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Sugar Plums

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Sugar plums are some of the most iconic Christmas desserts and yet most people have never had them. What is a sugar plum, and how do you make one? Here’s what you need to know!

Stef selecting a sugar plum in a red mini cupcake liner from a bunch sitting on a red cupcake stand

You have probably heard ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas several hundred times, but if you are like me, you may not have stopped to find out just what a sugar plum is after hearing the verse:

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

I always assumed that this referred to a dessert recipe made with sugared and baked plums, but I was wrong.

What are Sugar Plums?

It turns out that the traditional candies had nothing to do with plums. They were seeds (often coriander) coated with layer upon layer of melted sugar. At some point, the term came to represent all manner of sweet things. (To learn more, read the Atlantic article entitled Sugar Plums: They Are Not What You Think They Are by Samira Kawash, author of Candy Professor.)

Today, this dessert is something else entirely. A modern version like mine is a no-bake dessert made by rolling up balls of dried fruit, nuts, honey, and spices in sugar.

They could be called healthy – before you roll them in sugar.

This dessert tastes more like energy bars than cookies, which is actually a good thing around Christmas time when we are bombarded with sweet after sweet.

Ingredients

Labeled ingredient shot of everything in sugar plums

For my recipe, you’ll need:

  • Dried fruit – I use pitted dates, apricots, and prunes (dried plums). You can always experiment with your favorite dried fruits; many people add raisins to theirs.
  • Honey – Honey binds it all together.
  • Walnuts – Whole walnuts are usually cheaper than the chopped ones, so I buy the whole ones and chop them with everything else when I make the recipe. You can use almonds if you prefer.
  • Orange zest – This brightens the flavor.
  • Spices – Most of the spices found in this treat, like the nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice, are typical for desserts. However, the coriander makes this recipe pop! It also connects the modern dessert to the traditional candy of the same name. Don’t skip it!
  • Coarse sugar (sanding sugar) – This is optional, but I highly recommend it for decorating. It makes the sugar plums sparkle!

How It’s Made

Start by toasting the walnuts. It gives them a much more robust flavor. Place them on a cookie sheet in a single layer and bake at 300 F for 8 to 10 minutes or until the nuts turn a deeper brown color. Remove and let them cool to room temperature.

Cookie sheet filled with toasted walnuts

Add all of the ingredients (included the toasted walnuts) to a food processor and process for about a minute until there are no large pieces of anything. If you grab some of it, it should stick together.

Sugar plum ingredients in food processor all chopped finely

Roll the mixture into small balls. Use a disher to help make the balls evenly-sized. I’ve made these really small (teaspoon-sized, yielding 50 balls) and made them much larger (2 tablespoon-sized, yielding 16 balls).

Scooping a sugar plum with a disher

Roll each of the balls in coarse sugar (sanding sugar).

Rolling sugar plum ball in white sanding sugar in a small white bowl

Expert Tips and FAQs

Decorating Ideas

I like to place each sugar plum into a mini cupcake liner. You can find so many cute holiday-themed liners that will make these look so festive!

Sugar plums on a red stand with a few in the foreground

You can also use colored sanding sugar and even use several different colors. You can purchase sanding sugar in every possible color or dye your own using food coloring.

I’ve also decorated sugar plums with edible glitter. Some edible glitters are made of plastic and really aren’t meant to be eaten. I recommend Jewel Dust sold by Layer Cake Shop. It’s an example of an FDA-approved edible glitter. I dust them in powdered sugar first since the glitter shows up better on white.

a number of sugar plums coated with edible glitter resting on a clear stand

FAQs

What are sugar plums?

The historic version consisted of seeds (often coriander) that were coated with layer upon layer of melted sugar. The modern recipe is a no-bake dessert made by rolling up balls of dried fruit, nuts, honey, and spices in sugar.

How long do these last for?

Like fruit cake, sugar plums actually taste better over time. You can store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a month.

Can I use other dried fruits?

Sure! You need a total of two cups of dried fruit. If you want to switch it up and experiment with raisins, cranberries, or cherries, go for it!

I am allergic to nuts; can I leave them out?

Yes. You can leave off the nuts. The texture won’t be quite the same, but they will still taste great!

How big should I make each ball?

I make each one 2 tablespoons big so they will fit in mini cupcake liners, but you can make them as large or small as you want.

Did you make this recipe? Leave a review!

Sugar Plums

An easy sugar plum recipe for Christmas with a little sparkle. 'Tis the season! 
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Servings 16 sugar plums
Calories 186kcal
Author Stefani

Ingredients

  • 2 cups toasted walnuts
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1 cup pitted prunes
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup pitted dates
  • 1/2 cup sanding sugar optional, for decorating

Instructions

  • Place all of the ingredients except for the sanding sugar in the food processor and process for a minute or until everything is finely chopped and sticks together if you squeeze it.
  • Form the mixture into balls, about two tablespoons each.
  • Roll the balls in sanding sugar.

Video

Notes

Like fruit cake, sugar plums actually taste better over time. You can store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a month.
If you’d like, you can use other kinds of dried fruit – you’ll need two cups of dried fruit total. 
If you are allergic to nuts, you can leave them off. The texture won’t be quite the same, but they will still taste great!
You can experiment with making them different sizes. I like the 2 tablespoon size because they fit nicely in mini cupcake liners.

Nutrition

Calories: 186kcal | Carbohydrates: 26g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 10g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 1mg | Potassium: 224mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 20g | Vitamin A: 231IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 24mg | Iron: 1mg
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