Did you always wonder what a sugar plum was at Christmas when you read that famous poem “A Visit From Saint Nicholas” ? I guess I always assumed it was some kind of candied plum similar to the yucky candied fruits you stick in a fruit cake and so I certainly never dreamed about them. But, it turns out they are not; they are actually more like a homemade Lara Bar.
Remember that not so long ago, before the days of cheap HFCS and flying fresh fruit across the world, sweet things, especially during the winter were a rare treat. Think back to when you got an orange in your stocking and you were excited about it. So, some dried fruits and nuts rolled in a bit of sugar or exotic coconut was something special…one might even have visions about it.
Sugar Plums are a combination of dried fruits, such as prunes, figs, apricots or dates finely chopped and mixed with chopped nuts such as walnuts or almonds, and once exotic spices like coriander, anise, fennel, caraway, or cardamom. This mixture is rolled into balls and often coated with sugar or shredded coconut.
The girls all love these and help me make them. Their job is to form the balls with well washed hands.
The first time I tried these, I used powdered sugar to roll them in. I don’t recommend that as by the next morning, the powdered sugar layer had turned into a clear sticky layer on the sugar plums. It was also VERY messy. The next time, I used Sugar in the Raw, a coarse minimally refined sugar and that worked a lot better.
We find them plenty sweet with all that dried fruit, but if you want them sweeter, then add a bit of honey. Oh, they are really fast to make and require no baking. Last Christmas, I made a “Figgy Pudding” for the first and last time. This was a LOT easier.
Old-Fashioned Sugar Plums
Based on the recipe from Nourished Kitchen
Yield: 40 sugar plums
- 1 cup shelled walnuts (or pecans or almonds)
- zest of 1 orange or ½ tsp orange extract
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp ground allspice
- 1/4 tsp ground coriander seeds
- 1 cup chopped pitted dates, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup chopped pitted prunes (prunes are just dried plums), roughly chopped
- Coarse granulated sugar or dried coconut, optional
Toss the nuts into a food processor with the zest of one orange, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, coriander as well as chopped dates, apricots and prunes. Pulse the mixture three to four times to combine, then process the dried fruit, nuts and spices until a paste forms – about four or five minutes. Depending on your food processor, you may need to do this in two batches. My Kitchenaid food processor likes doing only half of a recipe at a time.
Transfer the paste to a mixing bowl and form the sugar plums by rolling about 1/2 tablespoon of the paste in the palms of your hands until a round ball forms.
Dredge the Sugar Plums in either coarse granulated sugar (Sugar in the Raw works great because of its large crystals) or dried coconut. Sugar Plums can be refrigerated in a sealed container for up to 1 month. If you layer the Sugar Plums, place a sheet of waxed paper between each layer.
Variations: You can substitute any nut or seed for the walnuts such as pecans or almonds or pistachios, you can use different dried fruits such as dried apples, figs or raisins to replace some of the fruits and you can use the spices of your choice such as anise, cloves, or ground cardamom to replace the coriander. You could even add a bit of unsweetened cocoa powder.