- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2005


MONTPELIER, Vt. - Maple-sugaring season is a favorite time for students at the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, a time when this natural and flavorful ingredient is literally flowing in their back yards.

“Maple sugaring means many things to Vermonters, including the thawing of winter and hopes for summer,” says the institute’s chief instructor, Bill Koucky. “It’s a time to teach our students about one of Vermont’s finest delicacies.”

Students visit local maple sugar makers to learn how maple sap is collected and boiled down into maple syrup, and they also study cooking with it in the kitchens of the six restaurants the school operates around Vermont. (These kitchens go through 25 gallons of maple syrup a week.)

Maple syrup as a natural product is nothing more than 100 percent boiled sap. Both syrup and sugar are rich in potassium, calcium and iron and are fat free.

The maple season lasts four to six weeks in March and April, depending on the weather. Vermont is the largest source of maple syrup in the United States.

It takes four maple trees that are at least 40 years old to yield enough sap over six weeks to produce a gallon of maple syrup, and it takes 35 to 40 gallons of maple sap to produce 1 gallon of syrup.

In taste-and-flavor class, students learn how to use the ingredient in savory creations as well as sweet. They and their instructors offer the following tips:

• Maple syrup is a flavorful alternative to granulated sugar in most recipes.

• When substituting maple syrup for sugar in cooking, it is important to take into account that syrup is sweeter than sugar and that it adds extra moisture to the recipe.

• To substitute maple syrup for sugar while cooking, generally use only 3/4 cup maple syrup to each cup of sugar.

• To substitute maple syrup for sugar while baking, use the same proportion but reduce the other liquid in the recipe by about 3 tablespoons for every cup of syrup substituted.

• Maple syrup can be a good alternative for honey and molasses.

• Grade B maple syrup has a stronger flavor and will yield more maple flavor in a flour batter. In an icing or in other cooking where delicate flavors are required, use Grade A light, medium or dark amber.

• Maple syrup can sometimes cause baked goods to brown more quickly than sugar would. To compensate for this, reduce oven temperature by 25 degrees.

• Light maple syrup (Grade A) can be used in drink recipes, such as coolers, daiquiris, sours and margaritas, that call for simple syrup (or sugar syrup). Using maple syrup is simpler than cooking the mixture of sugar and water needed for simple syrup.

• Maple syrup tends to hug the sides of the measuring cup or spoon, so first grease the container lightly, then scrape out all the syrup.

• Maple syrup can be boiled to produce maple cream, maple sugar and maple candy.

Imitation maple syrup, which costs much less than real maple, is mostly corn syrup, containing 2 percent to 3 percent real maple syrup.

Sugar on snow is a traditional Vermont dish in which freshly boiled syrup is poured on late-winter snow, creating a taffylike consistency. It is traditionally eaten with a sour pickle to offset the sweet maple flavor.

Here are three of the New England Culinary Institute’s recipes, adapted for the home cook.

Maple cream scones

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling dough

3/4 cup cake flour

teaspoon salt

3/4 cup maple sugar

3 teaspoons baking powder

2 sticks unsalted butter

3 large eggs (for scone mix)

cup heavy cream

cup dried currants

1 large egg (for egg wash)

cup maple syrup

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Sift and mix flours, salt, sugar and baking powder in one bowl. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients using a pastry cutter until the mixture resembles crumbs.

Beat together the 3 eggs and cream, just until the two ingredients are incorporated. Add the eggs and cream to the dry ingredients. Mix with hands until the dough comes together. Add currants, and mix until the currants are incorporated; do not overmix.

Flour a workspace; roll out the dough to 1 inch thick. Use a 2- to 3-inch maple-leaf cutter or standard biscuit cutter to cut out scones. Place them on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Break 1 egg into a bowl, and add a drop or two of water; mix thoroughly and brush on tops of scones. Bake scones for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden.

After scones have cooled, drizzle with maple syrup and serve. Makes 8 to 12 scones.

Glaze variation: Mix together 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, 2 teaspoons maple syrup and 3 tablespoons milk until smooth. Add more milk if the mixture is too thick, or more confectioners’ sugar if too thin. Drizzle this glaze on tops of scones.

Maple-roasted root vegetables

Nonstick cooking spray

2 pounds sweet potatoes (see note)

2 pounds parsnips

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, preferably canola oil

1 tablespoons ground cumin

1 tablespoons ground star anise

1/4 cup maple syrup

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Coat a large sheet pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Wash and peel sweet potatoes and parsnips. Cut into 11/4-inch chunks. Place parsnips and sweet potatoes in separate large bowls.

Mix oil, cumin, anise and maple syrup in a small bowl.

Pour the maple mixture equally over the vegetables. Toss the vegetables thoroughly to coat.

Sprinkle the vegetables with salt and pepper.

Arrange sweet potatoes on the sheet pan; bake for 15 minutes.

Add the parsnips to the pan; bake for 15 more minutes or until vegetables are tender and lightly caramelized. Makes 6 to 8 servings as a side dish.

Note: You may substitute carrots or small onions for some of the sweet potatoes and parsnips, as desired.

Maple mousse

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service offers this advice about eggs: Don’t eat raw eggs. If in-shell pasteurized eggs are available, they can be used safely in recipes that won’t be cooked.

3 tablespoons powdered gelatin

3 cups cream

10 egg whites

6 egg yolks

cup brown sugar

1 pint maple syrup

1/4 cup chopped pecans

Stir the gelatin powder into 1/4 cup cold water in a small bowl. Let gelatin stand until it blooms (absorbs all the water), about 10 minutes.

Whip the cream to soft peaks in a separate bowl, and whip the egg whites to medium peaks in another bowl.

Whip the yolks, sugar and maple syrup in a large bowl. When you lift the mixer out of the bowl, the mixture should drip like a solid ribbon. Set bowl with the gelatin into another bowl of 120-degree water until the heat melts the gelatin.

Drizzle the warm gelatin into the yolk mixture, and whip until mixture is slightly thickened.

Quickly fold the whipped cream into the yolk mixture. Quickly fold in the whipped whites. Fold in the chopped nuts. Distribute evenly among 6 to 8 dessert glasses or serving containers.

Cover and chill until mousse sets (at least 4 hours).

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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