We are so happy to begin our first LoveFeast’s Cookie Exchange post with our friend, Kate Selner. Kate is the talented writer and home cook behind the lovely written blog, Kate In the Kitchen featuring the beauty of authentic foods, memories and family. Like always, we are so happy to have Kate join us at the table and share her story! ~Chris Ann & Kristin
I want to introduce you to my wonderful and creative friends behind LoveFeast Table. Kristin, from Baltimore, and Chris Ann, who is right here in Minnesota have built an inspirational blog of food, creativity, family and beautiful design, and they’re hosting a virtual Holiday Cookie Exchange with 12 talented bloggers from around the world to help ring in the Christmas season. I’m really excited and honored to be participating with them and the others, and the moment they asked me to join them, I knew I wanted to talk about Sugar Plums.
Up until last year, I had no clue what Sugar Plums were. I believed them to be actual plums, probably in a drier form but not quite to the prune stage, and coated with snowy white sugar. Growing up, I could read our old, dog-eared copy of the classic Christmas tale ‘The Night Before Christmas’ over and over again, and part of me swooned over the part where the children lay nestled, all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.
It always looked something like this.
I loved the idea, as a kid, that you could fall asleep on Christmas Eve and dream about candy canes, and gingerbread men and other delicious goodies. But I never did. I would lay in bed on that night, full of excitement for the morning and the bulky stocking hanging by the fireplace. I would will my thoughts to fill with candy, those visions of what I thought to be sugar plums, so that my dreams would be as delicious as a fairy tale, but it never happened. I would sleep the sound sleep of childhood, of no worries or stress and I awoke on Christmas morning without one thought of dancing gingerbread man fading from my dreams. I always felt like I was getting a raw deal on it too.
Our treasured Christmas book bearing the time-honored tale was a thing of such fairy tales. It was so old and tattered, but the pictures were plain and magical. It was full of white, unblemished snow, quaint peaked roofs topped with pillowy piles of fluff, and laden evergreens, bearing the weight of winter’s bounty. It looked like a Utopian dream, and everything about it was perfect. I loved how cozy the children looked in their beds, and how peaceful the faces were in the drawings. I somehow believed that this was the meaning of Christmas, this white landscape, the rosy cheeked kids and the idyllic little village. I like to think, really, that the truth of Christmas was always in that book, that it was, and is, way more about what you feel inside than anything else. Christmas retains a bit of that magic that I had when I was a kid, but now, as an adult, I have to look a little harder to find it. It’s not like being so young, where magic came from the pages of a book, yet it’s still there each season, in the unbroken expanse of white snow, in the eyes of children reflected in Christmas lights, in the sense of wonder that still fills me when I lay down to sleep on Christmas Eve. It’s nice to know that there are some aspects of it that will never change.
A huge part of Christmas as a kid centered around baking the most special of treats, and that baking continues now in my kitchen each year. My Mom always made a pan of Three Layer, or Nainamo Bars for our Christmas treat. Somehow, the square baking pan with it’s thick chocolate layer awaiting our empty dinner plates truly meant Christmas. There would be Sugar Cookies too, sprinkled with red and green sugar that stained our lips and tongues. Sometimes we had fudge. Often there was a pie. But it wasn’t until I was an adult, and well into my own established Christmas traditions that I discovered the true meaning of Sugar Plums, and it wasn’t Gingerbread men, or fancy adorned candy canes like every picture I’d ever seen. It wasn’t even about plums. And now that I know, I will never spend another Christmas without them.
I have my dear friend Susan, from Food Blogga, to thank for opening my eyes last year to the truth of the Sugar Plum. She blogged on the Sugar Plum and I stopped, dumbfounded on her site when I came across the post. Suddenly my mind went racing backwards to the many Christmas seasons as a child, trying in vain to drum up inspiration about candy and such, to push the image of what I thought to be sugar plums into my dreaming head. And all along I couldn’t do it, and maybe it was because I just had no clue what they really were. You can’t really dream of things you don’t know.
The Sugar Plum itself is a crushed mixture of dried fruit and nuts, whirred together with honey, orange zest and juice in your food processor to make a thick sticky mass that is rolled into balls and dredged in either coconut or powdered sugar. You don’t bake them at all, and the process couldn’t be simpler. Small children could easily do this, and learn from the right age what a magical thing it is to present a plate to people saying ‘Have a Sugar Plum.’ and get that amazed look back that tells you right away that you weren’t the only one who didn’t even know they were real. And the best part about them, other than the fact that they are what Christmas dreams are made of, is that they get better tasting with time. Sitting together in your refrigerator, the flavors meld, deepen and transform into something that floods your mouth with taste. You can make them small enough to be bite-size, or larger to be a two-bite treat. And they last for several weeks, that is, if you can keep them around that long.
Recipe from Field Guide to Candy by Anita Chu; Quirk Books, 2009 (and Susan)
2 cups almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup pitted dates
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon honey
Unsweetened flaked coconut for rolling
1. Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.
2. Combine almonds, apricots, dates, cinnamon, and zest in a food processor and process into a finely ground mixture.
3. Add orange juice and honey, and combine until the mixture becomes a sticky ball.
4. Pinch off pieces of the mixture and form into 1-inch balls. Roll in coconut. Place on the baking sheet and chill for about 1 hour until firm.
I used two cups equivalent of nuts, utilizing pistachios and pecans as well as almonds. It’s my holy trifecta of nutty favorites. I might have used figs in place of dates, and on another go-round of this recipe, I probably will do just that along with dried cherries. The possibilities are endless for substitutions. Use raisins both black or gold, dried cranberries, currants, pineapple, mango. Other nuts like peanuts, walnuts, brazil nuts. Try it with lemon juice and zest for a different background of flavor.
I also added a teaspoon of ground nutmeg to the mix. Cinnamon and nutmeg are culinary best buds. They really get along so well together that it’s a shame to leave one out when the other is present.
I added a bit more honey and orange juice, as the amount in the recipe didn’t seem to be enough to make the mixture as sticky as it needed to hold together. Adjust it according to your taste preferences.
Thank you to Kate from Kate In The Kitchen for sharing your Sugar Plum recipe with us at the table!