Sugarplums: Dreaming Of The Sweet Unknown

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British villagers carry plum puddings in a traditional procession in 1938. i

It remains to be seen whether sugarplums can follow plum pudding's march back into modern cuisine. Here, English villagers pictured in 1938 carry plum puddings in a traditional procession. Fox Photos/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Fox Photos/Getty Images
British villagers carry plum puddings in a traditional procession in 1938.

It remains to be seen whether sugarplums can follow plum pudding's march back into modern cuisine. Here, English villagers pictured in 1938 carry plum puddings in a traditional procession.

Fox Photos/Getty Images

Want The Recipe?

Scroll below for instructions on making sugarplums, created by chef Peter Greweling. The flavors include fig anise, pistachio, citrus coriander, cherry hazelnut, apple raisin and traditional.

As the famous poem puts it, Christmas is when children are "nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads." It's a lovely image. But it does prompt the question: What exactly is a sugarplum?

"Actually, there seem to be two types of treats that are referred to as sugarplums," chef Peter Greweling told NPR's Linda Wertheimer.

One is a summertime treat, an actual candied plum made from an Italian prune plum or a damson plum. The other is a confection made from dried fruits and nuts, combined with holiday spices.

For anyone who might be thinking of making his own sugarplums, Greweling says it's easy to do — and it doesn't even require cooking.

"They're all chopped, and it's bound together with a little bit of honey," said Greweling, who is a professor in baking and pastry arts at the Culinary Institute of America. "They're rolled into little oval shapes and coated with powdered sugar," he added.

Sugarplums like the ones Greweling creates benefit from a blend of traditional flavors: fig and anise, citrus and almond, and pistachio blended with dried pears and apricots. But he says home cooks should feel free to experiment.

"In today's world, you could pick any flavor profile you wanted to and create a sugarplum with it," Greweling said.

While they were a mainstay of the Christmas holidays as recently as the 19th century, sugarplums have fallen out of favor in recent years. But like the similarly traditional — and increasingly popular — plum pudding, they may be due for a comeback.

"Will they catch on? There's no reason they shouldn't," Greweling said. "You can make sugarplums in about 10 minutes with a food processor, and no microwave."

Traditional Sugarplums

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup raisins or currants
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup dates
  • 1 1/2 cup toasted whole almonds
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground anise
  • 1 Tbsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • Confectioner's sugar for rolling, as needed

Combine the raisins, apricots, dates and almonds in a food processor and pulse until they are finely chopped. Alternatively, and more traditionally, chop by hand.

In a mixing bowl, combine the chopped fruit and nut mixture with the confectioner's sugar, and the spices. Mix by hand until the sugar coats all of the pieces.

Add the honey, and mix until the mixture comes together into a stiff mass.

Pinch off pieces of the mixture about 1 inch in diameter. Roll into balls, and flatten slightly into plum shapes.

Roll each piece in confectioner's sugar.

Store sugarplums at room temperature for up to a week, or refrigerated for longer storage.

Yields 30 sugarplums

Pistachio Sugarplums

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup packed dried pears
  • 3/4 cup packed dried apricots
  • 2 cups whole pistachios
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 1 Tbsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • Confectioner's sugar for rolling, as needed

Combine the pears, apricots and pistachios in a food processor and pulse until they are finely chopped. Alternatively, and more traditionally, chop by hand.

In a mixing bowl, combine the chopped fruit and nut mixture with the lemon zest, the confectioner's sugar and the spices. Mix by hand until the sugar coats all of the pieces.

Add the honey, and mix until the mixture comes together into a stiff mass.

Pinch off pieces of the mixture about 1 inch in diameter. Roll into balls, and flatten slightly into plum shapes.

Roll in confectioner's sugar.

Store at room temperature for up to a week, or refrigerated for longer storage.

Yields 40 sugarplums

Fig Anise Sugarplums

Ingredients

  • 1 cup packed whole dried figs
  • 1 cup whole toasted almonds
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 Tbsp ground anise seed
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 tsp anise liqueur (optional)
  • Confectioner's sugar for rolling, as needed

Combine the figs and toasted almonds in a food processor and pulse until they are finely chopped. Alternatively, and more traditionally, chop by hand.

In a mixing bowl, combine the chopped fruit and nut mixture with the lemon zest, the confectioner's sugar and the spices. Mix by hand until the sugar coats all of the pieces.

Add the honey, and mix until the mixture comes together into a stiff mass.

Pinch off pieces of the mixture about 1 inch in diameter. Roll into balls, and flatten slightly into plum shapes.

Roll each piece in confectioner's sugar.

Store sugarplums at room temperature for up to a week, or refrigerated for longer storage.

Yields 30 sugarplums

Citrus Coriander Sugarplums

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup candied lemon peel
  • 1/2 cup candied orange peel
  • 1 cup packed dates
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 2 cups whole toasted almonds
  • 1 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 1 Tbsp ground coriander
  • 1 Tbsp ground ginger
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • Confectioner's sugar for rolling, as needed

Combine the lemons, oranges and almonds in a food processor and pulse until they are finely chopped. Alternatively, and more traditionally, chop by hand.

In a mixing bowl, combine the chopped fruit and nut mixture with the lemon and orange zest, the confectioner's sugar and the spices. Mix by hand until the sugar coats all of the pieces.

Add the honey, and mix until the mixture comes together into a stiff mass.

Pinch off pieces of the mixture about 1 inch in diameter. Roll into balls, and flatten slightly into plum shapes.

Roll each piece in confectioner's sugar.

Store sugarplums at room temperature for up to a week, or refrigerated for longer storage.

Yields 40 sugarplums

Cherry Hazelnut Sugarplums

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried cherries
  • 2 cups toasted hazelnuts
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • Confectioner's sugar for rolling, as needed

Combine the dried cherries and the toasted hazelnuts in a food processor and pulse until they are finely chopped. Alternatively, and more traditionally, chop by hand.

In a mixing bowl, combine the chopped fruit and nut mixture with the lemon zest, the confectioner's sugar and the spices. Mix by hand until the sugar coats all of the pieces.

Add the honey, and mix until the mixture comes together into a stiff mass.

Pinch off pieces of the mixture about 1 inch in diameter. Roll into balls, and flatten slightly into plum shapes.

Roll each piece in confectioner's sugar.

Store sugarplums at room temperature for up to a week, or refrigerated for longer storage.

Yields 25 sugarplums

Apple Raisin Sugarplums

Ingredients

  • 1 cup packed dried apples
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 2 cups toasted chopped walnuts
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • Confectioner's sugar for rolling, as needed

Combine the dried apples and the raisins in a food processor and pulse until they are finely chopped. Alternatively, and more traditionally, chop by hand.

In a mixing bowl, combine the chopped fruit and add the toasted chopped walnuts, the lemon zest, the confectioner's sugar and the spices. Mix by hand until the sugar coats all of the pieces.

Add the honey, and mix until the mixture comes together into a stiff mass.

Pinch off pieces of the mixture about 1 inch in diameter. Roll into balls, and flatten slightly into plum shapes.

Roll each piece in confectioner's sugar.

Store sugarplums at room temperature for up to a week, or refrigerated for longer storage.

Yields 35 sugarplums

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