fruitcake?" people asked when the topic of Christmas desserts came up here at the KitchenDaily office. "My mom!" was our photo editor Liz Hait's response. "Mine too!" I said. My mother looks forward to her Christmas fruitcake every year (she pulls the tin out every day after dinner during the Christmas season -- and after some lunches when she's feeling "naughty"). So we decided that instead of holding a taste test with editors, we'd go to the real
experts when it comes to that loved or loathed dried fruit and nut concoction: We ordered two sets of 11 different mail-order fruitcakes -- from amazon.com, Williams-Sonoma and direct from several monasteries and other sources -- and held a mom taste-off to determine who makes best fruitcake available in the United States.
My mom, Marianne, and Liz's mom, Beate, gamely jumped on board and, with the help of our sisters -- thanks Kirsten and Monica! -- gathered groups of their fruitcake-loving friends and sampled and scored slices of the following brands, listed alphabetically: Assumption Abbey
, Bien Fait
, Collin Street Bakery
, Gethsemani Farms
, Holy Cross Abbey
, Jane Parker
, Mary of Puddin' Hill
, Trappist Abbey
, Walkers Strathspey Rich Fruit Cake
, Women Helping Women
See below to find out which fruitcakes were deemed the best
-- and the worst -- by the tasting teams based in Louisiana (my mom's team) and Massachusetts (Liz's mom's team). And click on the Gallery tab above to see photos from the taste tests
For more on Christmas desserts, check out our Christmas Cookie of the Day, Christmas Cookie Decorating Ideas, Santa Christmas Cake, Classic Christmas Desserts, and Gail Simmons's Christmas Desserts. And for more on fruitcakes, see In Defense of Fruitcake on Slashfood.
The Louisiana-based tasters noted that this winning cake, made by Trappist monks in Kentucky, was not as attractive in appearance as the other cakes tasted, but was "very moist and tasty with good fruit" throughout. My mother remarked that the cake had a strong nostalgic appeal "for those of us who grew up with homemade bourbon soaked fruitcake." The Massachusetts-based testers -- for whom this cake was the second from the top -- agreed that this cake had a "heavy alcohol taste," and also found this booziness "very appealing." They agreed on the cake's superior moistness and also liked the "nice green tin."
The Massachusetts team gave this cake top honors -- they praised its "good texture" ("not too chewy"), and "very nice balance of fruits and nuts." "The fruit pieces are big enough to get a good taste of each, even the citron," remarked one tester. The testers also praised the elegance and attractiveness of the cake, as well as the tin.
This cake represented the
classic fruitcake for both teams of testers. "This is what I expect a fruitcake to look and taste like," said one member of the Massachusetts team. And my mom noted that it's been "our household's traditional fruitcake for over 30 years." The Louisiana team praised the cake's "nice appearance," "excellent texture" and balance of fruity and nutty flavors with "fruits and nuts evenly distributed throughout."
Second Runner Up (Tie): Jane Parker
Liz's mom's team of tasters said this cake wonderfully moist, with a "nice mix and balance of fruits and nuts." They also like that it held together well when sliced and wasn't overly sweet.
The Louisiana crew appreciated the "predominately nutty taste" of this not-too-sweet cake.
Neither team liked this cake, which was deemed to have an unappealing appearance, dry texture and unpleasant flavor.
Tasters found this marzipan-topped cake hard to judge since it was "so different from the other fruitcakes in every way." One tester likened it to "figgy pudding," while another called it "the fruitcake for people who don't like fruitcake." Others found the cake and topping dryer than expected. The teams did agree on one thing, though: the cake is quite attractive.