A Baker’s Dozen – Private Christmas Gift-Making Factory: Your Kitchen

by Dianne Boate

I used to buy chocolate in 10-pound bars from a company near the old produce market in San Francisco. The bookkeeper there made me a Christmas cake every year and it was terrible, but I loved it because she made it for me.

We will venture forth here with quality recipes easy to accomplish (Sugar Plums! Velma’s Mother’s Tennessee Refrigerator Rolls!), something a little different, something you can make yourself and be loved for doing it.

IMG_1338Sugar Plums

It was a shock to discover that original Sugar Plums of 16th century England were nut or seed kernels coated repeatedly with a sugar substance – the early days of what became and what we now know as jawbreakers. My own “visions of Sugar Plums” have always been glistening confections, enhanced by the idea of the Sugar Plum Fairy in her glittering costume.

IMG_1340My annual custom to review all the old holiday favorites unearthed a recipe I always wanted to make but never did – Bob Carr’s Sugar Plums. Bob was a good friend who became Mr. Pickwick for the Dicken’s Christmas Fair by putting on 20 pounds, a good costume, and having his head shaved to portray a Victorian style.

His recipe is basically adding together nuts and dried fruits, chopping finely, moistening with rum or cognac, shaping  balls, and rolling in sugar. He advises letting the concoction “ripen for a couple weeks” so the flavors meld. Here is what I did today:

IMG_1343Sugar Plums

  • 1 cup toasted almonds
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1 cup dark raisins
  • 1 cup dried apricots
  • 1 cup pitted prunes

Grind together in a food processor. Place mixture in a bowl, add 4 tablespoons quality rum, mix together with your hands. Using a tablespoon or mini scoop, round out balls and roll in sugar.  Wrap well and store in refrigerator. This recipe makes about 2 pounds, around 64 Sugar Plum confections. I love to have these served with a good egg nog. Then I have run around the block a few times.EDF ForkIMG_1308A Worthy Roll Recipe for Gift-Giving

Every few years my friend Velma and I talk about her mother’s roll recipe. She tried to make it once and threw out the result. I needed something new recently and called for her mother’s recipe. I didn’t like it either but improving it was simple to do; don’t forget the egg, and then realized that 1 teaspoon of salt does not support flavor for 5 cups of flour.

Velma’s Mother’s Tennessee Refrigerator RollsIMG_1327

  • 1 cube unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1½ cups boiling water
  • instant yeast
  • ¼ cup warm water
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour

Melt butter and sugar in hot water, let cool to lukewarm. Soften IMG_1329yeast in warm water and set aside; beat egg in a small bowl. In a large bowl, combine water, butter, and sugar mixture with yeast, egg, and salt. Add 5 cups of flour, mixing well, then knead right in the bowl a few times until smooth. Transfer to greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise. Punch down and refrigerate overnight.

Next day, punch down dough, let it come to room temperature, or put it in the microwave for faster results, I do it with my Microwave stand with storage, scooped out 12 balls on a #24 ice cream scoop and place them in greased muffin tins.

Let rise, covered, then bake IMG_1331in preheated 375º oven for 20-25 minutes. Let cool on baking rack.

Return dough to the refrigerator. Two days later, repeat the process but this time shaped the balls into ropes and tie a simple knot with the dough. Let rise, bake, and you’ll find it will be even more flavorful. Total rolls, 24.


A new basket or colander, filled with high-quality honey or marmalade, ½ pound of good butter with the rolls. IMG_1332Wrapped with a generous tea towel and a ribbon, creative gift ideas really get me going, I’m so happy.

A Note on New Year’s Eve

Mid-1970s, Wimbledon, England

My anticipation was very high about what would take place as the clock moved toward midnight. I was with three English people bent on getting into the pubs on Wimbledon Common. It was raining, parking was difficult, I was getting nervous. Close to midnight they found the pub they wanted and we went in. Nothing. I held my breath, waiting. The clock was striking, and then it all happened. Everyone got up and formed a circle around the ceiling-high Christmas tree, crisscrossing arms to join hands and sing “Auld Lang Syne.” An instant later, huge platters of bangers with good bread came streaming out ; glasses were raised. Indeed, it was a Happy New Year.

EDF-fancy-horizontal-ruleDianneBoateDianne Boate, a former staff member of the original Dating Game television show, and later, The Renaissance Pleasure Faire, is The Hat Lady, maker of custom millinery, and The Cake Lady, a special events baker for 30 years in the Bay Area.  Between cake assignments, she has had several one-woman photography shows, and participated as a botanical illustrator in group shows benefiting the Conservatory of Flowers, National AIDS Memorial Grove, Marin Cancer Institute, and University of California Alumni Association. Her website can be found at www.BoateCollection.com.

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