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Home Plate: The sweet taste of maple

  • Maple almond praline roulade<br/><br/>HILLARY NELSON for the Monitor

    Maple almond praline roulade

    HILLARY NELSON for the Monitor

  • Tim Meeh checks syrup as it boils.<br/><br/>HILLARY NELSON for the Monitor

    Tim Meeh checks syrup as it boils.

    HILLARY NELSON for the Monitor

  • Maple almond praline roulade<br/><br/>HILLARY NELSON for the Monitor
  • Tim Meeh checks syrup as it boils.<br/><br/>HILLARY NELSON for the Monitor

Every season has its trio of delights. In mid-March the troika is: 1) almost 12 hours of light a day; 2) cross-country skiing on corn snow; 3) steamy sugar houses, where maple sap boils over wood fires.

My in-laws seem to never sleep during sap season. Maple syrup is nearly half their living (the other half is a combination of hay and wood). It’s hard work, all the tapping and sap-hauling and wood burning and syrup boiling. Never mind the canning and promoting and selling and shipping.

In August, dragging a crate of maple syrup to a farmers market feels old. But now, in March, when the sun is rising higher in the sky day by day, and the air is warm enough to stand in for a coat, and the red-winged black birds have returned with their dopey cowbird step-brothers, and the sap isn’t just running, it’s gushing – now, gathering sap and making syrup feels likes the best job any person has ever had in the history of the world.

Unless, maybe, you have the job of creating recipes for this year’s fresh-out-of-the-sugar-house maple syrup. So far, it’s Grade A Light Amber. And it’s sublime.

I am tempted to say that you could replace the maple syrup in the recipe for Roast Chicken with Maple, Garlic and Smoked Paprika with another sweetener – brown sugar, maybe, or honey. But don’t. This recipe is really good just as it is. And if you don’t happen to have any smoked paprika on hand (it’s pretty easy to find in grocery stores these days) use regular paprika, or take a chance and substitute any herb or seasoning that strikes your fancy.

As for the Maple-Almond Praline Roulade, the recipe looks long and complicated, but it really is pretty fast and easy to put together. The hardest part is making the praline, and that could be left out completely if you’re shy on time or ingredients. Keeping in mind that maple is a subtle flavor, and that the roulade is worth savoring on its own, it would also be delicious with a sauce made from frozen berries, or, in season, fresh ones.

Roast Chicken Glazed with Maple,
Garlic and Smoked Paprika

1 3- to 3½-pound chicken

salt and pepper to taste

1∕2 cup grated garlic (about 6 large cloves)

1∕4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon more for the pan

1∕2 teaspoon hot or mild smoked paprika, (or to taste)

2 tablespoons maple syrup

Turn the oven to 425 degrees.

Place an oven-safe skillet, wok or dutch oven inside the oven as it preheats; anything made of well-seasoned or enameled cast iron works well.

Do not use a pan unsuited to high temperatures, for example, a skillet treated with teflon.

Rinse the chicken, pat it dry, then use a large knife to split it through the breast bone, leaving the backbone intact.

Open the chicken and press down to flatten it.

Salt and pepper it well on both sides, then set it aside while you prepare the Maple-Garlic glaze.

Combine the grated garlic, 1∕4 cup olive oil, paprika and maple syrup in a small bowl and stir well. Turn the flattened chicken skin side-down and spread the garlic mixture evenly over the top of it (what used to be the inside of the chicken).

Remove the hot pan from the oven, add the 1 tablespoon of olive oil and swirl to evenly coat the bottom of the pan. Place the chicken, skin side-down in the hot pan and return immediately to the oven.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, turning the chicken once to make sure it cooks evenly. After 45 minutes, check the internal temperature of the chicken with an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chicken’s thigh.

When the temperature reads 155 degrees, remove the chicken from the oven.

Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes before removing it to a cutting board for carving; this will allow the chicken to finish cooking and retain its juices when cut. If the skin sticks to the pan when you lift the chicken, slide a spatula or other implement carefully between the skin and the pan to separate them.

Remove as much of the fat from the pan drippings as possible, then pour the drippings over the chicken before serving.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Almond-Maple Praline Roulade

For the roulade:

6 eggs

1∕4 cup real maple syrup

11∕3 cups almond flour or blanched almonds that have been reduced to flour in a food processor, divided

2 tablespoons rice flour (or other starch, such as white wheat flour, tapioca flour, or cornstarch)

1∕2 teaspoon baking powder

4 tablespoons butter, melted, divided

For the Maple-Almond Praline

1∕4 cup white sugar

2 tablespoons real maple syrup

1∕2 cup chopped, blanched almonds

For the Maple Whipped Cream:

1 cup cold whipping or heavy cream

1 tablespoon real maple syrup

1∕2 recipe Maple Almond Praline

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Use 1 tablespoon of the melted butter to brush the bottom and sides of a 13-by-18-inch, half-sheet tray.

Place a piece of parchment paper on the buttered surface, allowing the edges of the parchment to overlap the edges of the tray by a few inches. Brush the parchment thoroughly with butter and set the pan aside.

Place the eggs along with the maple syrup in the bowl of an electric mixer and, using the whisk attachment, begin beating the eggs at low speed.

Gradually increase the speed of the mixer to high and beat the mixture until it has dramatically increased in volume and lightened in color; this should take several minutes.

If the mixture is ready before you have prepared the almonds, turn the electric mixer to low and continue whipping the mixture until you are ready to proceed (this keeps the eggs from deflating).

Toss 1 cup of almond flour with the rice starch and baking powder; combine well. Using a whisk or spatula, sprinkle about 1∕3 of the almond mixture over the egg mixture and fold them together very gently so the eggs don’t fall. Repeat twice more, until all the almonds have been folded in.

Gently fold the melted butter into the batter until it is evenly dispersed, then pour into the prepared pan. Shake the pan gently from side to side so the batter settles evenly before placing in the preheated oven.

After 5 minutes, turn the pan so the cake cooks evenly. Bake for an additional 5 minutes or so (it may take a little less time, depending on how hot your oven runs).

The cake is done when it has become golden around the edges and is no longer shiny on top.

Do not over-bake – it’s better to risk the cake being slightly underdone.

Allow the cake to cool for 5 minutes or so.

While the cake is cooling, lay a piece of parchment that is several inches larger than the cake on all sides onto a clean work surface or sheet tray.

Sprinkle the parchment as evenly as possible with the remaining 1∕3 cup of almond flour. When the cake has cooled, carefully turn it out onto the almond-sprinkled parchment. The bottom of the cake will now be facing up; gently peel the baking parchment from it being careful not to tear the cake.

Leave the baking parchment covering the cake so it doesn’t dry out as it cools.

Maple-Almond Praline

While the cake cools, make the Maple-Almond Praline. Heat the 1∕4 cup sugar mixed with 3 tablespoons of water in a medium-sized heavy skillet or pot over medium heat.

Bring the mixture to a simmer and watch it carefully, swirling the pan or stirring the mixture occasionally until it begins to caramelize and turn golden.

When the sugar has turned golden-brown, turn the heat to low and very carefully, to avoid being burned by the spattering sugar, add the maple syrup.

Stand back for a moment until the pot stops boiling quite so furiously, then stir the mixture to incorporate the syrup into the caramelized sugar (it may be a bit lumpy at first).

Add the chopped blanched almonds to the maple-sugar mixture; it will crystallize a bit, but that’s fine.

Continue stirring over low heat to toast the nuts and cover them evenly with the maple-sugar.

When the nuts smell nicely toasted and are well-coated, pour the mixture onto a sheet of parchment or a buttered sheet tray to cool.

When cool enough to handle, crumble the praline into a food processor and pulse several times, until it is broken into small pieces but is not completely powdered.

Alternatively, you may crush the praline between two sheets of parchment with a rolling pin to break it up. Set the praline aside while you make the Maple Whipped Cream.

Maple Whipped Cream

Place the very cold cream and 1 tablespoon of maple syrup in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat with the whisk attachment on medium-low to begin with (so the mixture doesn’t spatter).

When the cream begins to thicken, turn the speed of the mixer up to medium-high and whip until the cream forms soft peeks.

Don’t over-beat, as the mixture will continue to thicken when the praline is added to it and when it is spread on the cake.

Add half the Maple-Almond Praline to the whipped cream and stir gently.

Assembling the Cake

Place the cake so that its long side is parallel to the edge of your counter.

Use a spatula to spread the Maple Whipped Cream evenly over the entire surface of the cooled cake, except for the top 1∕2 inch or so (this is because as the cake is rolled, cream will be squeezed into this area).

Lift the bottom edge of the parchment paper under the cake and gently roll the cake back on itself. Using the parchment paper to assist, continue lifting and rolling the cake until it is completely rolled up.

If you would like to eat the cake immediately, use a long metal spatula to lift it onto a serving platter (you may cut it in half first, if desired, so that it will fit onto a smaller serving dish).

Scatter the other half of the praline over the top of the roulade and serve immediately, using a serrated knife to cut 1-inch slices, and scattering individual plates with some of the loose praline from the platter.

If you would like to serve the cake at a later time, you may either cut it in half for easier storage, or refrigerate the entire cake.

Before refrigerating, roll the parchment around the roulade so it holds its shape while chilling.

Refrigerated, the roulade will keep well for at least 24 hours.

The assembled cake should not be frozen, however, because the whipped cream will separate and become watery.

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