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Visions of Sugar Plums
(and More Christmas Desserts)

Chocolate Fudge
by John Raven, Ph.B.

I know all of you have heard of sugar plums. We hear about them in "The Night Before Christmas" and in "The Nutcracker". I always imagined them to be regular plums with some sugar on them. In actuality, if there were plums in sugar plums, they would be dried plums which, of course, we all grew up knowing as prunes.

Sugar plums originated in Europe where any dried fruit was known as "plum" at the time. The real deal is a mix of dried fruit(s) and spices with some honey involved. Here's a real recipe if you really want to be authentic.

Sugar Plums

  • 2 cups whole almonds
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup finely chopped dried apricots
  • 1 cup finely chopped pitted dates
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
Preheat oven to 400°F.

Arrange the almonds on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast in the oven for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool, then finely chop.

Meanwhile, combine the honey, orange zest, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg in a medium mixing bowl. Add the chopped almonds, apricots and dates and mix well.

Pinch off rounded teaspoon-size pieces of the mixture and roll into balls. Rinse your hands often, as this is very sticky work. Roll the balls in sugar, then refrigerate in single layers between sheets of waxed paper in airtight containers for up to 1 month. Their flavor improves after ripening for several days.

If you crank up the food processor, this will go very easy. And don't scorch the almonds.

My favorite sweet treat of all time is homemade fudge. I can't think of a thing that I would prefer over it for my last meal. It is a lot of work, but the result is worth it. Don't let anyone sell you on the "easy fudge" recipe that uses canned milk. It's not even in the same league with the real thing.

Real Chocolate Fudge

  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup Hershey's Cocoa or Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 cups milk
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Line an 8- or 9-inch square pan with foil, extending foil over edges of pan. Butter the foil.

Mix the sugar, cocoa and salt in a heavy 4-quart saucepan and stir in the milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to full rolling boil. Boil, without stirring, until mixture reaches 234°F on a candy thermometer or until a small amount of mixture dropped into very cold water forms a soft ball that flattens when removed from water. Don' let the bulb of the candy thermometer rest on the bottom of the saucepan.

Remove from heat. Add the butter and vanilla. DO NOT STIR. Cool at room temperature to 110°F (lukewarm). Beat with a wooden spoon until fudge thickens and just begins to lose some of its gloss. Quickly spread into prepared pan; cool completely. Cut into squares. Store in tightly covered container at room temperature. Makes about 36 pieces or 1-3/4 pounds.

Note: For best results, do not double this recipe. This is one of our most requested recipes, but also one of our most difficult. The directions must be followed exactly. Beat too little and the fudge is too soft. Beat too long and it becomes hard and sugary.

Snacks are essential for this time of year. Here's something you can make at home that will get a lot of attention. It's more than just sweet; it's spicy, too.

Sweet and Spicy Pecans

    Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 1 cup pecan halves (about 3 1/2 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Generous pinch of cayenne pepper
Preheat oven to 325°F. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray.

Combine pecans and all remaining ingredients in a medium bowl, and toss to coat. Spread nut mixture on prepared baking sheet (some nuts may clump together). Bake until nuts are deep golden and sugar mixture is bubbling, stirring occasionally to break up clumps, about 15 minutes.

Cool completely on baking sheet. Can be made up to three days ahead. Store in airtight container.

When I want something from my recipe book that will make nice gifts to friends, I always fall back on the Spice Cake. It's related to the fruitcake, but it's not a fruitcake. Man does not live on fudge alone.

Spice Cake

  • 1 cup butter (use real butter)
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 cups raisins
Preheat oven to 320°F.

Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs, one at a time, combining well.

Sift together dry ingredients and add alternately with water. When everything is combined, add the raisins and nuts that have been dredged in a little flour. (This keeps them from dropping to the bottom of the batter.) Mix well. Place in a greased loaf pan. Bake about two hours or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Banana pudding has been a favorite in Texas for a long time, I guess since bananas were invented. Banana pudding is more of a Thanksgiving treat than a Christmas treat, but if you have a banana tooth, you might want to try banana cake for a change.

Old-Fashioned Banana Cake

Filling:
  • 9 very ripe bananas
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 stick butter (real butter, not margarine)
Mash bananas in a heavy pan or pot. Add remaining ingredients and cook over very low heat for 45 minutes.

Cake:

  • 1 box butter cake mix
Prepare per instructions on the box, but make 5 (that's right, 5) layers. You can use 5 pans with a small amount of batter evenly divided among them, or 3 pans, one with a small amount of batter and two with more batter. These two layers you can split, making a total of 5 layers.

While banana filling is warm, spread filling between warm cake layers while banana mixture is warm. Stack the layers and spread the remaining filling on the top layer.

This wraps up 2010 here with me at Texas Cooking. It has been a decent year. I'm looking forward to starting 2011 in a few weeks. Dang! I've been hanging around a long time.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ONE AND ALL!

John Raven, Ph.B. aka Dr. John

Online Since 1997
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