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Karen Marley | 12.26.2018

Five miles into a cross-country ski and needing a shot of energy? Or an icy trail run? Or a backcountry ski? Maybe you’ve got snowshoes strapped to your feet. Perhaps it’s the windchill from downhill skiing and sitting on chairlifts all day. Or you’re literally and figuratively chilling at a snow-laden campsite. Whatever your flavor of adventure, there are times when you need a boost.

How about a bite loaded with a punch of sweet spices, the heft of almonds, and held together with honey? Spice bites are warm and spicy, and pulling one out on a frosty trail is like biting into the equivalent of a cozy ski lodge with a crackling fire.

 

Spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, and cloves, among others, the spice bite is a piquant winter warmer. Karen Marley.

The sugars give you an immediate energy rush. The dried fruits kick in a bit later, and the nuts round it out with the longer, more sustained fuel that comes with healthy fat and protein. As a bonus, spices are filled with micronutrients. If you love spices, try grinding your own for fresher, more assertive flavor (we use a dedicated coffee grinder).

Spice bites come with a bit of history, a historic confectionary throwback. Chances are you've heard of them by a different name, especially around the holidays. They are among the fairies of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, and they sweetened children's dreams on Christmas Eve.

Yup, we're talking sugarplums. Maybe you think, like I did, that sugarplums were some kind of poached or brandied fruit marinated in syrup. Something so sweet that the mere thought made your teeth hurt. Or that they were only for December. Nope. Nope. And definitely nope.

 

A sweet, sticky pick-me-up for the slopes and trails. Karen Marley.

What they are is a delicious, portable, energy-loaded nugget of trail food perfection. The original namesake has nothing to do with plums. Or holidays. Rather, it comes from their plum shape (if you choose to shape them this way) and sweetness. And even the latter needs context. Sugarplums were enjoyed before the advent soda, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and the saturation of sugar in every conceivable processed food that is available. Back in the day, a little honey, sugar, and dried fruit was a serious treat.

Easy to make (albeit a bit sticky), this is a recipe that can be customized to your specific tastes. Because you’re making them yourself, they are more affordable than your typical trail bar. They taste better, and they save on packaging.

Here’s the traditional recipe to get you started. We made two changes.

First, we sweetened the spice bites with coconut palm sugar instead of the traditional powdered sugar.

Secondly, the true version rolls sugarplums in powdered sugar. I don’t recommend it. For starters, there is plenty of sweet stuff in the recipe. You don’t need more. More importantly, the shredded coconut lets you handle each sugarplum without getting your fingers sticky. Who wants to hassle with sticky fingers on a snowy slope in single-digit temperatures? Not me. Not you.

 

Nutritionally dense and shelf-stable, the spice bite is a delicious addition to your outdoor pantry. Karen Marley.

Recipe

Fruits & Nuts

  • 1/2 cup raisins or currents
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup dates
  • 1 1/2 cups toasted whole almond
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut (for rolling in afterwards)

Spices

  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground anise
  • 1 Tbsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves

Sweeteners

  • 1/2 cup coconut palm sugar
  • 1/3 cup honey (try mixing with some molasses, just make sure the combined is 1/3 cup).

What You Do

  1. Combine the raisins, apricots, dates, and almonds in a food processor and pulse until they are finely chopped. Chopping by hand works too. 
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine the chopped fruit and nut mixture with the sugar and the spices. Mix by hand until the sugar coats all of the pieces.
  3. Add the honey and mix until the mixture comes together into a stiff mass.
  4. Pinch off pieces of the mixture about 1 inch in diameter. Roll into balls and flatten slightly into plum shapes.
  5. Roll each piece in shredded coconut.
  6. Store sugarplums at room temperature for up to a week, or refrigerated for longer storage.

Mix It Up

Think of this as the starter recipe. Chocolate lover? Swap out some of the coconut palm sugar and replace it with cocoa powder. Want a Mexican hot chocolate style? Increase the cinnamon and replace anise with chili powder and pinch of cayenne. Prefer macadamias? Walnuts? Want a citrus touch? Zest up some orange and toss it in. How about dried cherries and chocolate? Or an apple pie version with dried apples? You’re the driver here.

Choose your adventure and flavor it up just the way you like it. Have fun, fuel up, and enjoy!

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