23 November 2014

Review: Neiman-Marcus Traditional Fruitcake

I'd had the Neiman Marcus Traditional Fruitcake on my list of cakes to review for some time now--I mean, it's Neiman Marcus. But often it would be sold out or unavailable. I managed to find it, available but backordered, at the end of October, and so ordered the 2 pound cake for $32.32, delivery included (nice!). They had promised the cake by November 21 at the latest, but it turns out I got it quite a bit earlier than that. As you know I was wrapped up in my own fruitcake making so didn't get around to trying it until just recently.

So here we go. Here's the tin:

Yup, that's an alligator texture on the label. This has to be the most fashion-forward fruitcake I've tried. That big sticky line marring the sticker came with the cake; that would have been pretty upsetting if I was buying this to give but I'm not so it's not a big deal (and knowing Neiman-Marcus I'm sure they would send me another one if it had been).

Here's the cake itself:

Pretty--there's a bit of candied orange on top in additional to the standard cherries and pecans, which adds a sort of "foody" vibe to the cake. The ingredients themselves are fairly typical for a mass-produced fruitcake (which is the category I think I'm going to put this in)--with a surprise:

Cocoa. There's cocoa in the cake, something I don't believe I've ever seen unless the cake was tryng to be chocolately). The fruits: pineapple, cherries, oranges, dates, raisins. The nuts? Walnuts and pecans both. There is both rum and brandy in this cake, which you can definitely taste--I'm sure one was for soaking the fruit, the other for soaking the cake and/or in the batter. There's also honey in the mix--not sure if I can smell or taste it specifically but props to them for including it, I'm sure it adds to the flavor. There is shortening, including partially hydrogenated, in the mix, which isn't fabulous--I'd prefer butter. There are various preservatives, caramel color, and food colorings at the end of the list that don't thrill me--I'm guessing the colorings are from the fruit, but caramel coloring? Is this necessary?

Here's a photo of a slice:

The taste is sweet and pretty darn boozy, which is nice--we don't often see a boozy mass-produced. There are big chunks of moist fruit, no problem there--this cake is not dry. The flavor is a bit more complex than just sweet, there's slight bitterness from the orange peel and walnuts and definitely a caramel or dark fruitcake flavor. The cocoa does not add a "Hey--there's chocolate in here!" flavor, but adds to the overall dark spicy effect.

I think I've mentioned this in previous posts, but it's interesting how much my opinion is influenced by how hungry I am. "Well okay," you're thinking, "she's supposed to be a reviewer and she's telling me she's not 100% unbiased?" Yes, that's what I'm saying, but to my credit at least I'm self-aware enough to notice my bias. The first time I tried this was as a "breakfast dessert" after I'd eaten my breakfast. At that time I thought "meh." This last time I ate it AS my breakfast. I also let it warm up just the tiniest bit, which allows the flavors to deepen and expand a bit (like fine wine--I let my fruitcake "breath"). The second time around, this cake tasted much better--still perhaps not as fresh as a homemade fruitcake, but not quite as just straight-up sweet and sweet as the first time I tried it.
My conclusion on this cake? It's OK. At $32.32 plus shipping for 2 pounds, it's not a bad deal, the ingredients are not horrible, and it's certainly one of the prettier fruitcakes I've ordered from a large company. I think that the mass-produced fruitcakes have a new winner.

[NOTE: as of this writing the fruitcake is sold out; it obviously has a following!]

02 November 2014

Making a fruitcake: it’s a labor of love

Preparing to make a fruitcake today. As many of my readers know, I am not a fruitcake maker, or even a baker, in general. However, I recognize that the homemade ones are usually the most delicious. Because of this, I always intended to make a fruitcake this year. My friends are having their annual fruitcake tasting right after Thanksgiving, which is why I might be starting a bit earlier than some. I did purchase a Neiman-Marcus fruitcake, which is on back order (how could I resist? this is, after all Mondo Fruitcake), and might consider the purchase of a couple more, but mostly I’m focused on this one.

When I make something, I tend to start with something traditional or time-tested as a baseline before moving onto variations—for example, I almost always follow a recipe to the letter the first time. So for this fruitcake, I haven’t selected any fancy recipe, but rather the Dark Fruitcake recipe out of my Joy of Cooking cookbook (the 1997 publication, which I believe was skewered by some because it also contained fancy/exotic recipes, but I love it to death—it’s my Bible when it comes to cooking).

This gosh-dern fruitcake. I’m sure anyone who has made one will agree with me that it's a freakin’ scavenger hunt to assemble all the ingredients needed.

My friend Laura graciously stepped up to be the candied fruit coordinator for three of the fruitcake bakers for aforementioned party, and purchased, received, and stickily sorted all of the candied fruit: lemon and orange peel, citron, pineapple, and Morello cherries (from Market Hall Foods). They are very nice quality and I'm sure that will reflect well on this fruitcake.

It was up to me to come up with the dried fruits and spices, then. Not too difficult in a metropolitan area such as Chicago, but I did have a bit of a tussle with the currants and mace. I should have just found a gourmet shop but ended up wandering aimlessly through several fruit/international food markets near me, finally giving up and purchasing dried blueberries instead of the currants. Honestly, I don’t think it’s going to make that much of a difference (and OK, I admit, the recipe is not being followed to the absolute letter--but who cares but me, really?)

I started all the fruit out with a red wine soak last night. This is what the makers of my favorite fruitcake do. Today’s the day to put it all together and get it baked. I’ll report back soon!