When the snow hits the ground and visions of flannel-clad lumberjacks fill your head, that's when you know: It's maple season. (Well, maple season technically starts in the spring, when trees are tapped, but maple craving season usually hits when temperatures drop. And fortunately, maple products are good year-round.) There's nothing wrong with straight syrup, but the truly devoted will want to branch out into the wider maple universe to get their fix. Here's how.
Maple sugar If you've ever thought to yourself, If only I could transform this cup of liquid maple into a cup of a million little maple bits, maple sugar is your ticket. It's made by boiling all of the water out of maple sap until granulated crystals form. Because you need a lot of sap to produce a little product, maple sugar is pricey. But if you want to bake with maple, it's worth the spend: Substitute it for white sugar at a one-to-one ratio to achieve a deep maple flavor (you'll have no such luck with syrup). Get a 10-ounce bag at Crown Maple, enough for a few batches of cookies or cake.
Maple candy Consider a version wherein candymakers heat the sap nearly to crystallization, which allows the sugars to concentrate before the liquid is set in pretty, giftable molds. Perhaps you might prefer aerated maple and cane sugars spun into pillowy cotton candy. Maybe this eye-catching, half-pound maple cube is more your taste; simply shave off morsels to add maple character to roasted sweet potatoes or fresh-from-the-oven muffins.
Maple flavor To add a strong maple flavor to baked goods or frosting without the aid of maple sugar, administer miniscule doses of distilled Boyajian. But be sure to add real syrup, too. "It brings a lot of maple nose," King Arthur Flour baker Susan Reid says, "but not much sweetness."
Maple cream Like syrup on steroids, maple cream is made from syrup that's been heated, cooled and stirred into a thick spread; the cream is ideal as a condiment for your toast, cupcake or the back of your spoon. It's a good choice for people who don't find fully saturating their pancakes or French toast with syrup to deliver a strong enough maple punch.
Maple whiskey Though maple was once a do-it-yourself addition to wintry cocktails, some whiskey producers have recently come out with convenient bottles containing both maple flavors (sometimes artificial) and booze. Highwood Distillers promises maple syrup and no additives in its Sweet Sippin' Maple Whisky, and for the second year running, Hudson Whiskey will distribute rye with a very mild maple flavor, born from aging in used maple casks. Other whiskey makers with maple in the mix include Knob Creek's Smoked Maple bottle and Crown Royal's supremely caramely contribution.
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