Dancing sugar plums and sparkling snow

by Danielle Charles

Well, the count down has officially begun. I’ve been scurrying around all day to a background of Bing Crosby Christmas songs, finishing the last of my present making endeavors, wrapping gifts and pumping out batches of  holiday treats in-between like some sort of deranged Christmas elf, fueled entirely on Yuletide cheer and sugar.

I’m not this productive everyday – but it was hard not to feel giddy and festive today. The sunrise gave way to the most perfect sparkling blue winter’s day you can imagine. Absolutely perfect. The tips of the mountains had been dusted over night with a light snow fall, giving them the surreal effect of looking like powdered sugar dusted figurines in a model Christmas village. Little puffs of clouds, looking all the world like stretched out cotton balls, hovered over them in near complete stillness – and the snow was sparkling and glittering in the sunshine like millions of tiny jewels. It was so bright it almost hurt to look at it, but so beautiful you just couldn’t take your eyes away.  See what I mean?:

So with that to motivate me, I was golden. That, and I also snuck a couple of sugar plums that I was making for holiday gifts. “Sugar plums?”, you say, “aren’t they a sort of fairy from the nutcracker, or things that Victorian children have visions of?”

Yes, they are both of those things, but they are also a delectable and entirely wholesome holiday treat made from dried fruits, nuts and warming spices – an old world candy so to speak. In olden days, the word plum actually referred to any small round treat – especially a dried fruit – and not just the stone fruit we think of today. Before white sugar or sugar cane in general was known to most Europeans, these shriveled up nuggets of highly concentrated flavor and sweetness – from exotic dates and figs to raisins, apples and prunes – were the basis for most deserts and candies in the fruitless season of winter.

So, forget gum drops and candy canes –  a sugar plum is as traditional as you can get when we are talking holiday delectables, and subsequently, probably also the healthiest. Not only that, they are incredibly easy to make. Here’s how:

Dancing Sugar Plums

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups walnuts
  • 1 cup almonds
  • 1/8 cup raw honey
  • 1 to 2 tbs apple brandy
  • 1 1/2 tbs ghee
  • 2 tsp grated orange zest
  • 1.5  tsp ground allspice
  • 1.5 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1.5 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 cup dried apricots
  • 1 cup pitted prunes
  • ½ cup dried cherries
  • 1/2 cup dried figs
  • 1/4 cup candied ginger
  • 1/8 cup candied citrus peel
  • 1 cup powdered sugar for dusting

Procedure:

  1. Preheat oven to 400F. Arrange walnuts and almonds on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast for  eight to ten minutes, or until fragrant and slightly browned. Set aside to cool and then finely chop or pulse in the food processor. Set aside.
  2. Combine the honey, ghee, brandy, and spices in a small bowl.
  3. Pulse the dried fruit, 1/2 a bath at a time, in a food processor till chopped finely (you don’t want a gummy paste, but fruit pieces no larger than a pea). 
  4. Combine the fruits, nuts and honey mixture and mix well.  
  5. Pinch off rounded teaspoon-sized pieces and roll into balls. Dust the sugar plums with powdered sugar and package in an airtight container. Refrigerate until using if possible.

And once you have finished and sampled one or two (for quality control purposes, of course) – your belly warmed with spice and your spirit high on old world sweetness – you will be suitably fueled, I think,  for a nice long stroll in the bright winter’s sunshine.