The sap has been flowing in maple trees all month, a natural sweetener courtesy of nature’s bounty. Boiled into syrup, this requisite for French toast and waffles also is a flavorful addition to desserts.
“Who doesn’t love maple? It’s such a beautiful flavor,” said Jasper White, chef and owner of The Summer Shack restaurants in Boston. “We always do a maple dessert in the spring because maple syrup is a harbinger of spring.”
Other chefs view maple as fare for the fall, when the trees attract attention with their flaming colors.
“Maple, to me, is warming and comforting, so it’s more of a fall dessert,” said Michele Fadden, pastry chef for Blue Ginger in Wellesley, Mass., owned by chef and food-show celebrity Ming Tsai.
Some chefs make maple desserts year-round.
“As an environmental educator, I like knowing that my sweetener is local, and that it is unprocessed,” said Emily Carreiro, a naturalist and summer camp director at South Shore Natural Science Center in Norwell, Mass.
All chefs said maple is versatile and distinctive, in a subtle way.
“The beautiful thing about it is that you can take almost any recipe and turn it into a dessert with maple flavor,” White said.
He favors maple in creme caramel, creme brulee and pound cake with walnuts. Fadden makes maple spice cake, a soft spongy cake with maple syrup and Thai bird chili.
“If you used brown sugar, you’d get a bit of molasses flavor, and with white sugar, it would be just a regular sweet cake,” Fadden said, “but with maple syrup you get a sweet maple flavor that is not overpowering.”
Fadden serves the cake with whipped cream sweetened with maple syrup and spiced with Thai bird chili.
“We like to balance our desserts with contrasting textures and flavors,” she said.
Robin Forbes, owner of Matfield Maple Farm in West Bridgewater, Mass., said the simplest dessert is a maple sundae –– ice cream drizzled with maple syrup and topped with maple whipped cream. And she enhances oatmeal cookies with maple sugar, a granulated sugar that forms after all the liquid has evaporated.
Carreiro loves the syrup in fruit crisps, bread pudding, whoopie pies and hot milk cake, a family recipe for a yellow cake.
She views it as healthier than sugar, a view that recently received a boost from a study by an assistant professor of biomedical and pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Rhode Island.
Navindra Seeram studied Canadian maple syrup and found more than 20 anti-oxidant compounds beneficial to human health, according to findings presented last year at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society.
When visitors come to purchase maple products and tapping supplies at Matfield Farm, Forbes said many seek the syrup for these purported healthful qualities as well as its taste.
These benefits, however, come only from real maple syrup, which is not to be confused with imitation maple syrup. Real syrup is pure, with no additives, while imitation syrup is mostly corn syrup with maple extract, or 2 to 3 percent real syrup.
When the maple sap is harvested, it is a thin, watery liquid. The sap is then boiled until much of the water has evaporated. Once the sugar content exceeds 67 percent, the liquid is considered maple syrup.
When buying real syrup, the choices range from mild to intense, which is reflected in its color and grade: Grade A light, medium and dark amber and Grade B. Refrigerated open syrup is good for about a year.
“Many people like to bake with Grade B because it has a stronger maple flavor,” Forbes said. “It’s available at the end of the season, and we always sell out of it.”
For additional recipes, visit the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association at massmaple.org.
Jody Feinberg may be reached at email@example.com.
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