Despite my constant whining about winter (When, oh when will it finally be over?? How much longer must I endure this bleak, bleached, desolate wasteland of frigid snow? How many more days must I suffer through this torturous, crystalline hell on earth? ), I fully recognize that the season Below Zero does have at least a few minor benefits.
For one, you get to cuddle closer to your honey while watching Battlestar Gallactica or a DVD. You feel justified when you stay home from that excruciatingly boring dinner meeting (“but the roads were impossible. . . “). You have a legitimate reason to cover up your all-time high weight of mumblemumbleundisclosednumber pounds and wear loose sweaters.
And then, when the season finally begins to wane, you have the opportunity to eat fresh maple syrup.
Although technically, the trees aren’t tapped until early spring, in Canada you can purchase real maple syrup year-round (yay!). When I first changed my diet and left white sugar in the dust, maple syrup quickly became one of my baking staples. Its subtle, buttery, vaguely smoky and intensely sweet flavor is the perfect enhancement for so many foods–pancakes, of course, but also baked beans, scrambles, chocolate pudding, even some noodle dishes or casseroles. Whether you enjoy the lighter grades that contain a higher water content (the syrup darkens in color, thickens somewhat and intensifies in flavor as it’s condensed) or the richer, darker varieties, true maple syrup is a unique and noteworthy enjoyment.
When we were kids, I never realized that what my mom referred to as “maple syrup” was actually artificially-flavored corn syrup. My dad and sisters loved the stuff, and would slather it on a stack of pancakes so thickly that the syrup soaked right through to the cake on the very bottom of the pile, rendering them all a soggy, sticky mess.
I could never warm up to those heavy, dense, wet cakes. It wasn’t until I began to purchase pure maple syrup as an adult that I truly learned to appreciate pancakes. At first, I was skeptical, cutting just a corner of the pancake and tentatively dipping it into a little pool of syrup on my plate, as if I were testing lakewater with my big toe; but once I experienced that authentic light and sugary elixir, I felt comfortable pouring it on and plunging in with gusto.
Tasting genuine maple syrup also called to mind a childhood event when I was lucky enough to sample the “real thing” away from our corn syrup-infused kitchen at home. Once, on an extra-curricular school trip in April, our grade three class visited a maple farm north of the city. There, we attended an event known as “Sugaring Off.” (To this day, the term sounds vaguely like an expletive to me: “Why, you sonofa–just sugar off!” “Oh, yeah? Well you sugar off! And your mother wears army boots, too!”)
The maple farmers would hold these events just as the sap began to run, using freshly tapped syrup. They’d heat it just enough so that it caramelized instantly when poured over a base of pristine, white, freshly scooped snow that had been spread evenly across a long metal table. Immediately, the syrup was transformed into toffee against the frosted snow, and we kids wielded soup spoons, scooping in a frenzy of delight as we dug in and all shared the huge slab of sweetness.
Of course, these days, the practise would be banned for hygienic purposes. When I was a kid, however, no one worried about the snow harboring parasites, or fox pee, or fungus-infested decomposing pine cones. . . we just ate it. We all double-dipped, even triple-dipped, sharing the same enormous, rectangular, metal plate. And it was delicious. Like soft, warm, just-cooked caramel. . . . oh, how I loved it!
So when I heard about this week’s Root Source challenge to create a recipe with maple syrup, I knew I had to participate. Since I’ve been baking exclusively with natural sweeteners for the past few years, anyway, this task didn’t strike me as very different from what I’ve already been doing. And while I had a few maple syrup-based recipes in my repertoire, I wanted to create something original for this event.
Since I’m off chocolate for the time being, I considered other foods with which maple syrup can be paired successfully. One of the most common combinations–walnuts and maple syrup–exists precisely because these two ingredients complement each other so well. So I decided this was no time to buck tradition; maple and walnut it is!
The result of my kitchen playtime is these Maple-Walnut Cookies. They’re light, crisp, and really showcase the unique flavor of the syrup, especially the day after you bake them, when the flavors mature. If you prefer a chewy cookie, reduce the baking time by two or three minutes.
Because this was a test batch, I made a relatively small quantity. You should be able to double this without any problems.
1/2 cup (50 g.) walnut halves
1/4 cup (30 g.) ground flax seeds
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. (45 g.) whole barley flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. sea salt
2 Tbsp. tahini (sesame paste)
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 tsp. apple cider vinegar
Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a cookie sheet, or line with parchment paper.
In the bowl of a food processor, process the walnuts, flax, barley flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together until you have a fine meal. The nuts should be finely ground into the mix; no large pieces of nut should be detectable.
Add the tahini, vanilla, maple syrup and apple cider vinegar to the processor. Pulse or process on low speed until the mixture comes together to a sticky dough.
Using a small ice cream scoop or tablespoon, scoop balls of dough and place on the cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. Wet your hands and flatten each cookie slightly (or use the back of a glass).
Bake about 10 minutes, until golden brown, turning the sheet once about halfway through. Cool before removing from sheet. Makes about 15 cookies. These freeze well.
[Ed. Note--This recipe won the CookThink Recipe Challenge for Maple Syrup, and was published on the CookThink site. Almost as exciting as a good sugaring off party!]
[This recipe will also appear in my upcoming cookbook, Sweet Freedom, along with more than 100 others, most of which are not featured on this blog. For more information, check the "Cookbook" button at right, or visit the cookbook blog.]