Sugar Plums are easy to make and a great addition to holiday treats. You may be surprised what they REALLY are!
Nutcracker ballet (and now movie) fans will know the dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.
And of course, from Clement Clark Moore’s Saint Nicholas Twas The Night Before Christmas….’while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads’.
But did you ever wonder what a sugar plum is?
The answer might surprise you AND have you in the kitchen whipping up a batch to celebrate the winter holidays!
What are Sugar Plums?
Contrary to the name, Sugar Plums are not sweet plums covered in sugar.
The Oxford English Dictionary, defines them as a comfit.
They are a dried fruit, nut and spice mixture pulverized into small balls rolled in coarse sugar.
Without the sugar they are actually a pretty healthy, dense nutritional snack naturally sweetened by the fruits (think current day ‘energy bites’).
With the sugar they become a whimsical eye-catching surprise.
What Ingredients are in Sugar Plums?
The traditional fruits are earthy and the spices palate-catching.
One might expect the winter traditional spices of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice.
Instead caraway, fennel and anise, carry the flavors of the sugarplums giving a bold flavor.
For this Sugar Plum recipe I decided to mix it up and use more holiday-traditional fruits:
the customary ‘plums’ (prunes)
Slivered almonds round out the flavors.
Decorating or sparkling sugars in opalescent jewel tones were used to coat the sugar plums. Traditional white sanding or decorating sugar may also be used.
Type of Sugar to Use for Coating
Decorating sugar would be traditional to use to roll the fruit-nut sugar plums in.
It sparkles but has a finer grain (still larger than granulated sugar but finer than the Sparkling Sugar I used).
I chose to use Sparkling Sugar instead, loving both the colors and the brilliance of light reflection.
The brand I used and love is India Tree Sparkling Sugars. I’ve used them in other recipes like Gluten-Free King Cake for Mardi Gras.
The colors are deep in hue and gorgeous and the sparkle is brilliant.
I’ll share links here for the India Tree Sparkling Sugar colors used on the sugar plums shown here:
How to Make Sugar Plums
This no bake confection is always an eye-catching holiday treat. Add it to a cookie platter or serve them on their own. Leave some out for St. Nicholas too!
STEP 1. Toast the almonds
In a large skillet, toast the almonds until golden in color and aromatic. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
STEP 2. Process the ingredients
Once the almonds cool, combine the almonds, plums/prunes, cherries, apricots, currents and cranberries in a food processor.
Pulse until the mixture is granular and holding together.
NOTE: do not allow the mixture to form a ball.
STEP 3. Toast the spices
Add the anise seeds, fennel seeds, caraway seeds and ground cardamom into a large dry skillet over medium-high heat. Toast while stirring constantly; 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat.
STEP 4. Make the sugar plums
In a large mixing bowl combine the confectioner’s sugar, spices and salt. Whisk or sift together.
The fruit-nut mixture and honey to the mixing bowl. With damp hands, mix all the ingredients together.
Place the decorating/coating sugar or sparkling sugar in a bowl (or multiple bowls if using different colors).
Scoop a heaping teaspoon of the fruit mixture and roll gently between palms of hands to form a ball.
Gently roll the ball in the decorative sugar and place on a cooling rack to dry for a few hours.
NOTE: the sugar plums will be slightly sticky after being rolled.
How to Store
Store prepared Sugar Plums between layers of wax paper in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one month.
Allow them to come to room temperature before serving for best flavor.
More Holiday Treat Recipes You’ll Love:
- Pecan Rum Balls (a No Bake recipe)
- How to Make Divinity (candy)
- Sugared Cranberries
- Homemade Marshmallows: Recipes, Tips & Tricks
- Candy Cane Place Card Holder
Sparkling Sugar Plums
- 6 ounces Slivered Almonds
- 4 ounces Dried Plums (prunes)
- 2 ounces Dried Cherries (sweetened)
- 2 ounces Turkish Apricots
- 2 ounces Zante Currants
- 2 ounces Dried Cranberries (sweetened; with apple juice if available)
- ¼ cup Confectioner’s Sugar
- ¼ teaspoon Anise Seeds
- ¼ teaspoon Fennel Seeds
- ¼ teaspoon Caraway Seeds
- ¼ teaspoon Ground Cardamom
- Pinch Kosher Salt
- ¼ cup Honey
- 1 cup Decorating or Sparkling Sugar (may use multiple colors)
- In a large dry skillet over medium-high heat, toast the almonds, stirring often until they begin to turn golden and aromatic. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
- Once cool, place the almonds, plums/prunes, cherries, apricots, currants and cranberries in the bowl of a food processor. Plus the mixture until it becomes granular and is holding together. Do not allow the mixture to become a ball by over processing.
- Place the anise seeds, fennel seeds, caraway seeds and ground cardamom into the large dry skillet. Over medium-high heat allow the spices to lightly toast (1-2 minutes), while stirring constantly. They will become aromatic. Remove from heat.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the confectioners’ sugar, spices and salt. Either sift to combine fully or whisk together.
- Add the fruit-nut mixture and honey to the mixing bowl. With damp hands, mix all the ingredients together until fully combined.
- Place the decorating or sparkling sugar(s) in a bowl (or multiple bowls if using different colors). Scoop a heaping teaspoon of the fruit mixture and roll gently between the palms of your hands to form a ball. Gently roll the ball in the coarse sugar and place on a cooling rack to dry for a few hours (the balls will be a bit tacky in texture when first rolled; they are edible then but slightly sticky).
Originally published: December 20, 2013
I don’t care for licorice, so I don’t like anise nor fennel . I do like the ‘pumpkin pie spices’ and mulling spices for wine/cider and chai spices. What other spices might you recommend for sugar plums to remove the licorice flavor? I’d love your thoughts. Thank you very much!
Toni Dash says
Hi Katie. Unfortunately I wouldn’t have suggestions of how to alter the recipe and keep it an authentic sugar plum recipe.
Krystel | Travel on a Budget says
I had no idea this is what sugar plums really were. Probably too much for me to make at my current cooking level but I would love to try
I had no idea what a sugar plum was. It looks really pretty.
Jennifer H says
How creative and adorable! These turned out great!
Cathy Mini says
This Sugar plum recipes looks so good. I really want to make some on holidays! Thanks for sharing it.
I never really knew what a sugarplum was until now. This recipe looks so awesome! Now I want to make some
I’d love to make these with my daughters. They’ve heard about them in songs but definitely have never tasted or seen them. Super fun for the holidays!
This is such a festive treat! Dried fruit, nut and spice mixture all together sounds so tasty! They are so cute too!
Constance Farris says
Well your recipe is certainly better than the one I found and tried several years ago. It called for fresh sugar plums (a variety of plum), that were halved and seeded, then cooked in an extra heavy simple syrup. You then let them “cure” for a few weeks until Christmas time. They were horrible!
Not being much a fan of anise, fennel, cardamom or caraway, I’d probably stick with the more traditional cinnamon, cloves, etc., but these sound tasty. I’m not leaving a rating as I haven’t made them, but thanks!