Well, here’s a Christmas tradition no one is going to be particularly pleased about…it’s National Fruitcake Day! In recent years, fruitcake has gotten a bit of a bad reputation for being something that stays around forever, and no one wants to eat it. But fruitcakes have been a food staple since Ancient Rome, and a Christmas tradition since the 15th century (when an official statement from the Pope allowed bakers to make cakes with butter during fast times–meaning that fruitcake could now be enjoyed during Christmas!) In other parts of the world, fruitcakes incorporate spiced fruits, candied fruits, and nuts, and sometimes has a white icing frosting on top. And Caribbean versions of the fruitcake commonly soak the fruit–and the cake, and basically anything they can get their hands on–in rum, so no one gives a damn what the cake tastes like after a few bites! But the fruitcake became popular in the United States because of an excess of candied fruit in the colonies, so fruitcake with candied, preserved fruit became the American norm. Our collective tastes have changed since the 18th century, however, and now no one is particularly fond of the lump of cake Johnny Carson so frequently lampooned on The Tonight Show.
But don’t fret! You don’t have to settle for a brick of old fruitcake, with stale nuts and unrecognizable candied fruits embedded into its crust. There are a few options around the city that can have you tolerating–even liking–the humble fruitcake. As I said before, American fruitcakes vary wildly from European varieties, so a fruitcake recipe from across the pond may be more suitable to your tastes. In Romania, the fruitcake of choice isn’t actually a cake: it’s Cozonac, a sweet bread made with raisins, orange zest, walnuts, and hazelnuts. It’s served during the Christmas holidays and is considered one of Romania’s national foods. You can try one out for yourself at Nita’s Bakery in Sunnyside, Queens. The cozonac is baked fresh here and you can be sure they’ve got lots in stock for the holiday season. Nita’s has been around for over 30 years and they definitely have a following in this neighborhood. They make their cozonac in a number of varieties which include fruits and sweet fillings–but make sure you bone up on your Romanian to know what you’re really getting! The cozonac is a sweet, old-world alternative to the fruitcake that you’ll actually want to eat this holiday season.
Nita’s European Bakery
4010 Greenpoint Ave, Sunnyside
“Nita’s has been serving up Romanian-inspired desserts for years, including an assortment of cakes, breads and croissants. That includes Cozonac, a Romanian-style sweetbread. Nita’s is very popular with those looking for a quick dessert pickup for a party or gathering, and the bakery also features seating and coffee, for those who want to sit and relax.”–Golf Link
“Oh dear…Nita’s European Bakery. Located on Greenpoint Avenue, you should RUN, not walk, to this Romanian family’s bakery. OMG. Crispy, not too sweet cookies required a second visit to take more home. The cheese pateuri? Melt in your mouth. The cozonac, a Romanian sweet bread filled with nuts, raisons and many other choices based on the menu above? To DIE for.”–Gotham Girl Chronicles
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“I love the fact that I can go here of course and buy things like pateuri, cozonac cu mac, and other stuff that you just don’t find in any other so called “European” bakery. Not to mention all their chocolate mini cakes make me literally drool every time I enter the store. If I could buy everything they have displayed in their window I would in a heartbeat. (Probably not the best thing for any diet but they’re soo good).”–P. M.
“Yum. I live around the corner and drag myself out of bed to get croissants on the weekend, they go fast because they’re so good! Its my go to place when I have to bring desert to a gathering… eclairs, tiramisu, baklava.. yum. They also have Cozonac, which is a sort of bread stuffed with nuts and such. … I prefer the poppy. Mind you, its european style, so its not exactly the same as those in American bakeries, so those reviewers that comment on it not being what you’re used to, that’s why. Its better:)”–Marianne B.
Another fruity, nutty fruitcake-that-is-not-fruitcake is the panettone, an Italian sweet bread loaf filled with candied oranges and citron and is baked in a signature domed shape. You see imported panettone in brightly colored boxes around the holiday season, and since World War II has become an Italian Christmas tradition. And while most people believe that imported panettone is perfectly fine for the holidays, I’m still a little wary about eating supposedly “fresh” sweet bread out of a box shipped here from Italy. But the Doughnut Plant on the Lower East Side has you covered: for the holidays, they make a panettone doughnut that I daresay is better than the original. (Of course it’s better, it’s deep fried!) A cake-based doughnut, the panettone has golden raisins, citron, and pine nuts baked into the dough–a nutty, fruity mix that isn’t too tough to swallow. A lemon-orange glaze and a hearty shake of the confectioner’s sugar box finishes the doughnut, and you’ve got a sweeter, more compact, and fresher version of the panettone–better than anything else you’ll find in New York City. This is only a seasonal doughnut, however, along with the marzipan, cranberry, and gingerbread varieties, so stop by today before the panettones vanish for the rest of the year!
379 Grand St (between Suffolk St & Norfolk St)
“The cake: It’s a cake doughnut, made with the Doughnut Plant’s usual doughy mastery. Moist but not greasy. Hearty yet light. Aside from the fact that Israel’s creation is a doughnut, he’s stuck close to tradition, flavoring with golden raisins, citron and pine nuts. On goes a lemon-orange glaze, and voila! A portable Italian fruitcake.”–Metro Mix
“The only problem with coming to Doughnut Plant is deciding what to buy. Crème brûlée is their top seller, but then again there’s carrot cake and tres leches, and their famous square peanut-butter-and-jelly doughnuts. Chief Experience Officer Jeff Magness made my decision harder by telling me about their special holiday edition doughnuts like marzipan, cranberry, gingerbread, and panettone. “Mark is always coming up with new flavors and ideas,” he says.”–National Geographic
“Dotted with extra plump raisins, pine nuts and citron, the Panettone Cake Doughnut held true to its name—a fried form of the classic holiday bread, dusted in sugar. This was a messy one, but surely worth the extra napkin.”–Serious Eats
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“After minutes deciding which flavors/types to get, we finally settled on the marzipan and pomegranate yeast doughnut and the tres leches cake doughnut. We sat down to eat at the window and while we were sitting, they offered us each a panettone doughnut – on the house! I have to admit that they were closing soon and still had a lot of doughnuts for the night. I personally would never have ordered the panettone doughnut so I was glad I could try it. It had citrus peels (lime/orange?) and pine nuts, which my friend is super allergic to. He’s fine though and actually really enjoyed the taste and texture. He first described them as “really oily.” I didn’t like how they turned what seemed like a savory flavored doughnut into a sweet doughnut by completely covering it in granulated sugar. It seemed more like a round, smooth churro than what I would expect from a doughnut.”–Hannah C.
“They have special flavors for the holidays including panettone which I had to go grab for the hubby and it did not disappoint ; DP continues to amaze me with the unexpected donut versions and flavors. Each time I visit I find myself thinking and craving them for weeks that follow.”–Krista M.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!