4 December 2013

Dance of the Sugar Plums

di-di dee dee di-di dee dee di-di dee dee   doo   doo   doodloodlee  di-di dee dee di-di dee dee di-di dee dee doo doo doodloodlee... deedee dee deedee dee deedee dee didi didi dee...

Sugar plums are like fruit and nut truffles; nature's candy in a candy-like format.  Know a ballet-nutty child or a middle-aged recreational jogger?  Gift problem solved.  Read on.

Sugar Plums
I find it extraordinarily satisfying to lay out all the ingredients
together.  It feels so gluttonous and yet so wholesome.

1-1/3 c. walnuts
1 c. pecans
2/3 c. almonds
zest of two clementine oranges
1 tsp. (heaping) ground cinnamon
1 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1-1/4 c. dried prunes
1-1/4 c. dried apricots
1 c. dried dates
1 c. dried cranberries
1 c. dried figs
1/2 c. dried apples
8 slices candied ginger
6 tbsp orange liqueur
turbinado sugar (fine grain, but not powdered), for dusting

Grind walnuts, pecans and almonds in a blender or spice grinder.  Have a food processor?  You lucky son of nutcracker, use it.  Do not over grind, you want nut meal, not nut butter.

In a LARGE mixing bowl, combine nuts, zest and ground spices together.  Use your clean dry fingers, there's no point in getting a mixing spoon out for any part of this recipe.

Using a sharp knife, finely chop all dried fruits and the candied ginger.  (Yes, okay, or use your food processor, but aim for a crumbly texture, not a paste.)  Since the fruits are moist and sticky, you may need to rinse your knife and your hands under hot water occasionally.  Unless you enlist a lot of help or some appropriate technology, this is going to take a long time.  That's okay, put Hawksley Workman's Almost a Full Moon on, keep your shoulders back and relaxed, and get into a fruit-mincing groove.  Add chopped fruit to mixing bowl whenever your cutting board gets crowded.

Using your hands, thoroughly mix dried fruit and nut meal together.  The dried apples will stand out in the mix because they're such a light colour... so use the distribution of dried apple bits to gauge how well blended everything is.  Also feel around for clumps of fruit that didn't separate and be sure to work them into the mixture well.

Sprinkle orange liqueur over the mixture.  If you didn't pre-measure this, you might need someone else to help you get the lid off and pour out what you need.  Work the liqueur throughout the mixture which should now pull itself together like a dough; if you squeeze a bit of it, it will stick together in the shape you squeezed it into. (If it's not sticky enough, add a bit more liqueur.)

Shape into balls that are slightly bigger than your average truffle.  Roll them in the sugar and lay them on waxed or parchment paper in a single layer on baking trays.  Let air-dry for 1-2 hours, roll in sugar again to cover any remaining moist spots and pack layered with wax paper into a tin.

Leave the sugar plums out at room temperature for a week to mature.  After that, store them in the fridge for a few weeks or in the freezer for longer.   If they've been frozen, you may want to roll in sugar again before serving.

This recipe makes six or seven dozen sugar plums.  Enough for gifting and for keeping for yourself.

My older sister was obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder when we were kids.  Consequently, I have happy Christmas memories of us making pulled taffy using a recipe from the Little House Cookbook...  even though it's something which is supposed to be cooled before you pull it by pouring over snow.  Which we really didn't have much of (if any) as early as December in the deep south of Canada.  We might have only done it once, but I will never forget the little hard bits of taffy twisted into the shape of candy canes.  Er, a few of them, anyway.  I also have vague peanut brittle memories which are less exactly happy (the wrong sugar used, the right sugar burnt).  Peanut brittle was probably made more frequently but I don't actually like it so it's not sticking well in my mind.  Candy making was probably inconsistent year to year.  Nevermind though, because Grandma always (or nearly always, or maybe only sometimes) made marshmallows and dipped apricots in something like chocolate.  Or is it possible these were an actual chocolate exception to the no-chocolate-because-your-brother-is-allergic household rule?

A few years ago, it occurred to me that despite living thousands of kilometers away from home, there was no reason I couldn't take over the job of providing chocolate-covered apricots for Christmas.  So Fefe Noir and I started a tradition of making Christmas candy to mail home (and despite a complete disaster with turkish delight, we've been pretty good at soldiering on).  Thus began my love affair with sugar plums.  Dried fruit, nuts, orange and spices: they are the epitome of winter flavours.

Even though Fefe does not believe in nature's candy unless it includes chocolate, she makes an enthusiastic exception for sugar plums (huh, wait, I wonder if it's because of the booze?). 

Make these for the holidays.  You'll be so proud of them, you'll want to share... but if you don't make enough you will regret giving any away.  But don't worry, the problem is solved for you because my recipe makes about 80, which is plenty for both gifting and hoarding. 

These are time-consuming, but very simple.  No cooking means no chance of accidentally burning them, no struggling to determine if your candy thermometer is working (for that matter, no tearing the kitchen apart looking for your candy thermometer), and, if you have any of those miniature humans in your house, you can conscript them to help with ball forming and sugar coating duties.  If they are the nearly-fledged variety, you might even be able to hand out the tedious job of chopping the fruit into teensy pieces... while you supervise the liqueur, of course. 

Yeah, uh, there were absolutely, definitely no cats on the counter when I prepared the batch of sugar plums scheduled for postal delivery to friends and family.  Honest... 


  1. You know you are completely bonkers don't you? Cock-a-hoopy loopy! ;) But we completely forgive you for these gorgeous and most unctuous little scrummy lumps that will disappear (cat or no cat) in NO time...I will just have to substitute dog hairs for the cat "secret ingredient" in this case...hope it translates well. Wouldn't want my rellies to miss out on that special flavour enhancement now would we? ;). Have a scrumptious Christmas and don't eat too many of these beauties, you will be cemented to the bathroom for boxing day! ;)

    1. LOL. Yes, well aware. And we're not done yet. ;)

    2. Can I just say... randomly... that I use the phrase "cockahoopyloopy" quite a fair amount, and googled it out of interest. And literally, this is the only thing that showed on the entire bloody internet! Baffled! Anyway... greetings xD

  2. they look great and so festive!

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