Years ago, I had a subscription to Saveur magazine. I love to travel and I love to cook, and I thought a magazine that combined the two would be great. Alas, while the travel stories were inspiring, the recipes just weren’t a good fit for me. A bit too haute cuisine and hard to find ingredients for how I tend to cook. During a one year subscription, I made one and only one recipe, for Sugar Plums.
I don’t have great memories of Christmas growing up (not terrible memories either; just always vaguely disappointing). But one ritual I always loved was reading the poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore. I loved the old fashioned language (words like kerchief and sash and coursers), and I loved thinking about the sugar plums that danced in the sleeping children’s heads. (OK, I was a bit sugar obsessed as a child. I had no idea what a sugar plum was, but if it contained sugar, I was all in.)
So when I saw Saveur’s recipe for sugar plums, I HAD to try them. We made several batches that year for Christmas, mailed a lot of them out as part of a “Christmas goodies” packages, and saved a bunch for ourselves too. Upon later reflection, I realized that the original recipe (honey, apricots, dates, almonds) contained ingredients that all originate in the middle east. The spices and citrus would have been available from trade. So really, this recipe COULD have been made when Christ was alive – a nice thing to ponder. I did try a batch substituting dried plums for the apricots in the recipe, because I thought that a recipe titled Sugar Plums should at least contain plums. It comes out just fine with apricots or plums.
Many years later, I purchased a Cherry Pie Lärabar at a natural food store, and when I looked at the ingredients – dried fruit, nuts and dates – I realized it was basically the same recipe as my sugar plums, sans spices and honey. My friend and fellow blogger Rachel Turiel makes something similar she calls Energy Nuggets that includes coconut. The variations are endless.
These are quite healthy, but be careful not to overindulge. They are so good, it is easy to just keep eating them, but remember that nuts and dried fruit both pack a wallop of calories (albeit healthy ones packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber). I leave off the powdered sugar, and roll the balls in ground oats or oat flour if I don’t want them to stick together. You can also just cut them into bars.
Fruit and Nut Power Balls
Makes about 4 dozen
- 2 cups whole almonds (or walnuts or pecans or whatever nut you like – sunflower seeds + sesame seeds would be really interesting).
- 1/4 cup honey
- 2 tsp grated orange zest (or lemon, or lime, or skip altogether…but I really really like the orange)
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground allspice
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- (or up to 2 1/2 tsp of spices of your choice – optional)
- 1 cup finely chopped dried apricots (or plums, or figs, or apples, or cherries…you get the idea)
- 1 cup finely chopped dried pitted dates (you really do need to go with dates here. They will hold everything else together. You can buy dates already chopped – usually coated with something so they don’t all stick together. Make sure you read the labels. I once bought some that weren’t pitted. That was no fun.)
- Confectioners’ sugar (optional)
Preheat the oven (or toaster oven) to 400 degrees. Arrange almonds on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool and then finely chop. Meanwhile, combine honey, orange zest, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg in a medium mixing bowl. Add almonds, apricots and dates and mix well. Pinch off rounded teaspoon sized pieces of the mixture and roll into balls. (If the mixture is really sticky, wet hands or hands coated with a non-stick spray will help). Roll balls in sugar (optional) and refrigerate in single layers between sheets of wax paper in airtight containers for up to one month.
Note: I just throw this entire mixture in a food processor and grind until everything is thoroughly chopped and mixed. I dry a lot of my own fruit, which is usually quite a bit drier than what you find at the grocery store. Put dried fruit in a bowl and add about 2 tbsp hot water, toss to coat, and let stand for an hour or so to soften up before chopping, if your fruit is on the dry leathery side like mine.
Alternatively, line an 8×8 inch baking pan with plastic wrap or waxed paper and press mixture into pan. Slice into bars.
Miles Away Farm Blog © 2013, where we’re avoiding white foods (sugar, flour, rice, potatoes) for a while in an effort to lose a few pounds, and these power balls fit in nicely if I don’t eat them all at once!