There is little compensation for a Canadian winter, but the promise of fresh maple syrup in the early days of spring keeps me going through months of snow and ice. Visiting a maple sugarbush was a favourite activity of my youth, one that I’ve continued to love well into adulthood. And as I’ve grown up, my passion for maple syrup has only expanded and I’ve discovered many new ways to enjoy this decadent childhood staple — and I bet you’ll love them as well!
Drowning a stack of pancakes in maple syrup is always fun, but as an adult, you might crave a more sophisticated palate. Here are three unique ways to pair pancakes and maple syrup. (Note that the Canadian maple syrup grading system is used)
Category 1: Extra light, light, and medium. These clear, mild syrups are perfect for crepes and fruit-based pancakes, like blueberry buttermilk. You don’t want to overwhelm the more delicate batter and you want the classic fruit flavors to really pop.
Category 2: Amber. With a deeper color and flavor, the robust amber syrup is the ideal match for traditional pancakes and French toast. The flavor stands out, but it’s not strong enough to cover the subtle hints of vanilla and cinnamon in the batter.
Category 3: Dark. Dark maple syrup is the hardest to find, but the search is well worth it. The syrup, which can be as dark and thick as molasses, has slight hints of caramel, sap, and plant bud. Dark syrup compliments pancakes made from buckwheat or oats and French toast made from multigrain or rye bread — the strong flavor holds its own against more substantial grains and breads.
Why limit your maple syrup to pancakes and French toast? No matter if you crave it morning, noon, or night, there’s a maple flavor sensation to tantalize your taste buds
Maple taffy. Clear a patch of clean snow and pour warmed maple syrup on it in a long line. As soon as you are finished pouring, twirl the cooling syrup around a popsicle stick for instant maple taffy. Once you’ve mastered basic taffy, try adding a chunk of aged cheddar on the stick before the twirling. Divine!
Maple drinks. Maple is a great flavor addition to many drinks. Add it to a smoothie in lieu of honey. Drizzle it on a latte and swirl it into hot chocolate. Maple is also a delicious ingredient in homemade infusions for spritzers and sodas. Pureed peach with maple and nutmeg is an incredible combination.
Say Cheers! Yes, you can add maple to cocktails. Maple syrup is outstanding in hot mulled wine and cider, but I have a fondness for the Maple Old Fashioned, where maple syrup replaces the simple syrup. For 12 exquisite maple cocktail recipes, hop over here.
Baking and sweets. Maple is a scrumptious addition to any dessert that traditionally uses caramel or honey. Personally, I love maple frosting on brownies, maple syrup drizzled over cheesecake, and roasting bananas and plums and serving them with maple-laced whipped cream.
Savories. One of my favorite ways to enjoy maple is on glazed salmon. I mix equal parts maple syrup with Dijon mustard and add a pinch of ginger, coat the fish, and bake as usual. It’s so delicious! You can drizzle maple syrup on baked sweet potatoes (along with a nice hunk of butter!), and it’s very much at home on toasted baguette with Brie and cranberries.
Beyond Syrup: Sugar, Sap, and More!
If you love maple as much as I do, you’ll be happy to learn that your options don’t end with syrup. For the full maple madness experience, try these four culinary delights.
Maple sugar. There is nothing like hard, crumbly, old fashioned maple brown sugar fudge, but maple sugar has a myriad of uses. Stir it into coffee, sprinkle it onto hot, buttered popcorn, use it on the top of crème brulee, or — wait for it — dust the top of bacon before baking in the oven.
Maple butter (or cream). Who needs butter, peanut butter, or Nutella when you can have pure maple in butter form? Your toast will never be the same! (Note: maple butter is pure, creamed maple sugar — it’s not to be confused with a butter spread flavored with maple.)
Sap-eritif. A lightly carbonated maple sap beverage, this is the perfect non-alcoholic party drink. The pioneer in this limited field is Ottawa’s TreeWell, who used Kickstarter to help launch their product.
Sap water. This emerging product from Quebec is a beverage made from the water that normally evaporates from the sap when it is being boiled down into syrup. Get to know a local maple syrup producer and you may just be lucky enough to nab some.
Cooking and preparing food with maple syrup is a fun, easy way to turn ordinary dishes into something really special and is one of the ways I always make sure to treat myself.While it feels like a bit of a splurge in my otherwise humble grocery cart, it’s still an affordable treat.
Now what are you waiting for? It’s time to whip up a batch of pancakes!
Photo Credits: Jack and Jackson’s Pancakes, Gerald Zojer, Tamara Manning, and author.