Maple Syrup: Sweetness That Grows On Trees
If you went to sixth grade within field-trip distance of a maple syrup producer, then you probably know the basics. I don't have to tell you that maple syrup is made from the sap of maple trees, or that the sap is collected in the spring, or that it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.
But stop and think for a minute - who figured that out? After all, maple sap is only 2 percent sugar - not sweet enough to produce a Eureka! moment when some curious early Native American tasted it. So what prompted the first person to put a pot of sap over a fire and boil it down to the 67 percent sugar version we know as maple syrup? We'll never know - although there's some speculation that it could have been a frozen version of sap: a sapsicle. Some of the water would have evaporated, leaving a higher sugar concentration, and that may have done it.
However it happened, we are the happy beneficiaries.
Maple syrup doesn't just dress up pancakes; you can substitute maple syrup for sugar in almost any preparation. (If you're baking, though, you have to be careful: 3/4 cup of maple syrup will substitute for a cup of ordinary sugar in a recipe, but you also have to add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda and reduce another liquid by 3 tablespoons.)
- Use maple syrup in candied sweet potatoes or squash.
Make a simple fruit syrup by simmering fruit with maple syrup, a little water, and a dash of lemon juice. Try it with blueberries, peaches, or cranberries (but add sugar). When the fruit's completely soft, puree
it or run it through a sieve.
- It's not just for pancakes; use maple syrup in oatmeal or a smoothie.
- Use maple syrup instead of brown sugar in baked beans.
- Spice up your maple syrup by simmering it with other flavors. Try rum and raisins or ginger and lemon.
- Heat maple syrup with mustard and butter for a glaze for poultry or pork.
- Put maple in your pie, whether it's pumpkin, pecan, or fruit.
- Sweeten a classic cream cheese icing with maple syrup - it's a perfect accompaniment for carrot cake.
- Just pour maple syrup, all by itself, over vanilla ice cream.
If you never had that sixth-grade field trip, consider yourself caught up.
Maple Pecan Pie
For the Pastry:
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
3 - 4 tablespoons ice water
An egg wash made by beating 1 large egg with a teaspoon of water
Sifted confectioners' sugar for garnish
For the Filling:
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1/3 cup sugar
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, if desired, melted
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons dark rum
1 pound pecan halves (3 cups coarsely chopped, the remaining left whole), toasted
1. Make the pastry: Into a bowl sift the flour and salt. Add the butter and blend the mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Stir in the water until mixture forms a ball. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and gently knead it until it is combined well. Flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic, and chill 30 minutes.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. On a lightly floured surface roll the dough into a round about 1/8-inch thick and fit it into a deep pie plate, fluting the edges. Gather any dough scraps, roll into a round 1/8-inch thick, and cut out leaf shapes. Prick the bottom and chill while preparing the filling.
3. In a bowl combine the maple syrup, corn syrup, sugar, chocolate, if desired, and butter. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, and the rum. Stir in the chopped pecans. Pour the filling into the prepared pie shell and arrange the remaining pecan halves in a decorative design on top.
4. Bake the pie in the lower third of the oven on a baking sheet for 40 to 45 minutes, or until set. Score the tops of the leaf shapes with the tip of a knife to simulate veins and brush with egg wash. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes on the baking sheet. Let pie and leaves cool on a rack to room temperature. Dust with confectioners' sugar before serving and garnish with the pastry leaves.