Maple Butter (or Maple Cream, If You’re Fancy)

I’ve had maple butter bouncing around in my head for a while, a new fun something to make after being told that I must try it.

I had no idea what maple butter was, but research explained that by heating maple syrup to 233 °F, cooling to 40 °F, then warming it back up to 60 °F, the syrup morphed into maple butter (or maple cream, if you’re fancy). The promise of a spreadable maple syrup stuck with me since I discovered its existence, but I wanted a yard full of snow before I tried to make something that required rapid cooling.

Cold, wet, or messy on their own are fine, but they make up the Trifecta of Horrible when combined. As such, I do everything I can to avoid making an ice bath.

A heavy snow on Friday night and Saturday morning took care of the ice bath problem so I got out the trusty candy thermometer to make maple butter. I confess that my research on maple butter was minimal and that I stirred when I ought not to (during the cooling phase), but everything still turned out, and how.

I kept eating the maple butter off of the spoon and finally had to pack it up so I would leave it alone. The next morning I had my doubts about why I was swooning over this stuff (OH THIS IS NEW SO IT MUST BE AWESOME AND BETTER THAN ANYTHING ELSE), so I compared a drizzle of maple syrup to a bit of the maple butter in oatmeal to see if I was simply infatuated by something bright and shiny.

No, it was love. Straight maple syrup tasted tinny and one-dimensional but the maple butter was full, toasty, and strikingly buttery. I figured the name ‘maple butter’ referred to the consistency (it is spreadable like peanut butter), but it tasted so buttery that, had I not made it, I would have guessed butter had been added. I went ahead and added butter to the bowl in this photo, just to push it over the top.

What also surprised me was the texture of the maple butter. The maple butter appears to be a dilatant. Like a cornstarch and water mixture, it is solid if you touch it but if you begin to push it around or stir it, it has fluid-like qualities. Dilatants have “a dense mixture of granules and liquids” which makes perfect sense as to why the maple butter acts as it does.

With hopes of finding out more about sugars in maple syrup, I opened McGee’s On Food and Cooking and read how the process of making maple butter is very similar to making maple sugar (his temperatures are a little different from Wikipedia, if you’re fact checking). The difference between making maple sugar and maple butter is the step of cooling and stirring in maple butter. Maple sugar is made by heating maple syrup to above boiling, then allowing it to cool and form sugar crystals. Maple butter is heated, rapidly cooled, then rewarmed and stirred vigorously– instead of ending up with big crystals of maple sugar in syrup, the sugar crystals are very fine and densely distributed in the reduced maple syrup. Maple butter, the great dilatant confection.

Maple Butter (Maple Cream)

Full-flavored, buttery, and spreadable, I have to keep this out of my sight or I eat it straight off of the spoon. I put a pat on a waffle and added it to oatmeal, but maple butter would be great in a milk-based drink, added to BBQ sauce, in a sweet-savory sandwich, between two cookies….
You must use 100% pure maple syrup for this recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup pure maple syrup

Instructions

  1. Prepare an ice-bath (or wait until you have snow drifts deep enough to put a small pot, your call) for a small pot.
  2. Fit a small, deep pot with a candy thermometer.
  3. Over medium-high heat, bring the syrup up to 233 °F (112 °C), stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, about 3-4 minutes.
  4. Immediately remove the pot from the stove and set in the ice bath. Stir occasionally until the syrup cools to 40 °F (4 °C), about 5-8 minutes.
  5. Back on the stove over medium-low heat, warm the syrup to 60 °F (15 °C), stirring frequently.
  6. Once the maple syrup reaches 60 °F, remove from heat again and stir vigorously for 2-3 minutes.
  7. Set the pot aside and let stand for 10 minutes. The syrup will begin to cloud and turn a light tan color.
  8. Stir until the maple butter is smooth and easily spreadable.
  9. Use at once or store covered in the refrigerator.

Quick notes

This is exactly how I made the maple butter, goof-ups and all. Keep an eye on the syrup since as it reaches 233 °F it boils up considerably. If you’d like to experiment, try leaving the maple syrup undisturbed as it cools, then beat it with a wooden spoon while bringing it back up to 60 °F until it is tan in color and smooth.

A Kitchen Gift Guide – Part Three: Media and Classes

This post contains some affiliate links.

This is the final part of a kitchen gift-guide designed to help with giving something meaningful to the cooks and bakers on your list. Most of these can be purchased at the last minute which is handy as we are down to the wire now.

Like the guides before, this is not a comprehensive list of books or subscriptions that I recommend for people. These are things that I like and think would make fun gifts. I’ve not been paid, compensated, or asked to feature any of the following items.

Subscriptions

The best gifts are ones that give a little bit of happy every time the receiver thinks about them. Subscriptions are my favorite things to gift to people because the giftee gets the present anew all year long.

Canal House Cooking – $49.95 for a one-year subscription, published three times a year.

Strongly reminiscent of the River Cottage cookbooks, Canal House Cooking is my favorite subscription-based food publication. I’m hesitant to call it a magazine as the issues are small, hard-bound books with no ads. It is more akin to getting three cookbooks a year in the mail. Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton self-publish Canal House with a focus on what is local and in season. One of the issues last year was titled “Farm Markets and Gardens” and we used every fantastic tomato recipe in the book. Hirsheimer and Hamilton always manage to keep from sounding as if they’re looking down their noses as they write, though; they devoted a following volume to “The Grocery Store.” It is balanced writing with understated photography in a pretty package.

Gastronomica – $50.00 or $28 for student/retirees for a one-year subscription, published quarterly.

Gastronomica is not a cooking magazine. It is a journal (meaning it is a peer-reviewed publication) with book reviews, poetry, articles on food in culture, art, history and writing. There are no recipes in Gastronomica save for ones used to drive home a point in a story, and even those types are few. The stories are varied– from Gastronomica I’ve read articles about an art exhibition using breast milk and the subsequent controversy, another about a town’s devotion to Fluff, a fiction piece on working in a prison kitchen, a non-fiction article detailing a family kitchen aging through generations, a poem connecting food and grief… The journal is about food in every aspect of life, not just confined to a restaurant or home kitchen.

Digital Media

Eat Your Books – $25.00 for a one-year subscription

This could fall under the above category, but it is online instead of the mailbox so I’ve put it here.

The best way to describe Eat Your Books is as a master index of your cookbooks. After adding cookbook titles to a virtual personal library, searching for an ingredient or technique in all of the recipes in your books takes a moment instead of an entire morning. The idea behind EYB is that if you can easily search your cookbooks, you’ll use them. It works: I use the site several times a week and books that I would’ve never thought to look in for a certain recipe get pulled off of the shelf and used.

There are some drawbacks to the site. While they have lots of books and are constantly indexing more, they don’t have every book under the sun in their database. They also don’t provide page numbers for the recipe. I assume this is so they don’t have to index multiple releases of essentially the same book, but it would be nice to eliminate the step of looking up the recipe again in the cookbook after I’ve looked it up on EYB. Minor irritations aside, the gift of a year’s subscription to the website would make a homerun gift for someone with a sizable cookbook collection.

Ratio App by Michael Ruhlman – $4.99

Available for the handheld iThings and Droids, Ruhlman’s Ratio app takes the meat of his book, Ratio, and puts it in its most simple form for the app. Ratio outlines 32 ingredient ratios for cooking and baking (doughs, batters, sauces, sausages, etc.) with the idea that if you know a basic ratio you don’t need a recipe. The application cuts through the chatty writing of the book by featuring an easily read pie chart and ingredient calculator for each ratio, along with pertinent instructions. Put on an iTunes giftcard, this is another great gift for someone with a big cookbook collection. The Ratio app is also a wonderful idea for someone who is just beginning to cook as it gives them freedom to play around with flavors while learning the basics of what has to be in a recipe to make it work.

Classes

Like subscriptions, I enjoy giving classes as gifts because they give the receiver something to look forward to after the initial present opening.

Wilton Decorating Classes – Prices Vary, but about $30.00

I took the first course of Wilton Decorating Classes and it was fantastic. I ditched their frosting recipe (shortening and powdered sugar? Eugh.), but I use the piping techniques every time I make a cake. Usually offered at hobby stores like Michael’s and Hobby Lobby over several weeks, the instructors are good and coursework well-explained. In the first course, they teach basic piping (how to frost a cake, shells, Swiss dots, writing, flowers, and roses) and there are subsequent courses with more advanced techniques. Invaluable for anyone interested in cakes, it would also make for fun parent-child outings as I can see a 12-year old having a blast learning how to make a cake look fancy.

Sur La Table classes – $59.00 and up

Sur La Table offers classes ranging from fundamental (knife skills) to focused (Thai restaurant favorites). Each class is a single class that runs for a few hours. I am particularly drawn to the knife skills class as a gift since knowing how to properly hold and use a knife makes the difference between a sloppy dish and an impressive one. Currently they are offering a “4-Hour Fearless Baking Workshop” and I can think of more than a few people who would love to go to that.

Books

I could never have enough books. I see cookbooks as something nearly magical: put this, this, and that in a pot and POOF, something new altogether. I’ve found cookbook collectors have varying reasons as to why they collect books, but if you know a little about what they like to cook and eat then it’s easier to pick out a book for them.

For The Baker:

Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum – $26.37

If you know a serious baker (and I mean serious), chances are they have Beranbaum’s Cake Bible. It’s probably falling apart, covered in egg whites and chocolate, too. Heavenly Cakes is Beranbaum’s follow-up to the hallowed Cake Bible, 20 years later. It is a big, fat book (just how I like ’em) with a cache of varied recipes and photos that I’ve had to wipe drool off of. The food styling is so lovely. Heavenly Cakes has a few recipe repeats from The Cake Bible, but the fact that she simplified some of the steps from the old recipes earns a big HALLELUJAH from me instead of a squinty glare that recipe-repeaters normally get (I’M SQUINTING AT YOU, COOK’S ILLUSTRATED).

Please listen to me when I recommend this book for bakers with experience under their belt. I wrote about making one of the cakes here and it was a multi-day undertaking. Many of the recipes have several components and are complicated, so this is not a book for someone who just graduated from a boxed mix. If you give Heavenly Cakes to a novice baker, it (and some frosting) probably will come flying back at your head at a later date.

If you’re looking for a book to give to a beginner baker, give them Cook’s Illustrated’s Baking Illustrated.

For the Time-Pressed:

Radically Simple by Rozanne Gold – $23.06

I bought this book on impulse, looking for something to rely on when the baby had frazzled the last whatever it is that gets frazzled. I had never heard of Gold and had not seen any reviews for the book, but I made a few shallow digs and turned up four James Beard awards to her name (I later found that she had a staggering history in the food industry as well) and that was good enough for me. I ordered the book with high expectations but did not think that I would love it so much. There are a few niggling things that bother me about Radically Simple (I would’ve liked to see different photos rather than the same photos repeated multiple times on a page, and swirly text over photos goes against my grain) but it was, by far, my favorite book of 2010.

Gold writes that the recipes in this book are regarded as “a three dimensional creation, with time, technique, and the number of ingredients making up the axes on which they are plotted.” Some of the recipes have a long list of ingredients but are simple to prepare, others require foresight and not much else, and with others you need to focus on technique to make everything come together. The book is incredibly well-organized with an impressive recipe range. I joke that this book is for people who don’t have a lot of time but still have STANDARDS, DAMMIT.

For those with Warm or Ambiguous Feelings on Salads:



Mediterranean Fresh
by Joyce Goldstein – $12.00

You could probably convert a salad-hater into a salad-okeyer with this book (I’ve found most salad-haters are firmly stuck in their position and take great pains to not be moved from it), but the only reason I wouldn’t recommend this for salad-haters is because I don’t want to incite a fight on the holiday of your choice. Mediterranean Fresh is the book I lend out most frequently and border on being rude about having it returned. When I first read the book I shelved it quickly because Goldstein has a lot to say about lettuce and I wasn’t ready for that level of commitment. I was well-rewarded when I got my gumption up. Her fattoush is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten (it’s nice when you can make those “best things I’ve ever eaten” at home) and one time I ate an entire recipe’s worth of another salad in a sitting because it was so good (one time. It had an entire head of cauliflower in it and, while delicious, was not the best decision I’ve ever made.).

The book is more than leafy salads: there are grain salads, vegetable salads, salads with meat and seafood, and a giant section of the book is devoted to salad dressings. It is not a light or ‘healthy’ cookbook, although there are light and healthy dishes within.

So they like Weird Recipes?:



The Essential New York Times Cookbook
by Amanda Hesser – $20.82

‘Weird’ is stretching it, but this book is dear to my heart because the recipes are not standard fare. Unusual techniques and interesting food combinations are packed in and Hesser’s headnotes assure you a magnificent outcome if you give the recipe a chance. I never have all of the ingredients called for and I like that. I’m getting out of my normal cooking routine and that encourages growth and learning.

The Essential New York Times isn’t an overarching “best of” The New York Times, but is a collection of NYT recipes recommended by readers to Hesser. Hesser then made them all and put her favorites in the book, giving some recipes a moderate makeover but leaving others in their original form, instructions and all (the ones from the early 1900s are worth checking out). Her headnotes are entertaining and encouraging; this is certainly sit-down-and-read book.

If part three didn’t help you with your gifts, check out part one and part two for more ideas.

Buttermilk and Date Ice Cream with Orange Blossom Water and a Goode Company Giveaway

The contest is now closed. Scroll down for the winner!

This ice cream has always been about pecans.

I came up with the recipe as an accompaniment for pecans
specifically for a pecan pie.

Usually, pecans make me feel mushy and happy because I associate them with home:
my parents have pecan trees growing on their property in Texas
my grandmothers both say PEE-can, tickling me no to end
and while I don’t care for plain pecans, when holiday baking begins I end up eating a treeload’s worth in pecan pralines.

The gooey and sentimental feelings on pecans persisted until a few days ago
right up until the fifth attempt at making a pecan pie simply to photograph under the ice cream.

Five times on top of a burned Thanksgiving pie is past my threshold of Pie Failures in Ten Days.

Just the ice cream photographs, then.

Pitting dates is easy enough.

If you spray your knife blade with non-stick spray
(or wipe it with neutral-flavored oil)
the dates will spend much less time clinging desperately to your blade.

I pitted the dates
sliced them into quarters
then piled the quarters up neatly and chopped into even pieces.

After all of the dates were chopped
I put everything into a small bowl

and poured over enough Grand Marnier to soak everything.

Soaking the date pieces in alcohol helps prevent them from turning into violent, tooth-cracking bits of shrapnel.

I covered the bowl in plastic wrap and then microwaved everything for a few minutes.

I would’ve done this step in a small pot
but every single pot in my kitchen was waiting to be washed at that moment.

I set the hot fruit and alcohol aside to soak for a while
and began on the custard.

I had not used orange blossom water with heat before
so I didn’t know if heat would diminish the water’s flavor
(the same way heat can dull vanilla’s flavor)
and decided to wait until I cooled the custard to add it.

Putting the orange blossom water aside
I warmed buttermilk, sugar, and cream in a pot.

While that was heating, I separated the eggs

(freezing the whites for later use)
whisked the warm milk mixture into the yolks to temper them

then added the yolks and milk back into the pot

that was clean, despite its appearance.

It had an unfortunate experience of being empty, forgotten, and over heat for a while.

I’m not sure its finish is going to ever recover.

After a few minutes the custard was ready:

I strained it
and poured in some reserved cream to help it cool down.

I added the orange blossom water and mixed everything to a uniform color.

Then I kept licking the spatula
and I knew things were good.

The custard went into the freezer for about an hour to chill.

Once the custard was very-cold-not-frozen
I poured it into the machine and let it churn for about 25 minutes.

I added the dates
which had soaked up all of the liquor

and continued to run the ice cream maker for another five minutes.

I like firm ice cream
so I packed the ice cream into a container and popped it into the freezer overnight.

The next morning I had buttermilk date ice cream with orange blossom water
and one of my failed pie crusts for breakfast
(failure is good for something, at least)
with chopped pecans on top.

It’s pecans that really make this ice cream.

The pecans and buttermilk remind me of buttermilk pralines
the orange blossom water of oranges, flowers, and pecans at Christmas
and dates soaked in Grand Marnier… well, that’s just a good idea at any time.

While good on its own
I made this ice cream with pecans in mind
and pecans it demands.

In light of demanding ice cream and (five) pie disasters
I’m happy to be able to give away a Brazos Bottom Pecan Pie from the fine people at Goode Company.

The fact that it is a pecan pie
and that the box is emblazoned with “You might give some serious thought to thanking your lucky stars you’re in Texas”
makes me a little homesick all the way in Pennsylvania
but the sweet-sad coverts quickly to excitement when I realize I get to facilitate pie appearing on someone’s doorstep.

Here are the rules to winning a pecan pie that you don’t have to make (or try to make five times and fail):

  • The Prize: A Brazos Bottom Pecan Pie from Goode Company
  • Number of winners: 1
  • Prize Ships: Within the continental U.S..
  • To Enter to Win: Leave a comment on this post. You could tell me if you like to eat your pie à la mode or if you like it stark naked (the pie), how your day was, or if you’re going to make this ice cream I’m proud of.
  • Bonus Entry Opportunities: Pin a photo from this post to Pinterest, Tweet a link to this post, or share through Facebook. Come back here and tell me how you did it (if you share this post multiple ways, make sure to leave a separate comment for each way you shared) and you’ve got yourself another entry.
  • Giveaway Ends: Friday, December 9, 2011 at 11:59 pm Eastern time.
  • The Fine Print: The winner will be selected at random. Up to four entries per person (one comment about anything, one pin on Pinterest, one tweet, one Facebook share). Entrants must have a valid e-mail address.

Notice: I am only a pie facilitator. I was not compensated in any manner by Goode Company or anyone else to host this giveaway. Goode Company will be shipping the pie directly to the winner.

If you don’t win the pecan pie
you can console yourself by making ice cream that needs only some toasted and chopped pecans to make it sing.

Buttermilk and Date Ice Cream with Orange Blossom Water

Use a light hand with the orange blossom water. It is easy to add too much and quickly find yourself in a bouquet of flowers that you now have to eat. Don’t buy pre-chopped dates. Buy whole ones and practice your knife skills. This yields about a quart of ice cream.

Ingredients

  • 5 oz pitted dates, chopped
  • 6 tablespoons (100 ml) Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liquor
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 heaping cup of sugar
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1-2 teaspoons orange blossom water
  • Pecan pie or toasted and chopped pecans to serve

Instructions

  1. Combine dates and Grand Marnier in a small bowl. Cover and microwave over high heat for two minutes. Set aside.
  2. Have ready a shallow casserole dish with a fine mesh strainer set over it.
  3. Mix together buttermilk, one cup of cream, and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Heat through until the mixture is steaming (but not boiling) and the sugar has dissolved.
  4. Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl, and while whisking constantly, slowly add one cup of the hot milk mixture to the yolks.
  5. While stirring the milks and sugar, gradually add the yolk and milk mixture back to the saucepan.
  6. With a cook spoon or spatula, stir the custard slowly and constantly over medium heat until it has thickened enough to coat the back of the stirring implement. Do not let the mixture boil.
  7. Strain the custard into the casserole dish and add the remaining cup of cream.
  8. Add 1-2 teaspoons of orange blossom water to the custard and stir until the custard is uniform in color.
  9. Chill the custard in a refrigerator or freezer until very cold (overnight in a refrigerator or about an hour in a freezer).
  10. Once cold, pour into an ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for freezing, adding chopped dates in the last few minutes of churning.
  11. Pack ice cream into freezer safe containers and freeze overnight.
  12. Serve ice cream with chopped pecans or better yet, a pecan pie.

Quick notes

You can warm the dates and Grand Marnier together in a small sauce pan on the stove, if you’d like. Make sure your pot is small enough so that the dates are nearly covered by the alcohol.

Drumroll please…
Using the And The Winner Is… plugin, the lucky pecan pie recipient is:

lizlizliz!

Keep an eye on your email lizlizliz and thanks to everyone for participating!

If you didn’t win, give the ice cream recipe a shot.
I promise it’s delicious.