“We, the fruitcakes of the world, do solemnly declare that we have been the target of irrational dislike. Vilified, slandered, regifted, relegated to the end of the dessert table — and the butt of Christmas jokes everywhere, we have been unfavored for no reasonable provocation. But, no more. This year, we will be enjoyed, and all will celebrate us for the delicious, bejeweled Christmas treat that we are. All hail the mighty fruitcake!”

Can fruitcake be good? Absolutely, yes. With the help of my friend Leslie, I taste-tested five fruitcakes baked in and around Champaign-Urbana. Each one came with its own distinct character and flavor profile. I’m convinced you’ll find the right one for you among them, whether you’re a traditionalist or otherwise.


Half a bundt cake drizzled in golden honey whiskey glaze in a white ceramic bowl. Photo by Tias Paul.Photo by Tias Paul.

Midwest Black Cake | Berries and Flour

If you’ve never tasted elderberries, currants, and spicebush in a cake (or at all), you’re in for a terrific treat with this Midwest black cake. This cake came complete with a honey whiskey sauce — which I promptly drizzled all over the cake before digging in. The layered flavors and textures unfolded slowly with each bite. On my first bite, I tasted an allspice flavor plus a pepperiness from the elderberries and spicebush. Then came the delicately sweetened cake soaked in the buttery glaze, and finally, a brightness and slight crunch from the citrus and fruits.

Literary enthusiasts will be excited to know that this cake is an adaptation of Emily Dickinson’s Black Cake but with a very local twist. Cottage baker Heidi Leuszler handcrafted these cakes from locally-sourced ingredients (think Funks Grove, Bee Fresh Farms, Midwest Elderberry Cooperative, and more) to create a one-of-a-kind treat.

For $10, you can pick up one of these 4” bundts from Berries and Flour. These cakes will also make a special appearance at The Little Red Hut (in lieu of the Mistletoe Market) in Urbana before Christmas, so be on the lookout for them there too.

Berries and Flour
Little Red Hut
206 W Main St
Urbana
Th-Su 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

(until December 20th)

A deep brown loaf cake with whole red and green cherries and pecans. The cake is in a brown paper pan with light brown flowers. The cake is sitting on a beige, wrinkled tablecloth. Photo by Tias Paul.Photo by Tias Paul.

Fruit Cake | Harvest Market

This was the fruitcake that started it all for me. Two years ago, I picked up a loaf on a whim, and it was a complete revelation: a fruitcake that was not hard or gummy, nor simply a cake with tiny bits of chopped fruit. No, this cake was assertive. I went back this year to eat another of Harvest Market's fruitcakes.

Generously studded with glistening red and green-dyed cherries and pecans in a soft, spicy crumb with a zingy, ginger finish, this fruitcake from Harvest Market screamed Christmas. The cake was very sweet, but the slight bitterness from the pecans kept it from being cloying. Paired with a bitter cup of coffee, it was a satisfying treat.

You can find a loaf of this fruitcake in the bakery section of Harvest Market for $6.99. Its size (5” x 3” loaf) and attractive packaging make it perfect for gifting or for treating yourself to a lovely, personal-sized dessert.

Harvest Market
2029 S Neil St
Champaign
6 a.m. to 10 p.m., daily

A slice of cake with perfectly cut edges sitting on a yellow rimmed dessert plate.  Within the cake we can see red cherries, raisins, and marbling from the nuts.  Behind the cake, we can partially see a wicker-backed chair and beige tablecloth.  Photo by Tias Paul.Photo by Tias Paul.

Christmas Fruit Cake | Pekara Bakery and Bistro

Pekara's Christmas fruitcake came in a hefty slice that stood up tall with no assistance necessary. Blessed with a generous quantity of nuts, it had a hearty bite and richness. The candied cherries were the most prominent fruit flavor, but perfectly cut cubes of other candied fruits (did I taste some papaya?) rounded it out. As far as modern day takes go, this is what we have come to expect in a Christmas fruitcake.

You can have yourself a slice of this cake for $2.50 from Pekara. This is the cake for the (modern) traditionalist among you.

Pekara Bakery and Bistro
811 W Springfield Ave
Champaign
8 a.m. to 2 p.m., daily

A round cake wreathed in pecans with fruits and shiny fruit preserves in the center.  The cake is sitting on white parchment paper inside a brown cardboard box.  Photo by Tias Paul.Photo by Tias Paul.

Old English Fruitcake | Lucky Moon Pies and More

If you plucked a Christmas fruitcake out of a Charles Dickens novel, it would look like this one. Lucky Moon Pies' Old English fruitcake featured plump fruit wreathed in pecans and brushed to a glossy finish with preserves. On the inside, it had just enough of a steamed pudding-like crumb to hold the sultanas, dates, apples, cherries, apricots, and other fruit together. There was a light sprinkle of spices, giving it a gentle nutmeg and allspice flavor, but nothing that stole the spotlight from the fruits. This cake would please Scrooge himself; no humbug here.

For $21.50, you can order a bread loaf-sized (5” x 9”) Old English fruitcake from Lucky Moon Pies right after Thanksgiving. If you’re like me, you’ll love making the drive to Lucky Moon Pies as much for its inviting brick storefront as for the delicious treats that come out of it.

Lucky Moon Pies and More
401 E Oak St
Mahomet
W-F 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Sa 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.

A loaf cake that is golden brown on the edges and yellow through the center line.  We can see long strips of fruit jelly, cherries, and pecans on the surface of the cake.  The cake is sitting on a white plate with floral embossed edges.  Underneath the plate, we see a speckled white countertop. Photo by Tias Paul.Photo by Tias Paul.

Fruitcake | Rick’s Bakery

Do you like candied fruits in your cake but not all the Christmas spices? Then, this is the cake for you. I picked up this loaf still warm from the Rick’s Bakery ovens. The aroma was rich and eggy. The crisp crust belied a soft, yellow sponge with jammy fruits and nuts (sultanas, cherries, pecans, and more) baked into it. The overall effect was like eating a pound cake generously smeared with fruit preserves. The ribbons of dark green and orange fruit jelly baked into the cake were particularly delightful. When I tasted the jellies on their own, I could not place the flavors. The green one, specifically, was very interesting. I called the bakery to find out what they were. The green one was a guava jelly, and the orange was apricot — and they worked beautifully together.

This sizable loaf is available at Rick’s Bakery for $10. It’s a good size for serving at the end of dinner and still having some left over for a lazy breakfast the next day. This is a good cake to toast, so you can dip it in your morning coffee; it won't end up at the bottom of the mug.

Rick's Bakery
124 W Main St
Urbana
Tu-Sa 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Top image by Tias Paul.