THERE are a lot worse snacks than fruit cake. Made well, it will include fresh eggs, butter, and good quality fruit which could sustain us for a few hours.
There is usually added sugar too which is the downside, as there is a lot of natural sugars in the fruit already, so the total of sugars could be as much as 40%. Think of fruit cake portions in terms of a finger and a treat, avoiding huge chunks of it.
A reader who is on the move a lot asked for this survey, mainly as he is so disappointed with what is available.
My task was to find a cake that had plenty of flavour, a decent amount of moisture, high quality fruit, and ideally not many preservatives.
As usual, those with the longest shelf life had more preservatives, but dried fruit always has some sulphur dioxide to preserve it.
We bought mainly in supermarkets, with one from a bakery with just two outlets. We also avoided cakes with yeast, so no bracks here.
Fruit cake is easy to make and there are plenty of recipes online.
We had a lot of volunteer tasters and they were very vocal in dismissing those they thought below par.
Marks are low for many as a result.
The West Cork Bakery Rich Fruit Cake 570g €4.54
The favourite of all tasters, all agreed this was closest of the selection to homemade. A short enough list of ingredients included a decent amount of sultanas and cherries in a base flavoured mainly with vanilla which gave it a slightly toffee flavour, though lemon is also listed. They also agreed the texture was slightly dry, even biscuity, and ideal for soaking up milky tea or slathering with butter.
Natural Foods Bakery Fruit Cake 1kg €9.90
Sugar, wheat and dairy free, this cake is made from spelt flour. This divided tasters, one half liking the healthy aspect and prepared to put up with a slightly dry texture from lack of gluten. Both agreed the fruit and crumb balance was good, with good quality fruit.
Marks & Spencer Sultana & Cherry Cake 520g €3.89
A lovely moist texture here, good quality fruit was appreciated. The crumb itself was lacking in flavour, though quite sweet from the use of golden syrup and brown sugar which also gave it an appetizing darkness.
O’Haras Farmhouse Fruit 360g €2.99
A light coloured cake, this was not oversweet, despite having a high 42.5% sugars. Good cherries. The texture is not natural, with lots of powders used instead of natural ingredients — egg yolk, whey, milk — and there is a very long list of additives as preservatives and flavourings. Perhaps best with butter on top.
Mary Kate’s Mixed Fruit, 454g €3.79
All tasters got a flavour of strawberry jam from this cake — an unspecified flavouring is listed. A light coloured cake, it has 25% sultanas, but they were not enough to overpower a sweet flavour not liked by tasters.
Old Mill Brooklyn Sultana 450g €4.30
Like a Madeira with raisins (28%), is how two tasters described this cake which had a powdery texture and a margarine–like flavour not liked by them. The label was poorly printed (running out of ink) but we could discern a number of additives.
SuperValu Fruit Cake 500g €2.50
With 27% sultanas and 6% cherries, there is a decent amount of fruit here in a light coloured cake. It was crumbly, very soft and oversweet, but better than a few of the other samples.
Lidl Bridge Bakery 475g €1.99
27% sultanas and 2.4% cherries is a fair amount of fruit delivering a reasonably low 33.6% sugars. However, the overall flavour is not natural. Lots of preservatives and various texture-giving elements disappoint in the overall result.
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