Though we can't eat many sweets today was the day I make "Sugar Plums". I make Sugar Plums most years, to give as gifts. It takes a lot of time, but very little money. (You probably have all the ingredients in your pantry.) I've never made it that people didn't fall over themselves asking how it is done. I give this recipe out a lot but never had the chance to do a tutorial on it (with pictures) before.
First the recipe:
A fine artist's brush which has been washed in hot soapy water, rinsed and dried
Paper candy cups
One cooked potato
Confectioner's (powdered) sugar, if lumpy, sift first.
One or more of almond, peppermint, rum, vanilla extracts
Berry or table sugar
Trims - I used dried rosemary bits, poppy seeds, sesame seeds
Boil a baking potato in the jacket until it is thoroughly cooked. Allow to cool. Cut the potato in half and scoop out one tablespoon of potato. Place the potato on a large plate and mash until there are no lumps.
Add 1/2 cup of confectioner's sugar and work the potato and sugar together. The mixture will become quite runny. At this point add 1/4 tsp almond, peppermint, rum or almond extract. Keep adding confectioner's sugar, 1/2 cupful at a time until the mixture is starting to become firm.
Decide what basic color of dough you want. I find it's easiest to make a batch of one color and after I have finished making the candy from that batch, I'll make a new batch and add a different color. Also, in bottle caps or any small container, make "paint" by mixing a drop of food color with 1/4 tsp of water. I usually make a red, orange (mix yellow and red), dark green and blue green (mix blue and green). Add two drops of food color to the batch and mix it in thoroughly. If needed add one more drop of color but the color should be subtle, not garish.
I like to make marzipan peaches, so I color a batch with a three drops of yellow and one drop of red to get a peachy color. For my yellow batch I use three drops of yellow food coloring, which produces a nice soft yellow. To control the amount of color when you want to add only one drop I put one drop of color on a plate and dip the end of a toothpick in it, then put the toothpick in the dough. Mix well, adding color as necessary until you are satisfied with the shade.
Now add enough confectioner's sugar to the dough to make it firm enough to model with. This is the point where the dough is no longer sticky at all, even when pulled apart. If the dough sticks to your fingers it's not firm enough, add sugar. If it dries to the point where it cracks and won't hold together add a drop or two of water and knead it in. It should be stiff enough to make a tower which doesn't slump.
Now the fun starts! First we take our pink dough and make a simple shape, a rosy peach. Take a small marble-sized ball off the dough.
With a toothpick, crease the peach, and at the top add a dimple and insert a rosemary sprig for a stem. (I use dried rosemary.)
Using your artist's brush pick up a small amount of pink "paint", (1 or 2 drops of red color mixed with 1/4 tsp water) With as dry a brush as possible brush a bit of "blush" onto the peach. You can also take a tiny piece of dough and form an oval, with one pointed end, to serve as a leaf. Form the leaf, crease the middle with the toothpick, then paint it green with a tiny bit of paint. One or two leaves can be placed at the stem end of the fruit. To attach, swish your brush in water, dry it on a piece of toweling and dampen it slightly. Touch the attachment point on the fruit, and the attachment point on the back of the leaf shape, then lay the leaf on the surface of the fruit. You can see how this looks by looking at the lemons on the plate.
Pour a few spoonfuls of table or berry sugar on a separate plate and when you finish molding and painting a piece, roll it in the sugar, and set it in a paper candy cup.
Using yellow dough roll out a ball the size of a large walnut. Flatten it between your palms until you have a "cookie". Place it on a plate and make sure it is of uniform thickness and has a smooth surface.
With a sharp knife cut the cookie into two half-moons. With a toothpick draw a line 1/8th of an inch from the outer (round) edge. This keeps your paint colors from running into each other and making a mess.
Paint the area outside the line green, and the area inside red. Using the end of a toothpick put about 10-12 poppy seeds in the red area. Dust with sugar and allow to set for about 10 minutes, then carefully lift the slice from the plate and into a paper cup.
You can use this same technique to make orange slices, drawing the rind area, and then radiating lines for segments. Paint the outside line orange, then with a very dry brush begin at the cut edge and paint in the segments, leaving white areas for the center and rind. One or two sesame seeds in each segment make nice "orange" seeds.
Good shapes are peaches, pears, apples, lemons, limes, bananas, strawberries, melon slices, cats, baby chicks, any rounded compact shape. For the sushi enthusiast, you might make a box of sushi-shaped and colored sugar plums. In a pretty tin, sugar plums are a very handsome and much appreciated gift.