A Dance of the Imagination: Sugarplum Bread
Isn’t it amazing how the foods described in songs or stories can take such hold on our imagination? So many of us drool over fictional confections, only to be sorely disappointed when we finally sample the real thing. One such food that springs to mind are sugarplums.
After all, the “visions of sugarplums” dancing in our heads is a well-known line of the Christmas classic, “The Night Before Christmas” by Clement Moore. Sugar plums inspired other authors as well; there’s even a special dance in the Nutcracker ballet dedicated to these magical confections called “the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy.” I remember imagining these confections as succulent, juicy purple gems coated in a sparkling of frost-like sugar. I pictured how they must taste for years before finally getting the chance to try a real, genuine sugarplum. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. This candy I had elevated to a magical experience in my rampant imagination tasted like… raisins. And alcohol. I was heartbroken.
And yet, the magic of sugarplums sticks with me. Perhaps part of the reason I was confused as a child is that the term “sugarplum” has described quite a variety of different confections over the years, from nuts coated in hard confectionary coatings (also called comfits, a modern example being Jordan almonds) to balls of dried fruit to real plums preserved in sugar. By the time “The Night Before Christmas” was published, it probably referred to some blend of minced dried fruit rolled with nuts. But our cultural imagination took off with the term, which was eventually used to describe something enjoyable or sweet and even associated with riches. This expansion of the name defined a variety of sweet candies or confections and wonderful delights, which is probably why it was so wonderfully adopted as the name of the ruler of the Land of the Sweets in The Nutcracker. The fairy in that classic ballet is not a personification of balls of dried fruit, but rather of sweetness itself.
Today, the term “sugarplum” has faded mostly into obscurity, with exception to the two well-known references listed. Since it had become a description for every kind of sweet, it faded into obscurity as new confections were created with specific names and none were left for the sugarplum to claim. You won’t find sugarplums on supermarket shelves, but you may still find them dancing in our heads - at least our imaginations - as we re-live the tastes of sweet childhood nostalgia and yuletide joy. It was about time to bring them to life, don't you think?
I like to think I’ve done my pre-pubescent visions of sugarplums justice in this gorgeous bread topped with confectionary plums. A naturally-purple pastry dough envelops a fragrant filling of spiced dried fruits and nuts, then is topped with mouthwateringly delicious sparkling sugarplum confections. Whether you’re celebrating a night at the ballet or waking up to it on Christmas morning, this delightful bread is sure to bring a little more wonder to your celebration.
P.S. This recipe is easily adapted to be vegan, just see the notes below!
Sugarplum Dreams Bread:
Bread roll recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour:
2 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 c. hot milk or almond milk
3 Tbs. freeze-dried macqui berry powder
3 c. all purpose flour
1/2 c. unsalted butter, at room temp (or vegan butter)
3 Tbs. sugar
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. potato flour
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
2 tsp. vanilla
mix dried fruit with brandy and pecans, sugar, and spices in a different bowl
1/2 c. chopped pitted dates
1/2 c. chopped prunes
1/2 c. chopped pecans
1/2 c. raisins/currants
1/4 c. brandy
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 c. milk (or almond milk), to brush
In a small bowl, add 2 Tbs. of lukewarm water, a pinch of sugar, and the yeast. Let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, until the mixture has bubbled and expanded. Meanwhile, pour the scalded milk over the freeze-dried berry powder and let sit until cooled to lukewarm.
Add the rest of the ingredients to a large bowl and add the yeast. Mix everything together until the dough is smooth (about 7 minutes in a stand mixer - dough should barely clean the sides of the bowl, perhaps sticking a bit at the bottom.)
Cover the bowl and allow the dough to rise, at room temperature, until it’s doubled in bulk - this should take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours. It may take longer if you’ve kneaded by hand or your house is cool.
While the dough is rising, prepare your filling and let sit so the fruits can absorb the brandy. Mix everything except the milk together and let sit at room temperature while your dough rises. Also, lightly grease a baking sheet. Make the sugarplum decorations (see below.)
Transfer the risen dough to a lightly greased work surface and roll it into a rentangle that’s 16” x 14” Gently brush the dough with a bit of milk. Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough, covering the whole surface. Roll the dough into a log the long way. Place the log onto the greased baking sheet, seam side down, and form into a ring. Cut slashes about halfway into it with a sharp knife and arrange so that each cut is at a slant.
Cover the pans and let the rolls rise until puffy, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375F
Bake rolls until they’re gently brown around the edges and soft in the middle, about 20 minutes.
While warm, glaze with melted butter to give it a nice shine and allow to cool, then decorate with the purple glaze, a dust of powdered sugar, and sugarplums.
These sparkling confections are amazing on their own. They’re bright purple, very tender, and rich in flavor thanks to the combination of brandy, plums, and berry powder. Try whipping up a batch to give as a gift in addition to topping your bread with!
1 7-oz package of marzipan
1/4 c. very finely chopped prunes
1 1/2 Tbs. macqui berry powder
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 Tbs. brandy
1/4 c. powdered sugar
sparkling sugar, to roll in
whole cloves, to decorate
Mix all of the ingredients (except for the sparkling sugar) together in a food processor until it comes together into a smooth dough.
Roll small balls out of the dough and then roll in sparkling sugar to coat. Use a butter knife to gently press a line in each to make a plum shape. Stick a whole clove in to look like a stem.
2 Tbs. brandy
2 Tbs. milk or almond milk
a pinch macqui berry powder
Let the macqui berry powder soak in the milk for about half an hour, then blend it with the brandy. Add powdered sugar until the icing reaches a smooth “pipe-able” consistency. Pipe onto the cooled bread to decorate
I hope this bread brings your visions of sugarplums out of your dreams and into your bellies!
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