Where I come from, spring is marked each year by the ritual tapping of trees.
It’s a silent act; you rarely see them attaching their rustic metal buckets to the maples that dot the roads and form the woods of the county. You’re lucky to catch them at work, collecting the golden sap that later ends up in shiny bottles on local store shelves.
It’s one of few true labours of love I’ve ever seen. It’s intensive, barely profitable and time-consuming, but I don’t think you’ll ever meet a sap-maker who’s ever so much as considered not tapping each spring. And if you’ve had the pleasure of tasting fresh, still-warm maple syrup, you’ll understand why they do it – it’s nature’s pure unadulterated caramel.
When I was a kid, one of the highlights of the spring thaw was visiting the sugar camps in the height of the season. They were always out in the middle of nowhere, at least an hour’s drive away, but the anticipation of it all made every agonizing mile stuck in the back seat of the car well worth it.
I remember the steam bursting from the boiling buildings, visible as soon as you got within a five-mile radius of the camp. If you rolled down the window, you could smell the air perfumed with sugar.
Most of all, I remember the maple syrup lollypops – these were the highlight of each trip. Workers would bring a simmering bucket of syrup out to a wooden block filled with fresh snow – they’d drizzle steaming sap over the ice crystals as us kids jammed wooden sticks into the gooey mixture, swirling them around madly to get as much sugary syrup as gravity would allow. We’d rush to jam the lollypops into our mouths before they cooled down too much – the heat, after all, was the best part.
I still love everything about maple syrup – the rich, smooth texture and bold earthy-sweet taste. And that smell – one whiff of it and I’m home. If life were easy, I’d swear I’d ditch the city in a flash and give it all away for a sugar camp.
It was during one of these maple sugar daydreams that I dreamt up this twist on the classic shortbread. Each cookie has just a hint of maple, but when combined with this super-easy maple syrup glaze, it’s like you’ve died and gone to a sugar camp.
Maple Pecan Shortbread Cookies
Makes 32 to 36 cookies.
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup vegetable shortening, room temperature
1 1/2 cups icing sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 – 1 1/2 tsp maple extract
1 egg plus 1 egg white
1 3/4 cup cake and pastry flour
1 3/4 cup bread flour
32 – 36 pecan halves
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup icing sugar
1. Preheat oven to 375˚F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a stand mixer, cream butter and shortening until smooth. Gradually add sugar, stirring on low until light, fluffy and no lumps remain. Add maple extract and salt and stir until combined. Scrape down sides of bowl and gradually stir in eggs.
3. In a large bowl, sift flours. Gradually mix into batter until just combined. Working in batches, transfer batter to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip. Pipe batter in a tight, circular formation to form 1 1/2 inch-wide rosettes. Top with pecans and bake until bottoms are golden, 8 to 12 minutes.
(NOTE: If you’re not into piping, simply gather the dough into a ball, chill it for 30 minutes to an hour to firm up, then roll out and cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds.)
4. Let cookies cool on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
5. Prepare glaze: In a small saucepan, heat maple syrup on medium. Add to clean stand mixer and gradually mix in icing sugar until smooth and slightly thick. Let cool.
6. Once cookies and glaze are cool, transfer glaze to a re-sealable ziplock bag and seal tightly. Snip a small hole in one corner of bag. Using bag, drizzle glaze over cookies. Set aside until glaze is set.