- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Centuries ago, American Colonists discovered hidden gold when Indians showed them how to tap the trunks of the stately maple tree and draw off the sap.

When the liquid was boiled down, it turned into a rich, golden syrup. In New England, this tradition endures today. Each year the maple-tapping season begins around mid-February and lasts four to six weeks. People come from miles away to visit farms with maple groves, where buckets hang from tree trunks to catch the sap.

In this part of the country, the tapping season serves as culinary inspiration for many of us. Naturally, everyone thinks of breakfast fare. What better partner for a stack of pancakes, a plate of waffles or a platter of French toast?

However, I like to use the delicious syrup in less traditional ways. It makes a great glaze for ham or a pork roast when its sweetness is cut by a bit of mustard. Mashed sweet potatoes seasoned with maple syrup and lime are a delectable combination. I’ve even baked chocolate-chip cookies with a hint of maple syrup and loved the results.

This year I came up with a new idea. I sauteed apples in brown and white sugars and spices until tender and stirred in some rum-soaked raisins. I then served the warm fruit with a dusting of toasted walnuts and a dollop of whipped cream scented with maple syrup.

The apple compotes were delectable on their own, but it was the maple cream (a combination of whipped cream combined with sour cream and maple syrup) that made this confection unique.

This dessert turned out to be perfect for entertaining because both the apples and the cream can be prepared a day ahead. At serving time, the apples need only to be reheated and the cream whisked a few seconds. There’s no last-minute work, which makes them perfect for almost any dinner party.

Warm apple compotes with whipped maple cream

3 tablespoons dark rum

1/3 cup raisins

5 to 6 Golden Delicious apples

3/4 cup white sugar

3/4 cup light brown sugar

cup flour

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, diced

cup heavy whipping cream

cup sour cream

cup maple syrup

3/4 cup walnut halves, toasted and chopped (see note)

To make the apple compotes, heat rum in a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat for a few seconds until just barely warm. (Do not heat until hot or the rum will flame.) Remove pan from heat and stir in raisins. Set aside.

Peel, core and halve apples lengthwise. Cut into -inch-thick slices to yield 6 cups. (Save any extra for another use.)

In a large heavy skillet mix together the white and brown sugars, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg with a spoon until well blended. Add apple slices and toss to coat well. Add butter. Place pan over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves and apples begin to release their juices, 4 to 5 minutes.

Reduce heat to medium low and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until apples are soft but not mushy and juices have thickened, about 10 minutes. Total cooking time should be about 15 minutes. When done, remove skillet from heat and stir raisins and any rum in saucepan into the apples. (The apples can be cooked 1 day ahead; cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat, stirring, over low heat until warm when ready to use.)

To make the whipped maple cream, with an electric mixer, whip the whipping cream until firm. Remove and fold in the sour cream. Then gently whisk in the maple syrup. (Cream can be prepared 1 day ahead; cover and refrigerate. Whisk gently a few seconds when ready to use.)

To serve, spoon warm apples into 6 dessert bowls or wide-mouthed wineglasses. Sprinkle each serving with some nuts, then garnish with a generous dollop of whipped maple cream. Place any extra whipped cream in a small bowl and pass separately. Serve compotes immediately. Makes 6 servings.

Note: To toast walnuts, spread on a rimmed baking sheet and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven until nuts are golden brown and fragrant, 6 to 8 minutes. Watch carefully so nuts do not burn.


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