I don’t really consider myself much of a food snob for as much as I think, talk, and write about food. I’m not above a DiGiorno’s frozen pizza or a (family-sized) bag of Doritos now and then. But there are two items I’m totally and obnoxiously particular about: coffee and maple syrup.
The coffee one’s a no brainer. Bad coffee just isn’t worth drinking. Don’t get me wrong…I’m not going out and spending $4 a cup at the local cafe…but I make my own coffee, grind up my own relatively fresh beans, and (politely and secretly) turn my nose up at coffee that’s been around too long.
When we were first married, Eric didn’t even really drink coffee, and he would insist that a gas station coffee was as good as any when we were on a road trip. I would look at him, lovingly and pitying-ly, and tell him he was wrong, insisting he make an extra stop during our pit stop to get some real coffee.
And then there’s maple syrup. For years, I would read recipes that called for “pure maple syrup” and would totally ignore it, loyally turning to Aunt Jemima and her familiar ways. And even though I grew up in Wisconsin which produces a whole lot of maple syrup, and even though I went on a field trip in third grade to see how maple syrup was produced, all I really remember about the experience was the maple cookie we got before getting back on the bus.
It wasn’t until just recently that I bought pure maple syrup…I don’t even remember why – maybe to put in Owen’s plain yogurt in lieu of honey? – and it was sort of a revelation.
Sorry, Auntie J., you hold no candle to the pure stuff.
Let me just say this: if you invite me to your house and you feed me pancakes with the cheapest syrup you can buy, I will eat them…with great relish and gusto.
But I’m telling you…pure maple syrup is worth the extra dollars.
So when I saw this maple sugar shortbread recipe in The Northern Heartland Kitchen cookbook, I knew it had to be mine. I also knew that it was May and that you who are reading this might be thinking….ummm, were you going to cook anything with spinach or asparagus or strawberries this spring? And my answer is a resounding Yes. But it just finished snowing and nothing but grass is really growing ’round these parts yet…except for maple syrup.
This is prime syrup making time for trees…and these warm days and cold nights we’ve been having are just what those trees want to make their syrup.
I bet you have everything you need to make this shortbread in your house right now. Ready? Butter, maple or light brown sugar, vanilla extract, salt, flour, and cornstarch? Was I right? 5 inredients, and out of them comes the most delightfully crispy, sugary sweet, maple-laden shortbread cookie that longs to be had with an afternoon cup of good coffee. They are equally enjoyable at breakfast.
Maple sugar is made by boiling down sap until almost all the water has evaporated and all that remains is crystalized. That crystalized portion becomes maple sugar. It is twice as sweet as regular granulated sugar and has a strong maple flavor to it. I did not have maple sugar or light brown sugar on hand, so when I searched how to “make” light brown sugar and saw that you just add molasses to white sugar, I thought, what’s to stop me from just adding maple syrup instead of molasses?
And so I did, and I came out with a pretty maple-y sugar. I’m guessing that real maple sugar, when used in this shortbread, will give you a more pronounced maple flavor, but this was a pretty great substitute.
Go ahead. Pay for some pure maple syrup with its equal weight in gold, and make this shortbread and get your food snobbery on right.
(recipe slightly adapted from The Northern Heartland Kitchen )
(yields 8 wedge-shaped pieces in a 9-inch pie pan)
This delightfully crispy shortbread is maple-y sweet and perfect with a cup of tea or coffee. With only five ingredients, it comes together quickly. See note in the ingredients about substituting for maple sugar.
1/2 c. cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/4 c. maple sugar or light brown sugar, plus about 1 tbsp. for topping*
1 tsp. vanilla extract
pinch of salt
3/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. cornstarch
*Using Smitten Kitchen's advice for how to make light brown sugar, I made my own version of maple sugar for this recipe instead by mixing 1/4 c. + 1 tbsp. granulated sugar with a scant 1 tsp. of PURE maple syrup (more exactly 1/4 + 1/8 tsp. of maple syrup)
Preheat oven to 350*. Place a metal pie pan or fluted metal tart pan in the freezer to chill while making dough. In a food processor, blend together the butter, all but 1 tbsp. of the maple sugar, vanilla and salt until it is light, about 20 seconds. Sprinkle in the flour and cornstarch, and pulse 4 to 8 times until the dough begins to clump together. (No food processor? Use a pastry cutter and some serious forearm strength or quick fingers!).
Turn the dough into your chilled pan and quickly press it out evenly. The key is to keep the dough cold, so work quickly. If the dough is sticking to your fingers, lay a layer of plastic wrap over the dough and press down on that. Sprinkle the dough with remaining maple sugar and return to the freezer to chill for another 5 minutes.
Remove from the freezer, and use a fork to prick the dough all over. Bake the shortbread until its edges begin to brown and the center is firm, 25-30 minutes. Watch it closely near the end; it can start to burn pretty quickly. Cool the shortbread on a wire rack for a few minutes. While it is still warm, cut into wedges. Let the shortbread cool completely before removing it from the pan.
Keeps well under plastic wrap on the counter for about 3 days.
keep cold! if you're having trouble - use plastic wrap to press into pan; prick after freezing for 5 mins.