Friday, October 07, 2005

No Ordinary Sugar

There's no such thing as a quick grocery trip for an aisle lurker like me. Even when all I really need is a carton of milk and a packet of caster sugar, I somehow manage to get distracted along the way, turning what should have been a speedy exercise into a protracted tour, making a mental checklist of what's in stock and what's not, what's newly available and what's been sadly discontinued. I like to think of these excursions as foresight - getting to know the shops better makes one a better shopper. So the next time a recipe calls for say, farine de blé noir, I know exactly where to look.

Maple sugar, hard to find in these parts, is one such gem spotted on said excursions. As with maple syrup, it's made from the boiled sap of the maple tree but further cooked down and crystallized, with a resulting flavour complexity that develops as the sap concentrates and the sugar caramelizes. This unusual sweetener also happens to cost a minor fortune. I've resisted the urge to splurge on the beautifully blond sugar for the longest time. Just as I know it isn't exactly sensible to buy shoes that will require a brand new dress, I know it isn't rational to buy an ingredient, however exciting, with no particular recipe in mind - I have a cupboard full of exotic, and by and large unused, comestibles to prove the point. So coming across a recipe that read "In a pinch, you can substitute brown sugar, though the cakes won't have that same mapley, earthy sweetness" was my perfect excuse to make a beeline for the real stuff.

Mini Maple Bundt Cakes

The recipe in question comes from Nancy Silverton's fantastic book, Pastries from the La Brea Bakery. The batter is rich in butter, eggs, crème fraîche and of course, maple sugar, which makes for a cake with a superbly moist crumb and excellent keeping properties. Toasted walnuts and a coffee-flavoured maple syrup glaze further gild the lily. While I really liked the unadulterated maple taste, intense without being too sweet, W said he would have preferred the cake sweeter - experiments with substituting part of the 2 cups of maple sugar called for with caster sugar are in order.


Pecan Caramel Sandwich Cookies

These, luckily, W enjoyed as much as I did. Adapted from a recipe in Regan Daley's In the Sweet Kitchen, ultra buttery pecan shortbread sandwiches a stickily-good caramel filling. The contrast between rich crumbly cookie and creamy goo (I used maple sugar in lieu of part of the light brown sugar specified in the original recipe for the filling) makes these truly something else.

26 Comments:

Blogger Reid said...

Hi J,

Those mini bundt cakes look spectacular. I have that book and you've convinced me to try the recipe. I don't think they'll turn out half as good as yours looks though.

The pecan sandwich cookies sound great with the addition of the maple sugar. I can just imagine the hint of maple hidden within the intense caramel flavor.

Excellent!

7:45 pm, October 07, 2005  
Blogger soycap said...

Your cakes look fabulous! Pretty and enticing...And I love pecans...I have always wanted to try that recipe out but never did...I guess I don't have much excuse now anymore seeing how lovely yours turned out! Thanks again for a beautiful post :)

10:09 pm, October 07, 2005  
Blogger pseudo chef said...

Hi J

Great pictures are usual - and the sandwich cookies look just perfect gift to make for the inlaws.

As for trips to the grocery store - I can never just duck in and out quickly. What begins as a trip to get some milk and cat litter usually ends up in a full-on grocery shopping ;).

10:41 pm, October 07, 2005  
Blogger Pille said...

Hi J - I picked up a small (but pricey) packet of maple sugar few months ago at a deli shop, just because it sounded yummy:) Unfortunately it's still in my cupboard, unopened, but I think I've got a few ideas now. Thanks for the inspiration!

11:57 pm, October 07, 2005  
Blogger Skrat said...

Wow....maple sugar, toasted walnuts and coffee flavoured maple syrup....superb combination!! Too good to not try, i shall go check out the book if i can find it in Borders. Also, pecans is another gem i love in my sweets! Wonderful J!

1:45 am, October 08, 2005  
Blogger Cathy said...

Jocelyn - I love the sound of those cookies and they look spectacular too! I've certainly snacked on maple sugar candies before (yum!), but I've never baked with it. Now I'm curious to try...

4:20 am, October 08, 2005  
Blogger Ana said...

Both the mini cakes and the cookies look delicious. Unfortunately I do not have either book, so all I can do is look at the picture and sigh!

5:19 am, October 08, 2005  
Blogger deborah said...

for some reason your photos invoke the feeling of christmas. perhaps due to bundt and star shapes; and this is good because christmas with maple and pecan is faaaaaaar better than mince pies and the sweet "white christmas". great job :)

7:04 am, October 08, 2005  
Anonymous augustusgloop said...

Your photos always look so tranquil and comforting, and irresistably delicious!

I completely identify with you on the supermarket dawdling. A quick shop for me is anything less than 30min! =)

12:46 pm, October 08, 2005  
Blogger Nic said...

Maple sugar? What a lucky find! I'm not holding my breath about finding that in my market, but I always take an extra look - or two - at the baking items, just in case I see something I want. I mean need.

9:00 pm, October 08, 2005  
Anonymous Jeanne said...

Funny you experimented with maple sugar. I had never heard of this ingredient until I was in a grocery store in Canada (of course). I found a source online for US readers, at Bakers Catalouge (King Arthur).

http://tinyurl.com/d7235

As always you are an inspiration to this baker. I wish I lived nearby!

6:20 am, October 09, 2005  
Blogger babe_kl said...

yr maple bundt is so breathtaking!

2:24 pm, October 10, 2005  
Anonymous gemma said...

Hi J,
My how I love maple sugar. Every fall my father used to take me to a farm where we would help the owners tap the maple trees and make boil the sap into the sticky sweet syrup. This time of year always gives me a taste for those flavors, these look like two fantastic recipes.

6:13 pm, October 10, 2005  
Anonymous Melissa said...

Hi J, you and I could spend hours together in a supermarket - I do exactly the same thing as you! If only everyone I shop with were so understanding ;)

Your latest creations look divine - I especially love the look (and thought) of those mini-Bundt cakes and their sticky-crumbly toppings. My dad loves to bake winter squash with maple sugar, but I've never used it in anything. If I saw it on the shelf here, though, I'd probably buy it too!

10:58 pm, October 10, 2005  
Blogger Vivilicious said...

Hi there J.!

I just discovered your blog and LOVE it! The food sounds great and the photography is fantastic. Keep up the good work, you're on my favourites list now...

4:46 am, October 11, 2005  
Blogger J said...

hi reid, thanks for your kind words, but you're being outrageously modest ;)...the few recipes i've tried from her book so far have turned out well - i really should use it more often...i know it's silly, but i tend to gravitate towards the books/recipes with pictures...

hi soycap, thanks...given your skillfulness,i'm sure anything you care to bake from the book will turn out fantastic...

hi pc,thanks...i sometimes wonder why i even bother making shopping lists at all seeing as i hardly adhere to them...

hi pille, i think once you start using the stuff you'll probably finish the bag pretty quick (and they come in such tiny bags, don't they!)

hi skrat, thanks!

hi cathy, thanks!i've never had maple sugar candies before, but i can only imagine they must be really really good

hi ana, thanks! i have been awfully slack about posting recipes...will try to get with the programme...

hi saffron, funny you should mention...i had christmas at the back of my mind too as i made these...

hi ag, thanks! it's good to know i'm not the only one who routinely haunts the supermarket...

hi nic, sigh...choice at our shops tends to be fairly limited in certain regards...all the more reason to snap it up when you see what you, erm, need...

hi jeanne, thanks for your very kind words...i love window shopping the king arthur catalogue... fuel for my cake tin and cookie cutter daydreams ;)

hi babekl, thanks!

hi gemma, that sounds like fun (seriously...)while autumn doesn't exist as a season here, like you, i simply can't help associating this time of the year with certain flavours...

hi melissa, thanks! call me shallow but i think the bundt cakes wouldn't have looked half as appealing if they weren't mini...something tells me we'd have a blast cruising (slowly) the aisles...when i shop with w in tow, he tries to get me to stay focused on the shopping list - read: hurry ;)

hi viv, thanks for visiting and your kind words...glad you enjoy what you see...

7:08 am, October 11, 2005  
Blogger obachan said...

Ahhh.... Great photos, as usual. I just imagined me taking a big bite off the top part of the cake where the nuts and chocolate must be making a great harmony... To me "maple sugar" sounds like some kind of magical ingredient. Your cakes must be really good.
BTW, I just love the way you use fabrics in your photos. You are such a talented person!

8:56 pm, October 11, 2005  
Blogger Clare Eats said...

These look great! I have never seen maple sugar before, I will keep an eye out... as that would be perfect foor my mini bundt tins!

9:39 pm, October 11, 2005  
Blogger latifa said...

When are you going to release your cookbook?

4:34 pm, October 12, 2005  
Blogger Ruth said...

J, as usual, visiting your site is a real treat. The photos are beautiful and your writing makes me drool.

Living in Montreal and now Toronto, makes it easy to get maple syrup, maple sugar and maple candy. The syrup for sure is a staple in my home. I can't imagine french toast or pancakes without it.

As for shopping - we obviously are kindred spirits.

7:41 pm, October 12, 2005  
Anonymous Liz said...

My shopping trips sound quite similar. I'm not sure I've ever gone into a store and come out with only milk and eggs. And if someone asks how I can spend hours shopping for food, it's not worth explaining, they won't understand anyway.

Your pictures are amazing.

12:34 pm, October 13, 2005  
Anonymous mel said...

Hahaha you know my husband tries to get out of grocery shopping trips because I always take too long in them too. :D I love the look of the bundt cakes, and the cookies too (I have that book but I made boring round ones before :P)! Very festive.

11:24 pm, October 13, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just can't get over how much your photos look like something I see in my cookbooks. Just breathtaking. The mini-bundts look amazing but the cookies sound divine.

Amy

10:12 am, October 14, 2005  
Blogger J said...

hi obachan, thanks for visiting...what you see is my obsession with tea towels...

hi clare, i must say it was evey cent well-spent...

hi latifa, :)

hi ruth, thank you very much for your kind words...i think if i had such great access to maple syrup and sugar i would be using it a whole lot more frequently in my cooking and baking...

hi liz, thanks...it's funny how so many of us share the same shopping habits!

hi mel, thanks! these days, i try to "deposit" w at a nearby cafe or bookstore before i do my rounds ;)

hi amy, thanks for always being so kind...the mini bundt pans are some of my faves...

4:30 pm, October 14, 2005  
Anonymous keiko said...

Hi J - the maple cakes look irresistible! I don't think I've seen maple sugar before, I hope I can get them in the UK too (and you've given me another reason to buy the book...)

10:10 am, October 17, 2005  
Blogger J said...

hi keiko, thanks...i am sure whatever you choose to make with the maple sugar will turn out delicious (and beautiful)...

8:51 am, October 24, 2005  

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