Baker puts heart, soul into abbey’s fruitcake

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The festival includes a number of contests for the fruitcake, such as “most solids” baked into the cake, farthest traveled and best decorated.

“One lady made fruitcake balls, which was a really interesting idea,” Ms. Masters said. “We always try to do some value-added fruitcake, like fruitcake tempura … or fruitcake bread pudding.”

And each year Ms. Masters brings out a cake that she’s had preserved for eight years to get people to taste.

Packed in a metal canister used in bomb shelters, then placed in a glass container, the fruitcake gets a new coat of powdered sugar and an injection of brandy.

“We do take precautions,” she said with a laugh.

Ms. Masters said she too is a fruitcake fan. She likes the various fruits and nuts and the different styles the cake can be baked.

For the festival, however, “it’s not what tastes the best.”

In Berryville, the goal is a tasty cake.

It takes about 2 1/2 hours to bake the abbey’s fruitcake. The process starts at 3 a.m., when Mr. Polanskas hits his alarm and heads from his home in Winchester to the bakery at the back of the abbey’s property.

He mixes the cake batter for that day and is joined over the course of the morning by monks who combine the batter with fruit.

Along with the cake batter, the monks mix in raisins, nuts, cherries, pineapple pieces, lemons and oranges, as well as vanilla and a range of spices like cumin and nutmeg.

The bakery has electric mixers, but they are nearly 6-feet tall. A small forklift is used to transport the mixing bowls, which weigh up to 200 pounds each when they are full.

“I’ll tell you, I like it with vanilla ice cream,” said Brother Efrain, 60, who moved from a Rhode Island monastery seven years ago to live at Holy Cross.

Sitting in the now-quiet bakery, helping to wrap containers of the whipped honey the monks also make, Brother Efrain said baking gives the men time to talk, albeit quietly, and socialize with some of the people who have come to the monastery for a weekend away.

Once his shift is over, however, “I take a shower. I don’t want to smell like that.”

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