March is my favorite winter month: longer days, the sun is higher in the sky, and the sap is running! A sure sign of the changing season is the galvanized metal buckets hanging from maple trees that line the roadways, and the miles of plastic tubing that provide the continuous flow of sap to sugar houses.
Did your family have the opportunity to visit Maine sugarhouses this past weekend? For 40 years now, Maine maple producers have opened up their farms and sap houses on the fourth Sunday in March. With nights below freezing, and daytime temperatures around 40 degrees or warmer, this is the time when the sap from maple trees “runs.”
Although our tribe has long left the nest, Maine Maple Sunday was a ritual for us to procure our annual supply of maple syrup. We’d visit local sugarhouses and sample lots of syrup: some dark and rich, some more gold and delicious. Each year, the syrup would have a uniquely different taste; some liken it to a fine wine. We’d make our selection, then stock up with plenty of sweet, flavor-brightening syrup for the year, usually around five gallons.
How about your family? How do you use this food produced so close to home? Before cheaply priced white sugar came to the settlers in the Americas, maple syrup was the seasoning of choice. For the native people, maple sugar was a staple food, used much like salt is today.
Not just for breakfast on pancakes, maple syrup can be used in baking, salad dressings, roasting vegetables, or in preparing granola. Imagine your pantry without white sugar. What would you use? Try tossing cubes of squash, beets, sweet potato and carrots with maple syrup and roasting them. Or make a dressing with maple syrup, cider vinegar, olive oil and herbs for a tangy topping to a leafy, green salad.
Tinkering with baking recipes and replacing sugar with maple syrup can be a challenge. There is really no hard and fast rule for substitutions. I’ve had many failures!
The recipe for Maine maple brownies has been taste-tested by student chefs, and declared delicious. Now that spring is here, make a batch of brownies, enjoy the sun, and let me how they work.
Maine Maple Brownies
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup Maine maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon maple or vanilla extract
- 1 cup melted butter
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- Assemble ingredients and tools.
- Grease and flour two 8-inch cake pans, or one 9-by-13-inch pan. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- In a medium bowl or 2-cup measure, combine the eggs, maple syrup, melted butter and vanilla or maple extract. Set aside.
- Whisk together the flour, baking powder and brown sugar in the bowl of your electric mixer, or in a large bowl with a whisk, breaking down the lumps in the sugar.
- Add the maple, butter mixture to the dry ingredients. Stir by hand until well blended.
- Spoon the batter into the prepared pan(s).
- For fudgy brownies, bake until the middle looks just set, about 35 minutes. For a cakelike brownie, bake until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean, about 40 minutes, depending upon the size of your pan. The top of the cake will rise and then fall, but this is normal.
- Cool the brownie on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and finish cooling. Brownies cut most easily when cold.
- To serve, dust the top with powdered sugar. Or top with Maine Maple Whipped Cream for a sinful dessert.