What are sugarplums? These fabled sweets are said to appear in visions, to dance in your dreams as in the Nutcracker ballet.
It's a little easier to say what they are not. They're not plums nor made of plums. An Atlantic Monthly article about them by candy specialist Samira Kawash doesn't really demystify them. She writes:
"The sugar plums of Christmas fantasy are in fact sugar, and any resemblance to plums is entirely superficial."
"Cook's and Diner's Dictionary" explains it a bit differently. They're "a small piece of candy, as a bonbon." Something to dream about for sure. It also says they can be a section of fruit, such as an apricot half, perhaps, "cooked in or coated with a sweet syrup." Like glaceed fruit? Not really in favor these days, though glaceed apricots are luscious, especially when dipped in excellent chocolate.
But never mind: These sugarplums from "The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook," the latest offering from the Beekman Boys, are delightful, uncooked confections of finely chopped almonds and dried fruit. They're flavored with cardamom and cinnamon, sweetened with honey and rolled in confectioners' sugar.
"Like granola cookies," said my husband. Not really. They're sweet but not too, and very easy to make. Little bejeweled confections to pop into your mouth.
This handsome new book is full of tempting, seasonal desserts. There are old favorites along with new ones, sounding delicious enough to become your family's latest heirlooms.
For summer: Lemon-Toasted Poppy Seed Cake and Roasted Rhubarb Crisp. For winter: Figgy Pudding and Winter Kabocha Squash Pie. There's Buttermilk Cornbread Pudding for fall and for the Southerner in me, plus this recipe I can't wait to try: Sweet Green Tomato Hand Pies.
The Beekman Boys -- Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell -- are a couple of transplanted New Yorkers who bought a 60-acre farm in upstate New York and began a new life. They're now a "lifestyle brand" with a TV show and a line of products, including jams, cheeses and soaps. This is their second book, both written with Sandy Gluck. There's still time to buy this for a friend or yourself or at least to make some sugarplums.
3/4 cup almonds (I used whole, unblanched almonds)
1/2 cup pitted dates
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup dried tart cherries
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar, plus more for coating
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place almonds on rimmed baking sheet and toast 10 minutes, until crisp and fragrant. Let cool.
Transfer almonds to food processor; add dates, apricots and cherries and process until finely chopped but have not formed a ball. Add honey, confectioners' sugar, cardamom, cinnamon and salt; pulse to combine.
With dampened hands, shape into walnut-size balls (about a rounded tablespoon). If serving right away, roll in confectioners' sugar. If not, refrigerate between layers of waxed paper. Roll in confectioners' just before serving.
Makes about 30.
-- Adapted from "The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook: 100 Delicious Heritage Recipes from the Farm and Garden" by Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Sandy Gluck (Rodale, 2013, $32.50)
Miriam Rubin: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @mmmrubin.