Featured Ingredient: Maple Syrup
Here is Ontario the first crop of the season is not tangy rhubarb or asparagus, it’s maple syrup. Maple Syrup is a deliciously sweet treat that Mother Nature bestows upon us every year at this time.
As daytime temperatures warm in conjuction with frosty nights, the starch in maple trees is converted into sugar by enzymes. The sap is sweet enough for only a few fleeting weeks each year. The crude, almost tasteless maple sap, contains just 2 to 5 percent sugar with the rest being water which must be evaporated away, often in a smokey sugarhouse, to produce a table ready syrup. It takes about 40 litres of maple sap to produce just a mere litre of viscous syrup, a scant one-fortieth of the original volume. Ergo, making maple syrup is not a DIY kitchen project.
A star among its sweetener brethren, maple syrup contains several nutrients essential to good health such as zinc, iron, potassium, calcium and magnesium as well as seveal antioxidants. Still, it contains an abundance of fast-digesting sugars and should be consumed in moderation like other sweeteners.
The lighter grades of maple syrup are often considered the best for table uses such as pancakes and waffles with the dark grade being used more in cooking such as baked goods. However, Tabi and I much prefer the robust flavor that darker maple syrup provides and exclusively use it for all purposes.
This recipe has a double whammy of maple goodness. When replacing a dry sweetener with a liquid one such as tree goo, you shouldn’t just add more dry ingredients as this can mess with the leavening. To compensate for its liquid state, a better idea is to take away some of the other liquid such as oil or milk. In general, for every 2/3 to 1 cup of liquid sweetener used cut back 25 to 30 percent of another liquid (I cut back on the oil used). Add a pinch of baking soda to cut the extra acidity, reduce the oven temperature 25ºF (here I went from 350 to 325) to avoid overbrowning and bake for a little longer.
Does this all sound A-OK to those baking experts out there?
Instead of incorporating the walnuts into the batter, I like the fanciful presentation that the nuts on top provide. You can also use pecans here too.
Maple Apple Muffins with Maple Walnuts
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup walnut pieces
2 Tbsp + 1/2 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda + a pinch more
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups apple, finely chopped
Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add butter and melt. Stir in walnuts and 2 tablespoons maple syrup. Cook, stirring frequently, until syrup is caramelized and nuts are toasted, about 2 minutes. Be careful not to burn the walnuts.
Preheat oven to 325°F. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and spices. In a separate bowl, lightly beat eggs. Stir in oil, 1/2 cup maple syrup and vanilla. Stir in half the flour mixture into the egg mixture. When combined, stir in the remaining flour until blended. Stir in apples. Divide mixture among greased or paper lined muffin cups and bake for 22 minutes, or until tester comes out clean.