Sugar on Snow

IMG_6524

If my year were converted to hours, this, right now, would be maple o’clock.

It’s been years since I left the farm where my memories of maple were made but, when a hint of spring stirs the air, my thoughts always return to the gathering of sap from stately maples, the hours in the sugar house, with the fires fueling the evaporation, the sweet taste and smell of the air and the syrup itself.

One tradition was the making of a form of maple candy. It’s called maple taffy or, in Quebec, tire d’érable, but we called it “sugar on snow.” It was sweet and warm and sticky. It was the tangible, edible evidence of winter giving way to spring, of cold, dark days that starved the senses giving way to vibrancy and pure sweetness, of the sensory overload that spring brings.

My grandmother made sugar on snow in the farm kitchen. It was an event.

She boiled maple syrup until it reached what candy makers call the “soft ball” stage—that’s about 234 degrees F (112 C). When the syrup was the right temperature, she drizzled it over a pan of clean snow. When the hot syrup hit the cold snow, it firmed up to a taffy consistency. We would take a fork and peel it off the snow and pop it in our mouths. Warm, chewy maple, with cold, crunchy snow crystals!! Heaven on earth for a kid in the northeast!

I can remember a time when my grandparents invited the new church pastor and his family to the farm, to get acquainted with all of us, and our world. They weren’t from “around here” so my grandmother served them sugar on snow, as a proper initiation.

As is traditional, along with the sugar on snow, she also served her homemade doughnuts (don’t get me started, reminiscing about those!), sour pickles, and coffee. This may sound like an odd mix but the pickles and coffee were the perfect foils for the sweetness of the maple and the doughnuts.

The last time I had sugar on snow was at the Winterlude Festival in Ottawa. They pour the syrup in long lines in a trough of snow and use a popsicle stick to wind it up into lollipop form.

I took my first taste . . . all the memories came rushing back. I was a child, the kitchen was steamy, the snow had just been brought in, in a pan. The syrup was super hot—we kids were warned back. It streamed onto the snow. We waited a moment, until it set up a little, and, jostling to get the first bite, we peeled it off the snow with our forks.

And, in my heart, the clock once again struck maple.

Spring Senses: The Taste of Maple, in a Scone

IMG_6245It’s early spring in the North Country of upstate New York and one thing says spring here, more than mercurial temperature swings and dirty, muddy snow. One thing says spring even more than news of ice fishermen having to be rescued from the melting lake.

Maple. Maple anything and maple everything—that says spring.

In my continuing yearly celebration of all things maple, I offer to you possibly the best recipe for scones you’ll ever try.

It’s also probably the least healthy recipe for scones you’ll ever see but, really, how many scones could you eat in a day?

Really, that many? Me, too!

My recipe comes directly from The New Best Recipe, by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine. This cookbook is a compendium of recipes for popular foods, the kinds of foods for which everyone has a recipe and none of the recipes are the same.

When there are 1000 recipes for chocolate chip cookies, for instance, how do we know which one to use?

I turn to Cook’s Illustrated. The editors comprehensively test these multiple approaches to a given recipe and seek to provide the definitive recipe for such items as pasta with bolognese sauce and macaroni salad and, yes, chocolate chip cookies.

I love this cookbook because, in a very systematic way, it identifies what the cooks were aiming for and then provides details of the different tweaks they made to achieve their goals. This all just really makes my cake bake, literally and figuratively!

The Cook’s Illustrated goal for oatmeal scones was “to pack the chewy nuttiness of oats into a moist and tender breakfast pastry, one that wouldn’t require a firehose to wash down the crumbs” (714). They provide variations for cinnamon raisin oatmeal scones and oatmeal scones with dried cherries and hazelnuts but . . .

It’s spring in the North Country of upstate New York and we’re talking maple here! These scones are tender and amazing, and so very maple.


Glazed Maple-Pecan Oatmeal Scones

from The New Best Recipe

Ingredients

1 ½ cups rolled oats (4 ½ ounces) or quick oats

½ cup chopped pecans

¼ cup whole milk

¼ cup heavy cream

¼ cup maple syrup

1 large egg

1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (7 ½ ounces) (such as Gold Medal or Pillsbury)

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon table salt

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into ½” cubes

For glaze

3 tablespoons maple syrup

½ cup confectioner’s sugar

Instructions

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 375 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Spread oats and pecans evenly on one baking sheet and toast in oven until fragrant and lightly browned, 7 to 9 minutes; cool on wire rack. Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees. When oats are cooled, measure out and reserve 2 tablespoons for dusting the work surface.
  1. Whisk milk, cream, 1/4 cup maple syrup, and egg in medium bowl until incorporated; remove and reserve 1 tablespoon to small bowl to brush scones.
  1. Pulse flour, baking powder, and salt in food processor until combined, about four 1-second pulses. Scatter cold butter evenly over dry ingredients and pulse until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal, twelve to fourteen 1-second pulses. Transfer mixture to medium bowl and stir in cooled oats. Using rubber spatula, fold in liquid ingredients until large clumps form. Continue mixing by hand until a mass forms.
  1. Dust work surface with half of reserved oats and flour (if needed), turn dough out onto work surface, and dust top with remaining oats. Gently pat into 7-inch circle about 1 inch thick.  Cut dough into 8 wedges and set on parchment-lined baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Brush surfaces with reserved egg mixture and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 14 minutes; cool scones on baking sheet on wire rack 5 minutes, then remove scones to cooling rack and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
  1. When scones are cooled, whisk maple syrup and confectioner’s sugar until combined; drizzle glaze over scones.

IMG_6229