These pretty petite confections will surely have you reciting Clement Moore’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas while you prepare them, as well as when you find yourself taking dainty bites at midnight on Christmas Eve (probably as you put together the toddler’s new tricycle). A traditional combination of sweet dried fruit, toasted almonds, comforting spices, ground ginger cookies, vanilla, and even a bit of whiskey or other spirit of choice if you desire, these moist, delicate rounds bejeweled with sparkling coarse sugar make for perfect gifts, additions to a dessert table or petit four tray, or even in lieu of cookies for Santa Claus. If you’re preparing them days ahead of Christmas, be sure to make a goodly amount. Otherwise, you might not have enough to share with St. Nick on December 24th.
Makes about 42
6 ounces toasted slivered almonds
4 ounces dried apricots
2 ounces pitted prunes
2 ounces dried cherries
2 ounces dried figs, stemmed
2 ounces dried dates, pitted
1/3 cup finely ground gingersnaps
1 tablespoon whisky, dark rum, or amaretto (optional)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
Pinch of coarse sea salt
3 tablespoons good-quality honey
1 tablespoon mild molasses
Coarse or sanding sugar for rolling
Put the almonds in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade attachment and pulse several times until they are coarsely chopped.
Coarsely chop the dried fruit. Add to the almonds along with the ground gingersnaps, the whiskey, vanilla, spices, and sea salt. Process until the mixture forms a coarse paste, stopping once or twice to scrape the sides of the bowl, if necessary. You don’t want the mixture to be smooth; you want to see small bits of fruit and nuts.
Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl, drizzle with honey and molasses, and using your hands or a large spatula, gradually incorporate the sweeteners into the fruit and nut mixture. It should be sticky (not overly so or wet) and hold together when you squeeze a small bit in your hand.
Using a good-quality small metal scoop that holds approximately 2 teaspoons, shape the mixture into balls and set on a small parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Roll the balls into spheres. At this point, you can cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to 1 week or in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks. Alternatively, roll the sugarplums in coarse sugar and serve or package in small decorative muffin or candy paper cups.