fancy.  The fact that a fruitcake can age and improve speaks to its history of being a rich cake that preserved the harvest: the result and memory of abundance. Many baked goods are freshest on the day they're made  - "day-old" goods are sold at a discount. But this cake is being sold with a premium price tag, $10 more than the "non-vintage" cakes.

What are your thoughts on a vintage fruitcake? Do you like the idea? Would you want to eat  one? What do you think it would be like? Do you age the fruitcakes you buy?

22 September 2012

Wedding cake "to dream on"

Photo from Ang Weddings and Events
 I recently had a comment on my post about Kate and Will's wedding cake. The commenter (smartygirl) mentioned that she's Canadian and traditional wedding cake IS fruitcake. I do agree with her that this tradition is going out of style, although, please, my Canadian readers, I welcome your comments on whether this is still a tradition up north.

By the way, as you can see from the number of posts here, wedding planning and their expenses have taken over my life, so I apologize for the lack of fruitcake posts this summer. I hope to pick up a bit after the wedding, which will happen within the next couple months. However, in other news, some good friends are discussing a holiday fruitcake tasting, which I think is inspired and hilarious, so I will be sure to report back on that.

Back to wedding fruitcake, and a musing on this subject: when I was young, I received a hand-me-down coloring book (yes, I really think it was; I think there were some pages ripped out or pre-colored) about a girl getting married. First, I must comment on the memory of how extremely frustrating it is to try to color wedding dresses in a coloring book. Wedding dresses tend to be white, and that color crayon is boring and, when using it, all the lines (as in "coloring inside of") show through. And yet, coloring the wedding dress, say, purple, was very unsatisfying as well.

In any case, and to get back to something smartygirl mentioned in her comments, there was a page in the wedding coloring book where the bride gave her blushing (just a touch of Peach on the cheeks) bridesmaid a box of cake, "to dream on." Actually, I think it was written like this: "Wedding cake....to dream on!" (Yes, I was impressionable, so the exact punctuation stuck with me)

A couple of things about this: a) the tradition of sending wedding cake home with the guests has, I believe, gone out of favor at weddings lately. I remember this from when I was younger, but honestly, I haven't been to many weddings lately, so please do comment if I'm incorrect. b) I remember even back then thinking, how could you possibly stick wedding cake under your pillow, even if it's in a box, without it getting all smashed? I imagined white cake with white frosting oozing out of the cake box and all over the pillowcase, and I'm sure my mother would not have been pleased with that, even if it meant missing out on a dream of my potential groom.

The fruitcake is the missing link in this puzzle. Being a hardy and traditional wedding cake, it would fit well into a wedding cake box (or as smartygirl mentions, a doily and cellophane), and would stand up to a head laying on it overnight.

So there! Fruitcake is the wedding cake "to dream on." And if I can't find the perfect box, a paper doily and cellophane will work quite nicely--thank you smartygirl!

05 August 2012

Review: Holy Transfiguration Skete Poorrock Abbey Cakes

I had mentioned in a previous post that I had purchased the First Gift Box from the Holy Transfiguration Skete Abbey in Michigan. I hadn't looked closely at the description of the gift boxes, but they weren't kidding when they said gift box: the food is actually sent in a nice maple box with "fire-branded" covers. It's a pretty box, though the fire-branding comes out a bit muddy:

Here's a close up of the branded logo:

The cover slides off, revealing two cakes nestled in their individual little cabins:
The box I ordered contained two 24-ounce cakes, the Abbey Cake and the Walnut Ginger cake. Both are liberally doused in liquor; the walnut ginger cake, in brandy, while the Abbey cake is soaked in bourbon. So when you unwrap them, they both look like this:

The cakes are wrapped in two plastic bags to keep in the moist boozy goodness, and it really works--I've had both in my fridge for a couple weeks now and they still are very moist.

Regarding cost, the gift box was $58.00, and with shipping (from the Midwest to the Midwest) it cost me $70. These are not inexpensive cakes, but do keep in mind I got a nice maple box with them. In hindsight I think I should have ordered the Fruitcake sampler, a set of six one-pound cakes, to get the full Transfiguration cake experience, but that one cost $70--uff da! I'm planning for a wedding here!

On to ingredients. Here are the ingredients in the Walnut Ginger cake:

I guess the name of the actual abbey is Poorrock, although on the website they call themselves the Abbey of  Holy Transfiguration Skete. As you can see, pretty simple, wholesome ingredients, and brandy. Here's the Abbey cake ingredients:

While the ginger cake uses both Madeira and brandy, the Abbey cake focuses on my favorite liquor: bourbon.

Here's what the Abbey cake looks like unwrapped:

And finally, a shot of a slice of the Ginger Walnut cake. The proportion of cake to fruit in this cake was similar to that of the Abbey cake:

So, on to the taste. The walnut ginger had the texture and taste of a light tea bread. The ginger was not overbearing but instead gave it a nice bright flavor with a tiny bit of heat. The heat from the brandy cannot be overlooked; unlike a cake where the liquor is baked into the dough, both of these cakes, wrapped in liquor-moistened cheesecloth, have a pronounced alcohol edge to them. If you don't like the heat of alcohol on the tongue, don't get these cakes. Depending how you look at it, the alcohol was either a bit distracting from the taste of the cake, or it added one more element to the flavor.

The Abbey cake is darker due to the molasses in the dough, and had a taste more like a typical fruitcake. The moisture and flavor imparted from the bourbon-soaked cheesecloth made two ingredients that I'm not a huge fan of--walnuts, which I find to be sometimes bitter, and raisins, not my favorite dried fruit--taste quite good. The moisture gave the walnuts a better texture, and the raisins were plump and juicy. Being that there are only raisins in this cake, you don't get the different textures and tastes of a variety of fruit--I think the dried fruit cake they offer might be better for that--but overall this is a very tasty cake.

The hallmarks of these cakes are the honesty of their ingredients and the heavy-handed booziness of them. I'd be interested in trying the dried fruit one I just mentioned. It might--just might--give the Robert Lambert cake a run for its money, and at $40 for 5 pounds, it's a better value.

01 July 2012

Next fruitcake: Transfiguration New Skete

I have finally committed to the next fruitcake, which will be from the Transfiguration New Skete Monastery near Traverse City, Michigan. I couldn't decide between the cakes that they offer, so splurged on Gift Box 1, which includes their traditional fruitcake and the Ginger Walnut cake. I'll letcha know what I find out!

15 April 2012

Wedding cake is fruitcake...right?

I'm planning my wedding - very exciting! And OF COURSE my wedding cake has to be fruitcake. I mean, how could it be anything else? That is, after all, the traditional wedding cake. A certain fairly well-known couple got married last year and had a fruitcake. Surprising then, that when talking with caterers, they look askance and are vaguely surprised when I say that my wedding cake will be a fruitcake. (Yes, I'll be having a sweet table as well for those people who think fruitcake=poison, which includes the groom-to-be).

Although still traditional(or at least heard of) in England, the fruitcake as wedding cake has gone out of favor, but it wasn't that long ago when it was still the thing. I have in front of me a Good Housekeeping cookbook from 1949, and under "Three Tiered Wedding Cake" it instructs "Make 3 times recipe for Toasted Almond Fruit Cake." The thing we now think of as the wedding cake was referred to on the next page as the "Bride's Cake" and is a white cake. I have also heard the fruitcake referred to as the groom's cake, which would seem to follow if the white cake was the bride's cake.

So it seems that the groom, just like his cake, has been relegated to a back corner of the bride's wedding. In any event, THIS bride is going traditional with a fruitcake. I will definitely be adding more research on this. In the mean time I'll be looking for a sturdy serrated knife to cut that first piece.

17 March 2012

Cake aux fruits confits, Dimanche à Paris

Hello all! I want to tell you about a little affair I had with a French fruitcake. A friend brought me back this little slice of délicieux from Paris. She bought it at a chocolatier called Un Dimanche à Paris, which is a combination boutique-restaurant-chocolate bar, etc. Looks very chic. Here's an English review.

Let me give you the play-by-play. First, I received this lovely bag:
Extremely chic. I peeked inside, and this is what I found:

A gorgeous, elegant box, about a foot long and about 2-3 inches wide. I peeked at the side and noticed a sticker saying what was inside: cake fruits confits. In French, as many people know, cake is known as  gâteau. Cake is a specific type of cake: like a pound cake, sometimes spiced. In comparison to the more ethereal and complex gâteaux one sees in France, cake is more basic, yet still rich and delicious. Cake doesn't necessarily imply a fruitcake. However, fruits confits certainly does imply fruitcake: it means candied fruit. Yay!

The French version of fruitcake, however, is much different than the typical fruitcake I review, know, and love. Let me show you what the cake looked like when I opened the box:

Ooh la la! Very elegant. What you're seeing is a very rich, delicious pound cake with a smattering of fruit, topped with a delicious selection of candied fruit: absolutely high quality, top of the line candied fruit. Plus, my favorite lagniappe, if I may add some Cajun French to this review:

Sprinkled among the candied fruit were delicious pâtes de fruits, fruit jellies of the most delicious, intense flavor. Yummy. The one I show above is topped with a bit of chocolate showing the Un Dimanche à Paris logo.

Doing a quick Google search reveals that Dean and DeLuca offer a similar cake, and I found one at another bakery in New York. There are quite a few recipes for this around the web as well, though many of them are in French. I won't add this to the listings of fruitcakes because it is a one-off, but it was positively one of the best souvenirs I could receive from Paris!