Some fruit cakes do live down to their reputation as dry, dense, flavorless rings that could survive nuclear winter. But it’s their overachieving cousins we were interested in: incredible concoctions teeming with pecans and liqueur, candied cherries and raisins, that can make even haters give fruit cake another look.
Here at RedPlum Central we hit the phones and the Web, and infiltrated coffee klatches across the country (fine, around Boston), to discover the store-bought fruit cakes with the biggest buzz. We would decide once and for all: what’s the best fruit cake you can buy?
From this recon. our list of nominees was compiled. First came the presumptive finalists, Meryl-Streep-like favorites such as the beloved beauty from Old Cavendish. Next the indie, Hilary Swank-types, like the do-gooder cake from the nonprofit Women Helping Women. And finally the Marisa Tomei-types (think Costco's shiny happy entry) that no one takes seriously until they somehow steal an Oscar for their work in a frothy comedy.
Once our cakes had come in, flown in from around the country, we assembled thirty RedPlum staffers in a room, fruit cake lovers and non-fans alike. And we conducted an exhaustive, detailed, blind taste test of the fruit cakes thought to be the best on the market. We judged them on appearance, flavor, texture, aroma. There were cries of joy and shreiks of horror, and by the time each piece had been tasted, there was also a clear winner. Our tasters had found the best fruit cake you can buy!
Assumption Abbey Fruit Cake
The bottom of the barrel in our test came in the form of a lovely looking fruit cake from the Trappist Monks at Assumption Abbey in Ava, Missourri. Unfortunately not-a-one of our judges thought the confection tasted lovely. "It burns," "worst ever," and "I need a chaser" round out the printable reactions. But we promise, they got better.
Dinkel s Fruit Cake
From Dinkel's Bakery
The very pretty fruit cake from Dinkel's Bakery didn't earn above-average marks from our tasters, with its most triumphant praise coming from just one judge who called it "good." It scored best on appearance and texture, but when it came to flavor, our judges got graphic, calling the cake "terrible" a "sweet brick" and comparing it to cough syrup. We know this cake's got many fans, but they weren't sitting at our tasting table.
Monastery Fruit Cake
From Holy Cross Abbey
Our tasters enjoyed this fruit cake, one of several we tried that were crafted by Trappist monks (in this case in Berryville, Virginia). The cake reminded judges of fun and Christmas and got high marks for appearance. A couple tasters did, however, find the treat a little too sweet.
Deluxe Fruit Cake
From Collin Street Bakery
We were suprised to find that this widely loved favorite didn't pierce our top five, but the tasty cake came pretty darn close. At least one taster was passionate about their piece, writing "Oh, man," which...we think...was a positive. But most were more quietly complimentary, calling the classic cake "nice" and "good." And the judges who didn't like this entry. Well they got more specific, calling the cake "weird," "gross," "boring" and "dry."
Kentucky Bourbon Fruit Cake
From Gethsemani Farms
Tasters found this spiked cake, baked by Trappist monks in Kentucky, "moist" and "gooey," and offered it two of the most blunt compliments of the day: "ugly but good" and "I hate fruit cake, but like this one." "The Wall Street Journal" agreed with our tasting table, giving Gethsemani Farm cakes high marks in overall quality and value. But the fine Kentucky bourbon that permeated the cake wasn't for everyone, and caused texture issues for a few tasters who called it out as "too mushy," and said it had an "odd gelatinous look," and a "slimy appearance." One taster claimed this cake made her cry; at press time we were unable to verify the claim.
Traditional Fruit Cake
From Harry & David
The tastefully packaged, carefully decorated entry from Harry & David had no shortage of admirers. Our tasters called it "spicy" and "moist," though at least one judge found the texture a bit chewy.
Old Cavendish Fruit Cake
Packed with cashews and walnuts, Cavendish was one of our boozier options, infused with brandy and orange liqueur. It reminded one taster of making fruitcake with mom as a wee one. Another called it "moist and yummy," and a third commented on Cavendish's nice texture and balanced flavors. Though the alcohol content of the confection did make one taster "feel like I just left the bar!"
Kirkland's Fruit Cake
From Costco (available in-store)
Tasters were wowed by the picture-perfect appearance of Costco's traditional ring. The fruit cake was called wonderful tasting, "too pretty to eat," "fancy" and "pretty." Though some noted an overabundance of fruits and nuts but a lack of actual cake.