No Ordinary Sugar
Maple sugar, hard to find in these parts, is one such gem spotted on said excursions. As with maple syrup, it's made from the boiled sap of the maple tree but further cooked down and crystallized, with a resulting flavour complexity that develops as the sap concentrates and the sugar caramelizes. This unusual sweetener also happens to cost a minor fortune. I've resisted the urge to splurge on the beautifully blond sugar for the longest time. Just as I know it isn't exactly sensible to buy shoes that will require a brand new dress, I know it isn't rational to buy an ingredient, however exciting, with no particular recipe in mind - I have a cupboard full of exotic, and by and large unused, comestibles to prove the point. So coming across a recipe that read "In a pinch, you can substitute brown sugar, though the cakes won't have that same mapley, earthy sweetness" was my perfect excuse to make a beeline for the real stuff.
Mini Maple Bundt Cakes
The recipe in question comes from Nancy Silverton's fantastic book, Pastries from the La Brea Bakery. The batter is rich in butter, eggs, crème fraîche and of course, maple sugar, which makes for a cake with a superbly moist crumb and excellent keeping properties. Toasted walnuts and a coffee-flavoured maple syrup glaze further gild the lily. While I really liked the unadulterated maple taste, intense without being too sweet, W said he would have preferred the cake sweeter - experiments with substituting part of the 2 cups of maple sugar called for with caster sugar are in order.
Pecan Caramel Sandwich Cookies
These, luckily, W enjoyed as much as I did. Adapted from a recipe in Regan Daley's In the Sweet Kitchen, ultra buttery pecan shortbread sandwiches a stickily-good caramel filling. The contrast between rich crumbly cookie and creamy goo (I used maple sugar in lieu of part of the light brown sugar specified in the original recipe for the filling) makes these truly something else.