Maple syrup makes a great topping for pancakes and waffles, but there are so many other uses for maple syrup! Here's a crash course in what maple syrup is, the forms of maple sweetener on the market, and some of the best maple syrup recipes you can bake at home to celebrate maple season year-round.
How to make maple syrup
If you want to make maple syrup, you will need a forest of maple trees and a specific climate found in parts of the New England area, like Vermont, and also parts of Eastern Canada, like Quebec and Ontario. Maple syrup is made from the maple water/sap of the maple tree. In spring, the water/sap rushes up from the roots to feed the budding branches that were dormant all winter. The liquid is collected during a brief period of spring, when the nights are cold and the days are warm, so usually during the month of March, though the season may start as early as the end of February and may extend into early April. During this period, the water from the earth rises up the trees at night when it's cold, then flows down during the day when it's warm. Sugar maple trees are tapped and a spout is attached to each to collect the sap as it rises and falls.
Maple syrup is concentrated maple water
The collected sap is boiled down to remove water and concentrate the sugars and flavours. To make pure maple syrup, you need 150 litres of maple sap (40 gallons) to make 3.8 litres (1 gallon) of maple syrup. I have visited a few maple farms and sugar shacks over the years and seen the process, but I've never attempted it myself at home. I honestly don't have access to a small forest of maple trees and I'm pretty sure tapping municipal trees in the park is a no-no. That being said, if you happen to be blessed with a backyard of maple trees and live in the New England area, Quebec, or Ontario, you can read all about making maple syrup in your backyard on Simple Bites!
Maple products available
Grades and classes of maple syrup
The flavour of maple syrup (the concentrated sap) reflects its origins, with woodsy, earthy notes. Only Grade A maple syrup is sold in stores in Quebec and it is made from pure maple sap with no other colours or flavours added. It's the real deal! You can buy four different classes of Grade A maple syrup in stores, each representing a different concentration of syrup, from the lighter syrups which have a milder flavour and a more clear, light colour, to very dark syrups which are very concentrated with a strong maple flavour:
- Golden maple syrup or sirop d'érable doré is very light, almost colourless and has a very mild, delicate flavour. The lighter maple syrup is collected earlier in the season. Most will use golden maple syrup for serving on pancakes, crêpes, waffles, or ice cream
- Amber maple syrup or sirop d'érable ambré is my preferred maple syrup because it has a more pronounced flavour and a darker colour. I bake with it and I also pour it on pancakes
- Dark maple syrup or sirop d'érable foncé is much darker than amber maple syrup. Dark maple syrup is great in meat glazes like for ribs. I also bake with dark maple syrup when I want to add more flavour.
- Very dark maple syrup or sirop d'érable très foncé is the darkest maple syrup you can buy and has the strongest flavour of all with deep caramel notes. Darker maple syrups are collected later in the season.
Other maple products
Though maple syrup is the most common, well known form of maple on the market, there are other maple products available that you can buy:
- maple water, which is maple sap collected during maple season and often boxed in a Tetra Pak. Maple water is sold in some grocery stores and health food stores. If you are curious about the taste, try it on Amazon.
- maple sugar, a concentrated, granular, dry form of pure maple syrup. Buy maple sugar on Amazon.
- maple flakes are newer to the market and they are literally a flaky form of pure maple syrup, like the flaky sea salt version of maple syrup, if you see what I mean. Maple flakes are light and make an awesome crunchy, sweet maple topping sprinkled as a finishing touch on frosted cupcakes and cakes, cookies, etc. I recommend using maple flakes after baking as a garnish, not before. Get maple flakes on Amazon.
- maple taffy, a gooey, sticky concentrate of maple syrup that is called "tire d'érable" in French because it can be pulled into long sticky strands of syrup. Maple taffy is what is poured on snow and rolled onto popsicle sticks during maple season, to be eaten like a maple lollipop
- maple butter, a creamy spread made from pure maple syrup. You can buy maple butter, but at home, you can follow this maple butter recipe. Spread it thick on toast. Buy maple butter on Amazon if you don't have time to make it at home.
Baking with maple syrup
Maple syrup works very well in baking recipes and personally, I like to bake with Amber Grade A maple syrup because it has a pronounced but not overpowering flavour. I find the golden maple syrup is too delicate to stand out in baked goods, while the darker syrups are too robust. There are a few things to consider when using maple syrup as a sugar substitute in baking:
Substituting maple syrup for granulated sugar
Given that maple syrup is a liquid sweetener and contains some water in it, you cannot substitute granulated sugar for maple syrup without making certain adjustments to the recipe. Baking with maple syrup may lead to a slight difference in texture and will have a noticeable impact on flavour. You may have to adjust the temperature of your oven when baking with maple syrup, reducing it by 25ºF. As a rule:
- Replace 1 cup of sugar with ⅔ cup to ¾ cup maple syrup. This works for both granulated sugar and brown sugar.
- Reduce liquids in recipe when baking with maple syrup: You may also have to reduce the amount of liquid in your recipe if you replace sugar with maple syrup, around ¼ cup less of liquid for every cup of sugar replaced.
- Replace 1 cup of sugar with 1 cup of maple sugar, but this will be expensive. Maple sugar is a concentrated, dry, granular form of pure maple syrup and makes a great sugar substitute but it comes at a high price! Use it in combination with maple syrup to achieve the best balance of price, texture, and taste.
Substituting maple syrup for honey or agave
Both honey and maple syrup are liquid sweeteners and so as a rule, they can be interchanged, though this will have a big impact on flavour as the taste of honey is quite different than the taste of maple syrup. Also note that honey is sweeter than maple syrup, so if you replace honey for maple syrup, cup-for-cup, you will notice that your recipe is less sweet with maple syrup than when honey is used. You can also easily replace agave with maple syrup.
- Replace 1 cup of honey with 1 cup of maple syrup
- Replace 1 cup of agave with 1 cup of maple syrup
Substituting maple syrup for molasses
Just like with honey, both maple syrup and molasses are liquid sweeteners and therefore you should be able to substitute 1 cup of molasses with 1 cup of maple syrup. For example, I have successfully done this in my simple gingerbread cookies cutout recipe and replacing molasses with maple syrup worked very well. Again, the flavour of molasses and maple syrup are very different and also molasses is much darker in colour and so this substitution will also have an impact on the colour of your baked goods.
- Replace 1 cup of molasses with 1 cup of maple syrup
Maple syrup recipes
I adore maple syrup and so I try to sneak it into many of my baking recipes, as you may have noticed. Here's a rundown of desserts to bake with maple syrup and recipes featuring maple syrup:
Maple butter, also known as maple cream, is a creamy spread that is 100% maple syrup and nothing else. Don't be fooled by those quick maple butter recipes that are basically sweet, maple-flavoured compound butters made by whipping maple syrup with butter. That is not the same thing! Maple butter is great spread on toast for breakfast, but feel free to make maple sandwich cookies by sandwiching a dollop of maple butter between shortbread cookies!
The classic sugaring-off dessert in Quebec is tarte au sucre, also known as sugar pie, maple pie, or maple syrup pie. Maple pie is one of my favourite pies and it's actually quite easy to make at home, with an all-butter pie crust that is whipped together in the food processor, no blind-baking required, and a filling that is simply whisked before pouring into unbaked pie shell and baking. Maple syrup pie is such a treat! We make it in spring, during maple season, but also in the fall, many will serve maple pie for Thanksgiving.
You can sweeten a classic apple pie with maple syrup, which adds so much flavour to the apple filling. With very juicy apples, I like to toss apple slices in maple syrup before roasting them to soften and concentrate their flavour. Then I use the maple roasted apple slices to make maple apple pie by mixing the roasted apple slices with a little more maple sugar.
Traditional maple walnut fudge
In my family, we tend to make traditional maple fudge around the holidays because that's when you have a lot of guests over so you can share the fudge and avoid eating it all by yourself. Maple fudge is delicious, but best served in small pieces for sharing because it is quite sweet. Some people prefer creamy fudge, but I like it smooth with just a hint of grit to it from the crystallizing sugar. By the way, the walnuts in the recipe are entirely optional.
Use maple syrup in your favourite granola recipe and I guarantee you will love it even more! Pro tip: if you press the unbaked granola into your baking sheet before baking, you will end up with perfect granola clusters.
Apple maple syrup recipe for pancakes
If you think maple syrup makes a great topping for pancakes and waffles, try this apple maple syrup with chunks of apple in it. I bet it would taste great poured over this Dutch baby pancake recipe too!
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