The moment you taste pure maple syrup after a lifetime of Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Butterworth's is as profound one. No offense to those lovely ladies, but the high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavorings are no match for the deep, complex sweetness of pure maple syrup.
While available year-round, maple syrup takes center stage during the winter as we spend more time in the kitchen. And if you haven't done much experimenting with the pure stuff yet, you are in for a treat!
First, a little note about maple syrup Grades: According to the maple experts at Wikipedia, Grades refer to flavor and color of maple syrups and vary by country and even state. But generally speaking, grading goes light to dark, so, A or even AA, would be the lightest in color and flavor. Grade B maple syrup is often preferred by diehard maple lovers for its darker color and richer flavor. Darker still, Grade C is often used in commercial manufacturing to create intense maple flavor in processed foods. I personally recommend Grade B for a fantastic flavor, but if you're new to real maple syrup, you might want to start with Grade A. Either way, always choose organic and glass bottles, unless you can tap it from the tree yourself!
Ready to get maple-y? Give these uses a try:
1. Hotcakes: It's a no-brainer, right? Christmas break would be incomplete without an indulgent stack of fluffy and caloric hotcakes. But, have you ever tried adding a tablespoon or two of maple syrup to your batter before they go onto the griddle for even more of that maple flavor? Then of course, douse as usual. Same goes for your waffle or French toast batter.
2. Baked Goods: If you're spending time baking for the holidays this year, maple can bring a lot of flavor to your recipes. Use it in place of other liquid sweeteners like agave or honey (or even molasses), or reduce your dry sugar content and sub-in some maple syrup. Note: If you are replacing dry sugar, you will need to adjust your recipe—perhaps adding more flour—to account for the liquid sub-in.
3. Granola: Have you made your own granola? It's wonderfully simple and so much less expensive than the stuff you buy at the store. Plus, you can experiment with your favorite dried fruits, nuts and flavorings, like maple syrup. Before you put your oats and grains in the oven, you'll need to coat them in a mixture of oil and sweeteners. Maple is an excellent choice. Pairs really well with not-tart sweet dried fruits such as apples, pears, figs, dates, mulberries and raisins. Check out this easy recipe from Miss Martha herself.
4. Maple Pecans: Nuts are a terrific snack during the holiday season and they can be a sweet treat, too. They also make an excellent holiday gift. Try this nice recipe, and sub-in your favorite nut instead of pecans.
5. Glazed Tempeh: While I generally avoid soy products—especially if they're not organic (GMOs, no thank you!)—there are occasions to bend the rules, and holiday glazed tempeh is one very good reason. Here's an excellent recipe.
6. Roasted Squash: Butternuts, acorn, kabocha, pumpkin—all are simply divine when roasted. Coat them in a light mixture of olive oil and maple syrup and sprinkle with a coarse salt, black pepper, fresh sage and rosemary before roasting at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until tender (about 30 minutes).
7. Sweet Potato Soup: Pureed sweet potatoes are naturally creamy and a perfect soup base. This recipe at Epicurious is simple, sweet and fragrant. Sub coconut oil for the butter and veggie broth for the chicken and you have a wonderful, vegan soup bursting with maple sweetness.
8. Best Sandwich Ever: Sprouted grain bread, raw almond butter spread over with pure maple syrup, topped with thin slices of fresh apple, pear or persimmon. A slight sprinkle of nutmeg. You're welcome.
9. Master Cleanse: After the holidays you'll need *ahem* a little break from all the maple-y infused baked goodness...but I know, steps and stages, right? Give the old pipes a cool down with the Master Cleanse. It's a mixture of lemon juice, cayenne pepper, water and maple syrup. Most people do this as a fast—without eating anything else. Whether it's your first or 50th, it's always recommended to check in with your doctor first before fasting.
Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger