March is my favorite winter month…longer days, the sun is higher in the sky, and the winds that blow hold the promise of spring. Time to plan the gardens, start seeds, and repot the houseplants.
Another sure sign of the changing season is the galvanized metal buckets hanging from the maple trees that line the roadways, and the miles of plastic tubing that provide the continuous flow of sap to sugar house.
Like many Mainers, I’m keeping a close eye on my pantry inventory these days; sorting root-cellared apples for sauce, peeling and freezing garlic, and roasting the butternut squash with soft spots. The urge for this annual routine of spring sorting and cleaning reminds me of squirrels, checking their food supplies, cleaning out their nest, and getting ready for the summer harvest.
For the past year, I’ve felt very much like a squirrel, as managing my food supplies has become even more critical.
Pouring over the last of my blue, 5 -gallon jug of Maine maple syrup into quart jars, prompted nostalgic memories of Maine Maple Sunday. Our tribe has long left the nest, but for many years, the fourth Sunday in March was a ritual family outing to procure our annual supply of maple syrup.
We’d visit local sugarhouses and sample lots of syrup; some dark and rich, others more pale gold and delicate. Each year, the syrup would have a uniquely delicious taste; some liken it to a fine wine. We’d make our selection, then stock up with plenty of sweet, flavor-brightening syrup for the year, usually around five gallons.
How about your family? How do you use this food produced so close to home?
Before cheaply priced white sugar came to the Americas, maple syrup was the seasoning of choice. For indigenous people, maple syrup was a staple food, and used much like salt is today.
Imagine your pantry without a reliable, steady supply of white sugar. What could you use? Maple syrup? Honey?
Tinkering with baking recipes and replacing sugar with maple syrup or honey can be a challenge. There really is no hard and fast rule for substitution. I’ve had many failures!
The recipe for Maple Sugar Brownie Torte is from my archives. As the title implies, the original preparation used maple sugar. Maple sugar is made with a process similar to manufacturing cane sugar: maple syrup is cooked a bit longer, driving out the water, and then stirred with a paddle until it forms a granular sugar.
By substituting brown sugar for the maple sugar and replacing the liquid (milk) with maple syrup, I was able to create the intense rich, essence of this cake. Tasty warm from the oven, the cake flavors are even better when the torte sits for 24 hours or more.
Maple Sugar Brownie Torte is delicious when simply dusted with powdered sugar. For special occasions, like Easter dinner, serve it up with a scoop of maple walnut ice cream. As a festive presentation at a birthday party for my culinary students, I topped the cake with whipped, local heavy cream, flavored with Maine maple syrup and drizzled it with more syrup. March was a very sweet month!
Maple Sugar Brownie Torte
- 6 egg yolks
- 1 - cup MAINE maple syrup
- 1 - tablespoon vanilla extract
- 3 cups sifted cake flour
- 1 ½ cups brown sugar
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
- Assemble ingredients and tools. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Grease and flour two 8” cake pans.
- In a medium bowl or 2 - cup measure; combine the egg yolks, maple syrup and vanilla extract.
- Sift the cake flour and baking powder into the bowl of your electric mixer. Add the brown sugar and using the whisk, mix together the dry ingredients. Add the soft butter. Increase the speed to medium and beat until well blended and creamed, 1 - 2 minutes.
- Add the egg mixture in 3 batches, beating at high speed for 30 seconds each time. Spoon the batter into the prepared pans.
- Bake until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean, about 30 - 40 minutes, depending upon the size of your pan. The top of the cake will rise and then fall, but this is normal. Cool the torte on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and finish cooling.
- Dust the top with powdered sugar. Or top with Maple Whipped Cream Each cake serves 8. Flavor tastes best the second day made.