There is much written about the history of the term and the food “sugar plums”. In reading most of it, food historians seem to be in two camps – one is the comfit camp and the other is the dried fruit and nut confection camp. If it was a small sweet wrapped around a nut, or particularly spiced with caraway — it’s a sugar plum. As I drove home from work last night it was so dark and dreary. I began thinking of the traditions we developed for the darkest time of year, and how delightful a small sweet might be for a child 150 years ago on the longest night. I guess I had visions of sugar plums!
If it’s a Christmas treat, that’s the camp I’m in. These are messy and sticky but fairly simple to make. Fussing around acquiring all the ingredients is the most tedious part. I encourage you to experiment with your favorite dried fruits. When they are finished, they taste like a little burst of Christmas past. The presentation is beautiful and I will give them in tiny boxes with only a few each.
1/2 tsp Whole cardamom
1/2 tsp Whole caraway seed
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
1 – 1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 C Honey
1 – 2 tsp orange zest to taste
[I think if you have a holiday spice you particularly love which is not listed here, throw some in!]
2 C roasted unsalted nuts – almonds or walnuts [I find slivered almonds work best for mixing easily]
1/2 C dried apricots
1/2 cups dried plums, pitted
1 C dates
1/4 C dried Montmorency cherries
1/3 C powdered sugar
Sparkling Sugar for coating
Place all spices into a grinder or mortar / pestle and grind them until finely ground. It is particularly important to grind cardamom fresh as it loses flavor quickly – don’t be duped into the ground cardamom! In a small bowl, mix together your honey and orange zest with spices. Set aside. In the bowl of a food processor, place all the nuts and dried fruits and pulse until completely combined and resembles a large “ball” of fruit / nuts. You can also chop these by hand but the food processor brings it into the 21st century in a very nice way. There shouldn’t be any large chunks. Transfer to a large bowl, add your honey / spice mixture and ~1/3 cup of powdered sugar. You can add more powdered sugar if your mixture is too wet, but it should be fairly sticky. Embrace your inner granny and roll up your sleeves – mix this by clean, freshly washed hand.
Wash your hands well and form a small 3/4″ ball and roll in the sparkling sugar. Set aside on a stone slab or cookie sheet. Store covered tightly or package and gift immediately!