Maple – A Timeless Canadian Tradition
CHC CANADA 150 FOOD BLOG CHALLENGE
I am a proud Canadian. When the Culinary Historians of Canada invited food bloggers to participate in the “CHC Canada 150 Food Blog Challenge”, I knew that I wanted in! What a great way to celebrate and honour Canada’s 150th birthday by featuring a different Canadian dish or discussing a topic which reflects on what it means to be Canadian. This month: Maple – A Timeless Canadian Tradition.
I was excited to learn that this month’s challenge is maple, a favourite in both sweet and savoury recipes. Even before I began my research for this article, I was very much aware that maple has evolved from its humble beginnings as a natural sweetener. Maple syrup is one of Canada’s quintessential food products.
I sometimes think that we, as Canadians, take maple syrup for granted – it is not just for pancakes and waffles. We have what the rest of the world wishes they could access as easily as we can. Many of my international colleagues have Canadian maple syrup on the top of their shopping list whenever they come to Canada.
Maple Syrup is uniquely Canadian with 80% of the world’s production coming from Canada and 91% of our domestic production originating in Quebec. My research indicates that in 2015, Canada had an annual maple syrup production of 8,908,000 gallons, generating revenue of $358 million CDN.
Canada’s maple syrup has health benefits that far exceed any other natural sweetener. It has over 60 anti-oxidants and minerals including calcium, copper, manganese, potassium, zinc and sodium, which offer a number of health related benefits.
Why is maple syrup so timeless in its uses and its benefits? As a chef who works in recipe development on a daily basis, I have noted that the use of maple syrup has evolved into an important lifestyle and culinary movement – essentially the elimination of white and brown sugar and the reintroduction of natural unprocessed sugars such as honey and maple syrup. These ingredients are being substituted for granulated sugar in home kitchens as well as commercial kitchens. Canada’s Maple syrup has specific health benefits, which makes it a superior alternative to sugar. (See the topic Maple Syrup Substitution in Recipes below).
My Mom is originally from the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec. She remembers maple syrup as being the only sweetener available when she was a child. My Mom recalls fondly ‘sugar season’ and the festivities that surrounded the celebration of maple syrup. Baked goods and the confectionary made with maple syrup were always a featured treat at the local community get-togethers. The ‘sugar season’ harvest typically began in late February and continued for about 6 weeks (all weather dependant). Sugar season is still very much the same today.
She spoke about her family making maple taffy, known as ‘tire’ in French, by ladling hot syrup on top of fresh white snow and twirling it onto maple twigs. After hearing these stories, my four sisters and I marvelled at what it would be like to make our own maple candy in the fresh snow. I did not truly understand the whole process of pulling taffy when she first explained it, but it sure sounded like fun. It all made sense to me when I became a pastry chef and learned how to work with pulled sugar.
I have not yet made my own batch of maple pulled taffy on fresh white snow, but I have definitely perfected the art of making maple butter tarts. Is there anything more Canadian than butter tarts made with pure maple syrup? Maple is as much a part of the Canadian food scene as poutine, tourtière or Nanaimo Bars.
Maple is unique in that it is a food derived from the sap of maple trees. It takes 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup. It is a pure food. It is 100% plant based. It is delicious.
It is Canadian, eh!
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The recipe that follows is my Mom’s Maple Butter Tart recipe. It is slightly adapted from the very first ever Canadian Living Cookbook.
The Ultimate Canadian Maple Butter Tarts
YIELD: 20 – 3 inch tarts or 30 – 36 mini tarts
CHEF TALK: I like using a French pastry called Pâte Sucrée for butter tarts. It is a tender dough enriched with egg yolk. The dough can be quickly made in a food processor or it can be made easily by hand. Use the dough after a one-hour chilling or refrigerate for up to three days. For longer storage, wrap the dough well in plastic wrap and slip inside a plastic zipper bag, then label and freeze the dough. Use within one month. Pâte Brisée is also a great option for these butter tarts. You can find the recipe for Pâte Brisée here.
NOTE: I make a combination of different tart sizes at the same time. The following recipe for dough and custard filling will make 8 -3 inch tarts + 24 mini (2 inch) tartlets for bite size treats (pictured above).
CHEF TIP: I use a vacuum sealer to store and freeze dough. Using this system eliminates air pockets and the possibility of freezer burn. If you use a vacuum sealer, it extends the life of the dough – use it within six months.
The Ultimate Canadian Maple Butter Tarts
For the Pâte Sucrée Pastry:
- 2 ½ cups all purpose flour
- 3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 cup unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
- ¼ cup ice water, as necessary
- In a bowl of a food processor, combine flour and sugar – pulse once or twice to combine.
- Add the pieces of cold butter into the food processor and pulse 10 to 20 times until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
- In a smaller bowl, combine the egg yolks and vanilla bean paste.
- With the food processor running, pour the egg yolk mixture in through the feed tube.
- Process until the dough comes together (about 10 – 20 seconds). Add a little ice water, one tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together in a ball.
- Divide the dough in half. Form each half into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap.
- Refrigerate the dough for one hour.
CHEF TIP: Ice water is used when making pastry to keep the cold butter from melting. This keeps the pastry crust flaky.
Maple Syrup Butter Tart Filling
CHEF TALK: My Mom always made this family favourite with maple syrup and I have carried on that French Canadian tradition. The filling for this tart recipe is essentially a custard (similar to pecan pie filling or cheesecake). The addition of maple syrup is delightful and oh, so Canadian. While many butter tart purists prefer their baked treats without embellishments, roasted pecans or walnuts and/or raisins are a great addition.
Note the use of salted butter in the filling. The combination of salted butter and brown sugar provides a rich butterscotch flavour undertone that compliments maple.
- 1/4 cup salted butter, melted
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
- pinch of fresh nutmeg
- 1 cup pure Canadian maple syrup
- 1 cup pecans or walnuts, roasted (optional but recommended)
- 1 cup raisins (optional but recommended)
- In a mixer with a paddle or in a medium size mixing bowl, cream together the melted butter and sugar.
- Beat in the eggs, vanilla bean paste, lemon juice and nutmeg.
- Whisk in the maple syrup.
- Pour the custard filling into a measuring cup with a pouring spout to make filling the tart shells easier. Set aside.
TART ASSEMBLY AND BAKING INSTRUCTIONS:
- Preheat the oven to 375oF/190oC (350oF/175oF if using convection setting).
- Roll out one disk of pâte sucrée dough at a time to about 1/8 inch thickness. Cut out 3 ½ inch rounds of dough to fit 3-inch tart tins; or 2 ½ inch rounds for 2 inch mini tart tins.
- Place the dough into the tart tins, pressing with your fingers to fit into the tart tin wells.
- If you are using the roasted pecans, walnuts or raisins, place 2 – 3 pieces of pecans or walnuts or 6 – 8 raisins (or both) into the bottom of the tart shell.
- Pour about 2 Tablespoons (30 ml) of maple butter tart filling into each 3 inch tart shell (it will be 2/3 to 3/4 full)
- Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes for 3 inch tarts (15 minutes for 2 inch tarts) or until pastry is golden and the tart filling is set. (The timing depends on the tart size; the thickness of the metal used in the tart tin and how it conducts heat; and oven temperature accuracy. For example: these tarts took an additional 10 minutes in my daughter’s oven using her tart tins than it did in my kitchen).
- Cool the tarts in their tins on a rack for about 10 minutes.
- After ten minutes, carefully remove the tarts from the tins and allow the tarts to cool completely on wire racks.
- Serve the tarts at room temperature.
CHEF TIP: If some of the tart filling has leaked over the edge of the pastry, run the tip of a knife (dipped in hot water, if necessary) around the edges of the tart immediately after removal from the oven.
STORAGE: Store in an airtight container in a single layer at room temperature for up to one day. For longer storage, the tarts freeze well.
MAPLE SYRUP SUBSTITUTION IN RECIPES
CHEF TALK: There are some important points to remember when substituting maple syrup in recipes. They are as follows:
If you want to experiment with substituting maple syrup for granulated sugar in your baking, here is the ratio for substitution:
- For every one cup of granulated sugar, use 2/3 cup of maple syrup.
- Due to the more efficient caramelization of maple syrup, oven temperature is reduced by 25o
- It is also recommended to reduce the total liquid in the recipe by ¼ cup.
Please CLICK the link above to access my UrbnSpice LEARNING TIPS, which are listed alphabetically on the Learning Tips blog post under the following subheadings:
- Oven Temperature Accuracy
- Vanilla Extract
“Maple is the most important food derived from the pure sap of trees,
and given its amazing potential for human health and great nutritional value,
it is a natural choice for a healthy lifestyle.”
Geneviève Béland, Marketing Director for the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers
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Potlatch Salmon – A Canadian Cooking Technique
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The Canadian Living Cookbook, copyright 1987
Health Benefits of Canadian Maple Syrup
Maple Sugar Infographic
Statistical Overview of the Canadian Maple Industry – 2015