Love them, make jokes about them or just plain hate them, fruitcakes bring deep passionate biases from everyone. I personally love fruitcakes. My mother used to make fruitcakes and shared a love I still have to day. Usually the cakes are made this holiday season. It actually is a plus to make them months in advance to let the flavors mellow and age especially if your cake has liquor as an ingredient. This year I did not make the cake for various reasons. Instead I purchased the Christmas themed cake from several bakeries and a very special cake from an artisanal jam maker from Berkeley. I would like to share and make some observations about these purchases.
My first cake was bought at ‘A Taste of Denmark” (formerly Neldams for you old timers). It is a seasonal cake and sold by the pound. I got a little sticker shock when I found out this cake would cost me 40 dollars for approximately a pound of cake. This cake did not have liquor as an ingredient. It had raisins, nuts, candied cherries with a dense dark cake. It was very sweet and I enjoyed it. My only criticism was the actual cake was a tad dry.
We will skip to my third purchase from the Alpine Bakery. This was the cheapest cake at 20 dollars for around a pound of cake. This cake did have rum as an ingredient. The ingredients were currents, raisins, lemon & orange peel and cherries. The cake was similar in taste to the first but was moister. It may have been a cheaper because it did not contain nuts. Because it was moister I enjoyed this cake a little more.
We move to the Grand Dame of fruitcakes; June Taylors Christmas Cake. Let’s talk about sticker shock. Enlarge the photo below and you will see the price for this possibly less than 16 ounce cake. I would like to share a cut and pasted description of her cake.
What she refers to as Christmas Cake (“I am British and Christmas cake is traditionally a rich fruitcake in the style that I make it,” she says) is a testament to Taylor’s painstaking year-long process. In the fall, she dries five different varieties of grapes to make currants and raisins; in the summer, she dries stone fruits (her mashup usually includes Bing cherries, apricots and plums); and in the winter, she candies citrus peel. It’s Seville orange this year. All the fruit gets macerated in a private reserve port from St. George Spirits (based in Alameda) before baking. Taylor relies on premium ingredients from local producers like Massa Organics for their Mission Almonds, Straus for sweet butter and Soul Food Farm in Vacaville for pastured eggs. The result is a powerful but balanced cake washed in Chardonnay brandy for a hint but not a wallop of alcohol.
I bought this cake and was trying to justify the cost. I know I can easily spend this amount in ingredients for the cake if I made it myself. This also would make enough to last me all year and give several away. June Taylor has made a labor intensive cake that can only really be duplicated at your home. She also uses steps like drying her own fruit. Oh what the heck, I do love fruitcake. I gingerly unwrapped the water colored paper hand stamped letterpress design inspired by “The Book of Kells”. Immediately a distinct odor of brandy permeates my receptors.
This cake is very moist. The dried fruit is distinct flavored but marries together to form a symphony of flavor. The cake has a warming effect by the booze. There are many layers of flavor to this cake. This is one of the reasons I am a fan of fruitcake. June Taylor has captured the spirit of this cake. Her attention to detail with all of her ingredients works for me. I cannot justify the price tag for everyone. I have made fruitcakes myself and know the labor and costs involved. The most important factor here is; I love fruitcake.