Homemade Granulated Pure Maple Sugar
It’s been a couple of weeks since I launched my food blog and I’m only just now getting around to my second post. So much for being consistent. So much for taking the food blogging world by storm. There’s just so much to do. Creating these posts takes a lot more time and effort than I ever imagined. There’s research, trial and error, photography, post-processing, writing, making sure it all looks good on the Web, and on and on. Oh well. I’m back with a new post and my first recipe. Sort of.
I first learned of maple sugar last summer when Jenni posted her recipe for Maple & Candied Bacon Blonde Brownies. While they sounded incredibly delicious, I never made them because I didn’t have any maple sugar.
I love to shop online. In fact, I’ve got a $20 gift card to Crate & Barrel that I’m dying to use, but I don’t like to buy grocery items online. It just seems a little too inconvenient. Sometimes I will in an effort to stock up on certain items or when it’s more economical to do so or when I simply cannot find a particular product anywhere locally. But I’d much rather be able to make a quick trip to the store, grab what I need, and get back to what I was doing. It wasn’t until last weekend when Mary and I spent the day in Asheville, NC that I was actually able to find maple sugar somewhat locally. If you ever find yourself in Asheville, NC, you must stop in at Katuah Market in the Historic Biltmore Village. And remember to bring a large cooler. Trust me, you’re gonna need it.
Since I don’t like ordering groceries online, and since Asheville doesn’t exactly fit into my definition of a “quick trip”, I thought I’d try to make maple sugar at home. How hard could it be? Of course, I had never made maple sugar before, but I imagined I’d just need to heat maple syrup to the proper temperature stage, cool it, and then pulverize it into fine granules. Close, but no sug-ar.
Hard Ball or Hard Crack?
There seem to be two methods of maple sugar making. The first method is the one I prefer and will demonstrate for you below. It involves heating maple syrup to the hard ball stage, which is between 250 – 265 degrees F, then stirring the heck out of it until the syrup fully crystalizes and transforms into maple sugar gravel, followed by a good sifting to create fine granules of decadent maple sugar. The other method involves heating the syrup to the hard crack temperature stage, cooling it and then grating it. In fact, my Aunt Krissy, just shared a link with me the other day on Facebook about something called a maple sugar block or cube, which I assume was made using the latter method. I personally haven’t tried that product, but it looks neat.
I don’t think I would ever buy pre-made maple sugar (after I finish off the pack I bought from Katuah Market) because I can get a quart of good-quality grade B maple syrup at my local health food store for $20, which is slightly cheaper per ounce than the pre-made stuff. I prefer to use grade B because I like the taste better than grade A amber varieties, which also happen to be a little more expensive. I also prefer the finer grain that comes from making maple sugar at home.
What You Will Need to Make Maple Sugar
Ok, so let’s make some maple sugar. In order to make maple sugar, you’re going to need a few things:
- 1 quart of good-quality pure maple syrup
- A tiny amount of clarified butter (ghee)
- A reliable candy thermometer
- A heavy-bottomed 4-quart saucepan
- An electric mixer with metal whisk and metal beaters OR a metal whisk and unwavering forearms
- Possibly an oven mitt
- A sturdy sieve
- A large mixing bowl
- A metal or wooden spoon
How to Make Maple Sugar at Home
Before I actually post the instructions in recipe form, I thought I’d walk you through it with some pictures. For something like this, pictures are worth far more than words.
Step 1: Don’t be intimidated
Candy making can be a very difficult thing, mainly because the whole time you are trying to avoid crystallization. The good news is that, in this case, that is exactly what we’re after. Making maple sugar is the probably one of the best ways to familiarize yourself with candy making. Although, once you get into more advanced candy making, you’ll probably want to forget everything you’ve learned from making maple sugar.
Step 2: Wash and dry all your tools
You don’t want to be rushing to wash and dry your metal mixer attachments as the sugar is closing in on the hard ball stage. That is a recipe for disaster. Like I said before, you can heat the sugar past hard ball, which is likely to happen if you are not ready, but then the process for making the sugar changes, and you risk burning the sugar, which has happened to me on a few occasions. You can also slightly undercook the sugar, only heating it to the firm ball stage, or just below. I did that once, and ended up with maple sugar that was closer to brown sugar in texture. It was a little softer to the touch because it contained more moisture than if I had heated it thoroughly to the hard ball stage. I tested its substitute-ability with brown sugar by whipping up a batch of my favorite gluten-free chocolate chip cookies. I subbed out all the brown sugar for this softer variety of maple sugar 1-to-1 in Alton’s Gluten-Free Chewy cookie recipe and they came out perfect.
Step 3: Calibrate your candy thermometer
If you’ve already done this recently, then by all means skip this step. Calibrating your thermometer is much more important for more complex candy making because water boils at slightly different temperatures based on where you are in relation to sea level.
At sea level, water boils at 212 degrees F, but for every 500 feet above sea level, 1 degree must be subtracted from your desired temperature . For example, if you are 1500 feet above sea level, then water should come to a boil at 209 degrees F. The easiest thing to do is to attach your candy thermometer to a pot filled with water. Bring the water to a boil. Let the water boil for about 10 minutes to allow the thermometer to get a solid reading. Then read the temperature on your thermometer. However many degrees off from 212 is the number of degrees to subtract from your desired temperature when heating the sugar. For example, if your water boils at 209 degrees F, as mine does, then the hard ball stage for you will be 247-263 degrees F. 212 minus 209 is 3 degrees, so you subtract 3 degrees from the temperature on your candy thermometer, which assumes a sea level of zero.
Fortunately, the hard ball stage is fairly wide, ranging from 250 degrees F to 265 degrees F, so as long as you stop cooking the sugar when it reaches the lower range, you should be fine. I stop cooking the sugar as soon as it passes 250 degrees F on my thermometer, which for me means the sugar is actually about 253 degrees F.
Hopefully, that wasn’t too confusing. Leave me a comment below if you’re still unsure of what to do.
Step 4: Grease the top of the pan
The first time I made maple sugar, I used a non-stick, 4.5-quart Calphalon saucepan; that’s all I had. I used a silicon spatula to stir the syrup and create the granules so as not to damage the non-stick coating. Needless to say, there was a lot of hardened maple sugar stuck to the sides of the pan. Fortunately clean up is really easy regardless of your pan’s material: just soak in water and rinse. I’ll tell you why that is a dumb idea and how to avoid waste in the final step of the process.
I didn’t grease the pan at all; it just never occurred to me, which might expose my inexperience to the more experienced candy maker. I guess my 4.5-quart pan was just big enough to not let the sugar runneth over. Plus I didn’t use a full quart of syrup. So in an effort to reduce waste, I went out and bought a nice, reasonably-priced, stainless steel saucepan. That way I could scrape the heck out of it without damaging it. As soon as I got it home, I tested it out by making a batch of maple sugar. I used a full quart. Once it started approaching the soft ball stage, it really started bubbling up. I actually walked away for a minute. Bad idea. Next thing I know, I’ve got hot sugar boiling over. What a disaster. I got it all cleaned up and tried to keep going, but every time it came back up to temperature, it wanted to boil over. I finally realized that my pan was a half quart smaller than the one I used the first time around and I was using more syrup than before. I finally managed to get it almost to firm ball stage and started stirring. Thus, brown maple sugar.
The next time I made maple sugar, I reduced the syrup by 1 cup. It still wanted to boil over, but this time I was ready for it. The time after that I reduced the syrup again by 1 more cup. I was now down to using only 2 cups of syrup in a 4-quart saucepan. “This is ridiculous,” I fussed, wondering how I got so lucky the first time around. With only 2 cups of syrup, it finally got to hard ball stage without boiling over, but I knew there was something else going on here. So I turned to the only source I knew would have the answer: Google.
I came across a very helpful blog post on making maple sugar. Sheri casually, but specifically, mentions greasing the top 1-inch of the pan with butter to keep the syrup from boiling over. Once I did this (I used ghee instead of butter), not only did the syrup not boil over, but it didn’t really bubble up at all. It just kept getting hotter and hotter like it was supposed to. In fact, I feel like I could have added another full quart of syrup without any issues, but I’d have to test that first before I could recommend it.
So how come it worked perfectly the first time around? That is the million-dollar question. I suspect the non-stick coating played a part, but I don’t know for sure. If there are any candy-making experts in the audience, feel free to chime in about that.
Step 5: Heat the syrup to hard ball stage (250 – 265 degrees F at sea level)
Pour the syrup into your saucepan fitted with your candy thermometer and heat the syrup over medium heat. If using a lighter amber variety of maple syrup, you can supposedly increase the heat to medium-high . I prefer grade B, which is darker, but you should never cook it over medium-high heat or it will burn before it gets to the proper temperature.
Step 6: Commence Crystallization
As soon as the sugar reaches hard ball stage, remove the pan from heat and begin stirring the sugar vigorously. You can do this by hand, but it will take longer and your arm might get really tired. I’ve read not to use an electric mixer because it can put a lot of strain on the motor and/or throw hot sugar all over the place. I had a much different experience, a much more pleasant one. Although, I would recommend wearing oven mitts when you do this, just in case. At this point, though, the sugar won’t be dangerously hot. It cools down pretty quickly once crystallization begins. However, the saucepan will still be very hot, so be careful.
As the mixture thickens, you will need to switch from the metal whisk attachment to the metal beaters. Now it’ll feel more like you’re mixing up a batch of cookie dough. Keep stirring until the mixture becomes very dry and coarse.
Step 7: Sift, sift, sift
Transfer the coarse sugar to a mesh strainer over a large mixing bowl and sift the mixture completely. You may need to use the back of a metal or wooden spoon to scrape the harder bits through the strainer. If you’ve cooked your sugar to the higher end of the hard ball stage, it may seem almost impossible to scrape through. If that’s the case, pulse the mixture in a food processor a few times or proceed to the next step.
Step 8 (optional): Reconstitute the maple sugar
If you decide that you do not have the patience to scrape anymore sugar through the sieve, or if you physically cannot push anymore of the larger bits through, then you can still salvage those bits by turning them back into maple syrup.
First, measure how much you have and then add them back to the saucepan. Add an equal amount of water. If you have 1/2 cup of maple sugar rocks, add 1/2 cup water. Don’t forget to account for any sugar stuck to the sides of the pan. If you can’t scrape any of that off, just take a guess as to how much is there.
Set the pan over medium heat. Stir constantly until all the maple sugar is dissolved and it comes to a boil. Let it boil for a minute or so until it slightly thickens. Then transfer to a glass mason jar or syrup dispenser. Let it cool to room temperature, then cover and store for later use.
- 1 quart good-quality pure maple syrup, grade B
- Clarified butter (at room temperature) for greasing the sides of the pan
1. Lightly grease the top 1-inch of a 4-quart heavy-bottomed stainless steel saucepan with clarified butter. Then attach a candy thermometer.
2. Add the maple syrup to the saucepan and cook the syrup over medium heat until the temperature of the sugar reaches 250 degrees F or hard ball stage.
3. Remove the pan from the heat. Immediately and vigorously stir the sugar until it crystallizes and becomes very dry and coarse.
4. Sift the mixture completely into a large mixing bowl. Store indefinitely at room temperature in an air-tight container.
-  The Cold Water Candy Test. Science of Cooking. n.p., n.d. Web. 11 July 2014.
-  Making Granulated Sugar From Maple Syrup With Margaret Osha Of Turkey Hill Farm. Newe Start Farm: Living an eclectic life in Central Vermont. n.p., 11 April 2013. Web. 11 July 2014.