Fruitcake as a holiday gift long has suffered a bad rap, but the brandy-laced version baked by Trappist monks just up the road from here is a different story.
And making Holy Cross Abbey’s gourmet fruitcake even better: a thick coating of gourmet dark chocolate made by Martinsburg’s DeFluri’s Fine Chocolates.
Dipping anything in chocolate sweetens the deal, says Ernie Polanskas, the longtime bakery manager at Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Va. “When we take our chocolate-covered fruitcake to craft fairs or other events, people will look at the samples and say, ‘Oh, I don’t like fruitcake’ but the chocolate covering gets them to try it.”
Once they’ve tried Fraters – the official name for the chocolate-coated fruitcake slices – Polanskas says many people get hooked. “We have a lot of people who buy our chocolate-covered fruitcake slices year-round and eventually many of them will start to buy the fruitcake itself, too,” he said. “They realize they really do like fruitcake.”
“Fraters” – the word is Latin for “brother’’ – started as a lark but in recent years have become a top seller, Polanskas said. But the fruitcake itself is no slouch; it’s made with top-of-the-line ingredients including whole eggs, butter, walnuts and pecans, cherries, pineapple, raisins, dates, papaya, lemon and orange peel, brandy, wine, honey and spices.
It all began nearly a decade ago with that time-honored Christmas tradition of fobbing
off an unwanted fruitcake on relatives, friends or other loved ones, Polanskas said.
Polanskas said the abbey’s leader gave a fruitcake to a friend who then
regifted it to Charlie and Brenda Casabona, who have owned DeFluri’s in downtown
Martinsburg since 1998.
“Charlie likes to experiment – he’ll dip pretty much anything in chocolate,” Polanskas said. “So he cuts up the fruitcake, coats the slices in chocolate and then gives it back to the friend who gave it to him. She gives it back to the head of the abbey, and then he gives it to me.”
Polanskas broke tradition and actually opened the tin and gave the creation a taste test.
“My reaction was: ‘We’ve got to start selling these.’ ’’
Holy Cross’s fruitcake has provided the abbey with operating funds for more than a quarter century and also has garnered mentions in Southern Living magazine and the Food Network.