A couple of years ago I had the good fortune to spend the holidays in Dubai with my extended family. Although probably my favorite thing about that visit was being able to get a suntan at the pool on Christmas day, a close second was the delicious holiday sweet treats my husband’s Aunt Mae put out.
As someone with a little snow on my own rooftop these days, there are only so many holiday cookies I can eat and still fit into my special, once a year velvet holiday pants. These goodies tasted just as decadent as a great cookie, but were much healthier, because they were made simply from dried fruit and nuts, plus they were simply beautiful.
All you need to make them is an assortment of two-bite sized dried fruits like dates, apricots and prunes, and an assortment of slivered and thin sliced almonds and pistachios and halves of walnuts and pecans. I’ve taken liberties with some of the assortment since I first had these. What follows are some of the combos I like best:
Stuff a dried apricot with slivers of roasted pistachio nuts sprinkled with sea salt. The orange and green provide a festive pop of color as well as a satisfying mix of sweet, salty and crunchy.
Stuff a dried date, sliced in half like a hoagie roll, with thin slices of slivered almonds arranged so that the almond tips poke out from the seam higgledy-piggledy.
Stuff a half-sliced prune with a whole walnut or pecan half. If you feel like upping the swoon quotient, tuck in a thin slice of room temperature sharp white cheddar cheese. Alternately a half teaspoon of cream cheese ads a velvety note, especially combined with salted pretzel sticks that fan out like little spikes on a seashell.
Stuff a dried apricot with slivers of crystallized ginger and dried cranberries.
Arrange a platter of these assorted treats and you’ll have a fanciful feast of little edible jewels to adorn your holiday table.
Variation: If you’re a runner like my sister or have a much higher metabolism than I do, consider taking dates stuffed with goat or sharp cheddar cheese, wrapping them in half slices of prosciutto or bacon, and bake them in a 350 degree oven on a rack over a baking sheet until the meat is crispy and the fat drained away. They are to die for but you definitely won’t fit into you velvet holiday pants if you have more than one of them.