Maple Butterscotch Sauce
Growing up in New England, maple syrup was a definite thread woven through the fabric of my childhood. Each winter when we had our first big snowfall, my mom would heat up a pan of syrup and instruct my brother and I to go scoop ourselves a bowl of fresh snow…and she’d then make us “syrup on snow” sundaes, the sweet maple melting the snow and making a delicious contrast of hot, sweet sticky syrup against cold fresh snow.
Elementary school field trips were often to places like Old Sturbridge Village or Plimoth Plantation (we had early American history drilled into us, that’s for sure. I remember being so upset one year when our class was supposed to go on a whale watch, but weather conditions were too rough and so we went to Plimoth Plantation instead. At the time I wanted to be a marine biologist, so this change in plans was NOT a welcome consolation prize.) But in any case, often these trips were in the spring, when we could watch the “village people” boiling down sap in their sugar shacks to make sweet syrup. When the day was over and the teachers would let students visit the gift shop, I always made a beeline for the maple sugar candy. Some people think it’s too sweet, but I always loved the hit of sugar with the every-so-slightly-bitter maple undertone.
And while our family vacations often took us to places like Cape Cod or Maine, some of my favorite memories are from trips to the White Mountains in New Hampshire, when we ate big heaping plates of pancakes with locally produced maple butter and syrup at Polly’s Pancake Parlor (if you’re ever near Franconia Notch, it’s definitely worth a visit!)
So maple is a flavor that just I adore, an ingredient close to my heart. And while I often gravitate towards using maple syrup as a cooking ingredient during the fall — it pairs so well with squash, apples, cinnamon, and other homey autumn flavors, doesn’t it? — it’s true “season” is spring. Often when you drive by stands of maple trees in our area, you’ll see metal buckets attached to their trunks, catching every last drop of the running sap. We have a few sugar maples on the land where we’re building our house, and while it’s always been a dream of mine to collect sap and make our own maple syrup, I recently learned that it takes forty gallons of sap to make ONE gallon of syrup — so my visions of boiling down copious quantities of sap to make a year’s supply of syrup for us may not, in fact, play out the way I originally thought.
Luckily, we live in an area where there’s plenty of local syrupmakers; in fact, New York State recently had a “Maple Weekend”, where syrup producers opened up their sugar shacks to the public in celebration of all things maple. And while we weren’t able to attend this year, I did make this maple butterscotch sauce to celebrate the return of maple season — it uses maple sugar and maple syrup for a maple double-whammy, and that’s a good thing by me. There’s a few things this sauce has going for it: (a) it keeps pretty much forever in the fridge (though we’re finding it doesn’t last long in our house); (b) it’s great, of course, spooned over ice cream (we’ve been having it over apple pie bars with vanilla ice cream!) but is also pretty terrific stirred into coffee, hot chocolate, or even in small quantities into plain yogurt; and (c) it’s a breeze to make. I don’t always have a perfect success rate with caramel-type concoctions, but this recipe is easy-peasy and really, really delicious — I love the way the maple gives the sweet butterscotch a bit more depth of flavor.
Maple Butterscotch Sauce
1/2 cup granulated maple sugar or light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup pure maple syrup [the book recommends not using Grade B, but they don’t say why – I generally prefer Grade B and will probably try it with that next time]
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
pinch coarse kosher salt
Melt the maple sugar, butter, and maple syrup together in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
Once the sugar is dissolved and the butter is melted, increase the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil. Cook for 4 minutes without stirring.
Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the cream (be careful; it may sputter a bit.) Stir in the salt. Pour into a storage container and let cool, then refrigerate.