It is a gift to live in a country so large that we can enjoy hundreds of regional specialties that are all technically in our own backyard. Dates from Arizona. Figs from California. Cheese from Wisconsin. Onions from Georgia. I derive great pleasure from trying foods from the source. The list goes on and on. Of late I have been feasting on the fruits of Vermont. And while I have enjoyed the potatoes and garlic immensely, the product for which Vermont is perhaps most recognized is maple syrup.
If you have not yet discovered that the stuff in the Aunt Jemima bottle is not, in fact, maple syrup but is colored corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup, let this serve as your wake up call. You need to throw it away…in the trash…right now. Real maple syrup is a gift straight from nature. It is so superior to any other syrup that it is almost a crime that they don’t make the other “breakfast syrup” bottles have a big sign saying “THIS IS NOT ACTUALLY MAPLE SYRUP, BUT WE’D LIKE YOU TO THINK IT IS.”
Real maple syrup tastes, well…real. It is distinctive and it has character. It is not just a sweetener. When I first discovered that there was a difference, I balked at the notion of paying more for the real stuff. But this is just one of those places where you get what you pay for. Maple syrup costs more. It is still harvested and sold by families, as well as large producers. I would classify it as an artisanal product. And I highly encourage you to get on the internet and find a nice little family operation from which to order a half gallon or so of real syrup. I will list a few at the end of the post.
As if by ESP, Bon Appetit recently published a handful of recipes by Lori Longbotham celebrating maple syrup and other maple products. I now have a GALLON of maple syrup that Pitts brought to me from Vermont, so as you might suspect, I was happy to see other ideas for using it. The only thing difficult about this recipe is finding the maple sugar. I found mine at Whole Foods. But there are several suppliers on the internet such as the Vermont Country Store and King Arthur. Again, it costs more than regular sugar, but you will find a million ways to use it…in oatmeal, on ice cream, etc.
If you are not accustomed to shortbreads, let me warn you that it is not exactly a cookie. It is not obvious. It is not overly sweet. You reach for the flavors. I was shocked at how little of the chocolate chips were used. I thought to increase the amount but it wouldn’t have been the right call. This is a subtle treat and it is right just the way it is. If you don’t like shortbread, then you don’t like shortbread…but this is a perfect and delicious example of the category.
If you get maple sugar that is chunky like mine, Longbotham suggest that you grind it in a food processor to the consistency of granulated sugar before you proceed. I didn’t and mine was still fantastic, but I’ll probably do that next time.
Butter for pan
¾ cup unsalted butter, softened
7 Tablespoons finely ground maple sugar, divided use
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1-½ cups all purpose flour (165 grams)
¼ cup bittersweet chocolate chips (I used Ghiridelli semi-sweet)
2 teaspoons pure maple syrup (Grade B is called for…I used A)
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Butter a 9 inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Make sure to get some butter in all the scalloped edges. Using a standing mixer or electric mixer, beat the butter, 6 Tablespoons of the maple sugar, and the salt until it is light and fluffy. If you use the chunky sugar, it will not dissolve completely. I found this to be just fine. But if using fine sugar, continue to beat until it is well incorporated, 3 to 4 minutes at a minimum.
Slow the mixer and add the flour and mix until it is just combined. Remove the dough to the buttered tart pan and spread the dough in pan all the way to the edges. Sprinkle the chips on top and press them lightly into the dough. Brush the 2 (generous) teaspoons of maple syrup onto the dough. Finally sprinkle the top with the remaining maple sugar.
Bake until golden brown and firm, about 55 minutes. Place the pan on a rack to cook for 10 minutes. REMEMBER IT HAS A REMOVABLE BOTTOM. DO NOT PICK IT UP BY THE BOTTOM OR YOU WILL HAVE A FIERY RING OF PAIN DANGLING ON YOUR ELBOW AS YOU TRY TO SET DOWN THE PAN WITHOUT INSTINCTIVELY THROWING IT ON THE FLOOR. After 10 minutes, remove the tart from the pan and carefully slide it off of the metal bottom onto your serving dish. Cool completely and serve.
I was scarcely able to photograph this puppy before my people inhaled half of it. It is great with coffee, too. It is buttery and salty and maple-y all at the same time. We loved it.
The syrup I used in this recipe is from the Isham family, who have been producing maple syrup since 1871. That’s a pretty good track record. Besides which they come highly recommended by my husband’s people and he has personally visited with them and has declared them to be wonderful. The Isham Family Farm website contains their e-mail and address.
I know I’m on a Vermont kick here, but I have also ordered maple syrup from Hamilton’s Maple Products in Pennsylvania. They also produce great syrup.
Once you have ordered a half-gallon of the syrup you will also want to try my French Toast recipe for a way to make raspberry maple syrup which is pretty darn amazing if I do say so myself.
If you also like getting food from the source, check out Local Harvest, a website dedicated to putting you and me in touch with the people who make the best food in the world.