What’s a Sugar-Plum?

“The children were nestled all snug in their beds, While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.”

Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore

All these years I’ve never really known what a sugar-plum is. I always imagined they were sugar, cut-out cookies sprinkled with red and green sprinkles. As a child, that was my favorite Christmas treat that would likely dance in my head.

It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I wondered about sugar-plums. I resisted the urge to Google it. I did my own research by simply asking the question: “What do you think a sugar-plum is?”

Patrick (12): “It’s a plum with sugar.”

Nancy (40+): “I think it’s like one of those baked whole apples that cave in the middle and are sweet. Maybe a baked plum like that.”

Bill (40+): “A dessert.”

Cindy (40+): “Something with dried fruits.”

Margaret: (40+): “I used to know but forgot…I think it has dates in it.”

I realize my poll is missing large demographic segments, but I had to cut off my silly research and get cooking. I still resisted the big G-search on the Internet.

When I first started doing serious grown-up cooking, I relied on Bon Appétit magazine and the Silver Palate cookbooks. I subscribed to Bon Appétit on a whim because of its visual appeal. I faithfully cooked something from it every issue. Artist Michie O’Day introduced me to the Silver Palate cookbooks when I had wonderful dishes in her home, made from the recipes. After that, I adopted anything called Silver Palate by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. For sugar-plums, I would go once again to the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook. This particular book features menus for informal and elegant occasions for various holidays and all four seasons.

Right There on Page 321!

I found it in the chapter titled, “Nutcracker Sweet Open House.” Of course! The “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. How clever of the authors. That is what I love about this cookbook. And who doesn’t love the Nutcracker Suite?

Their recipe is for Cognac Sugarplums (with sugarplums as all one word). The description reads: “A spirited little gem of a cookie that goes well with rich brewed coffee and the final nightcap of a holiday evening.”

That was good enough for me. Look no more. I made them last week and served them for dessert when friends came for dinner on Friday evening. They took their place on my cookie tray (the sugarplums, not my friends) and we discovered sugarplums together…at least the Silver Palate version.

The sugarplums were easy to make, delicious, and as they were described, a spirited little gem.

After that…to all a good night! (Unless, of course, you want to tell me what you think a sugar-plum is.)

My Cognac Sugarplums, photo by Cindy Dyer

Cognac Sugarplums

  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate bits
  • 1/2 cup sugar, plus additional for coating (Hint: I coated mine with clear sugar sprinkles, which gave them a real sugar-plumy sparkle.)
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/3 cup Cognac
  • 2-1/2 cups finely ground vanilla wafers (1 box, I ground them in the food processor)
  • 1 cup finely chopped pecans
  • Candied red and green cherry halves (garnish)
  1. Melt chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water. Stir in 1/2 cup sugar, corn syrup, and Cognac. Stir in the wafer crumbs and nuts to make a paste-like mixture.
  2. Roll into one-inch balls. Roll each ball in additional sugar. Press a red or green cherry half into the center of each ball.
  3. Store in airtight container. These cookies improve with age.
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