Quite some years ago, I entered my mother’s kitchen as a chemist would enter a laboratory to mix up a healthy sugar-free concoction that would satisfy my sweet tooth. I gathered a variety of mixed fruits and nuts, put them in the food processor, pressed the on switch and… eureka! I found something so easy, so tasty, and with enough intensity to satisfy my sweet tooth. My father walked into the kitchen and saw the balls rolled in coconut, picked one up, bit into it and said—much to my disappointment, “Oh, a sugar-plum. Wow, that’s really good!” Oh yeah, I was thrilled that his taste buds were delighted with the results of my experimentation, but I was little saddened to know that my creation had a name; I hadn’t come up with a new culinary delight—the sugar-plum was already known. Many people have heard of the sugar-plum, eternalized in the poem “The Night Before Christmas” written either by Major Henry Livingston Jr., or Clement Clarke Moore; there seems to be some dispute over the authorship. Maybe you know it too:
‘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.
You know the sugarplum has to be good when children are dreaming of it.
Years after making my first sugar-plum I learned that the sugar in dried fruit affects your body’s blood sugar levels in the same ways as processed sugar; but, if you’re going to eat something sweet, dried fruit is good choice. Dried fruit is gluten-free, it is a good source of vitamins and minerals, it is high in fiber, and it has cancer fighting anti-oxidants. Processed sugar has none of that. During the upcoming holidays, you may want to place some dried fruit or sugar-plum on the table, and a few less cookies. Your body will thank you for the healthy choice.
Wishing you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Holidays!
*Note – In the recipe below I process the fruit separately to insure an even dice, and then I mix the fruit and nuts together and roll the mixture into balls. If you prefer to get the job done faster and you don’t mind the pasty filling, you could first process the nuts and then add the other fruits and process it all it together, as Alton Brown does in his recipe. If you like, you may also want to add spices, as he does.
Prep Time: 45 minutes Servings: 28 Yield: 25 to 28 1-inch balls
1-1/4 cup unsweetened coconut
1 cup almonds, or hazelnuts, or walnuts
1 cup pitted dates
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup raisins
¼ cup cocoa powder (optional for rolling)
1. Place the coconut in a food processor and process until the coconut is much finer. (It will not resemble flour because the processing will release the oil in the coconut and it will start to clump up. Stop processing at this point when it starts to clump.)
2. Remove the almond skins – to do this, put a cup of water in a small pot and bring the water to a boil, and then add the almonds to the pot and turn off the heat. Let the almonds soak for a couple of minutes, and then remove a few almonds from the pot and then one by one pinch the almond from the rounded end to squeeze it through the pointed end.
3. Pat the almonds dry, place them in a food processor and process until they are mealy, but not too fine.
4. Process the fruit separately and place them in bowls, or one large bowl, until all of the fruit is processed. The idea is to mince the fruit, not make a paste of it.
5. Mix the fruit together well, shape it into tight 1-inch balls, and then roll them in the coconut. Store in an airtight container.