Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sugarplums!

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads. . . . 

So . . . just what is a "sugar-plum"? When I was a child, I thought it must be the most delicious thing imaginable. I had an idea that a "sugar-plum" (which I had never eaten) must be something of such extreme deliciousness that it was inaccessible to mere children. My mother had a cookbook at the time ~ think 1970s ~ that featured a display of miniature fruits and vegetables modeled in colored marzipan. That's what I thought sugarplums would be ~ perfect miniature replicas of real fruit that tasted like candy, but with skinny little legs clad in striped stockings. For dancing, of course.
Anyway, turns out, sugarplums are no such thing. In reality, they're confections those fun-loving Victorians whipped up to sound much cuter than they are. There are a few descriptions and they vary a little . . . Some define sugarplums as prunes rolled in a coating of sugar. Sounds reasonable, but icky. (Not the prune part; I like prunes. But sticky-sweet prunes rolled in sugar? Cavity plums!)

Others define sugarplums as confections that feature a piece of dried or candied fruit enrobed in fondant. Most typical, though, is the sugarplum made from finely chopped dried fruits ~ apricots, dates, prunes, figs, etc. ~ combined with spices, honey, and/or nuts and formed into balls. The balls are then rolled in a bit of confectioner's sugar and allowed to mature for a couple of days, giving the flavors a chance to ripen. And there you have it: sugarplums.
I did not expect to like these, really I didn't. Maybe that's just because they're not made of marzipan and don't resemble cute, blush-cheeked little plums sprouting striped-stocking legs. But you know what? I was pleasantly surprised. The flavors blended beautifully after a couple of days in the fridge ~ spice, fruit, and citrus all very mellow and complementary. The toasted almonds stayed crunchy and contributed a nutty flavor and welcome texture to balance out the sweetness. I would say that these are definitely going into my recipe binder, and on my Christmas platters.
Click here for the recipe I used. Click here to read the full text of Clement C. Moore's beloved Christmas poem, "Twas the Night Before Christmas," illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith. Click here if you want to try your hand at making marzipan fruits.

Things you might need:
Dried apricots
Dates
Almonds
Allspice
Cinnamon
Honey
Teaspoon scoop

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

At the Baker's Bench: Cookie Season Opens Today!

It's December 1st, and you know what that means . . . Cookie Season opens today! Why not stop by my baking blog, At the Baker's Bench and join the fun as our baking group celebrates with a new challenge. In past years we've baked cookies from Gourmet and Bon Appetit, and now we're digging into Saveur!

There are 10 of us and we're each posting a minimum of one cookie a week (from this recipe collection) for four weeks ~ that's a lot of cookies! So go check out the blog links and maybe you'll end up with a new holiday favorite to share with your family and friends.

Season's greetings, and eatings!

Cheers,
Sandy

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