When I moved to New Hampshire from New Jersey in my 20s to take a job as the head cook at a facility for children, I knew as much about maple syrup as the next city kid: it comes in a plastic bottle, from the supermarket, and you squirt it on pancakes.
Turned out I had a lot to learn.
What I thought was maple syrup is, of course, imitation maple syrup, a shadow of the real thing. Also known as “pancake syrup,” it’s typically 2% to 3% real maple syrup mixed with mostly corn syrup.
Real or pure maple syrup, on the other hand, is just that: 100% maple sap, boiled down to a syrup. It comes from Mother Nature, not a processing plant.
I was, however, right about one thing: Pure maple is a natural with pancakes. But pancakes and waffles are just the tip of the iceberg. Real maple has an affinity for so many dishes that come to the table—especially when it comes to my favorite subject: dessert.
Early on, I learned that when you make a dessert with maple syrup, you often have to find the right balance between it and other sweeteners. Like perfume, more maple isn’t necessarily better. Subtlety can be just as captivating.
A good example is the Maple Cup Pudding, an old-fashioned dessert with a New England accent. We sweeten it with a little more maple than we do sugar and, I believe, arrive at just the right balance. The pudding is sweet enough, and the maple flavor is there, but it’s more suggestion than bold statement.
The desserts, including a fall favorite, a double-crust Maple-Pear Pie, an Everyday Maple Oat “Sticky” Cake, and Maple-Apple Blondies, add up, if not to the last word in maple desserts, a sweet sampling that helped teach a Jersey boy—and perhaps you, too—that maple syrup isn’t just for pancakes.