Holiday foods like fruitcake (not “fruit cake” as the interwebs would dictate) should be bearers of happiness, indulgences to share with friends and loved ones, treats savored solo in close quarters when the chill outside actually does seem frightful. It is in this spirit that we bring you a look at four of the Bay Area’s most enticing fruitcakes (just not “fruit cake,” ok?). A slice served with a dram of brandy or a cup of hot cider will warm the cockles of even the grinchiest of hearts.
After 40 years in Marin, Robert Lambert relocated to Glen Ellen in 2016 but his one-of-a-kind fruitcakes sell out as quickly as ever. Details like Brazil nuts hand cut to resemble marbles and glaceed red cherries, “that necessary bane of all fruitcakes,” Robert says, steeped in hand made Blood Orange Syrup, are transformative. But regulars know that it is Robert’s citrus that sets these cakes apart. Look for Lisbon lemon peel to replace the Meyer lemon in the White cake and a selection of aged cakes this year. 707.403.5092.
At Insalata’s in San Anselmo, Gerhard Epke, Insalata’s former pastry chef, prepared his dad’s recipe, sprinkling the dough with golden raisins, cranberries, candied orange and lemon peel and marzipan, then rolling it in melted butter and sugar. Though Epke has retired, chef-owner Heidi Krahling continues the tradition, and stollen, wrapped in a bow-tied bag, will be available once December arrives. “Give us a call and we will set one aside for you,” she says. 415.457.7700.
Candying her own citrus peels, soaking home-dried grapes in port from Prager Winery in St. Helena and brandy from St. George Spirits in Alameda, grinding fresh spices, and washing the finished cakes in 20-year-old plum brandy are just a few of the steps Berkeley’s June Taylor takes to ensure her eponymous Christmas cake is celebration worthy. “The cake is, in spirit, a celebration cake. It is eaten post-harvest, a way to share wealth with your neighbor and community and celebrate another year of harvest and survival,” Taylor says.
Whether you choose the denser, short cake or the tall, more golden-hued fruitcake, Larkspur’s Emporio Rulli crafts the holiday treat in a style befitting Italy. Panettone Genovese (also known as pandolce) is the sturdier of the two. Fragrant with honey, it is studded with amber-hued sultanas and pieces of candied Italian citron and orange peel. It’s taller cousin, panettone Milanese, is said to date to the 16th century and is twice the height of the Genovese. Enriched with egg yolks and dark raisins, it is a fluffier cake, its bright yellow interior studded with golden raisins interspersed with air pockets. Serve either alongside one of the café’s baba al rhum. It’s a Neapolitan brioche soaked in a spiced rum liqueur–no brandy needed for this one! 415.924.7478,
Keep your eyes on this space: Petaluma’s Della Fattoria makes a panforte that emerges on their menu once Thanksgiving is in the rear view mirror.
Christina Mueller is a long-time Bay Area food writer. She hails from the East Coast and has spent way too much time in South America and Europe. She discovered her talent as a wordsmith in college and her love of all things epicurean in grad school. She has written for Condé Nast Contract Publishing, Sunset, and the Marin Independent Journal, among others. She volunteers with California State Parks and at her childrens’ schools, and supports the Marin Audubon Society, PEN America, and Planned Parenthood. When she is not drinking wine by a fire, she is known to spend time with her extended family.