Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Maple Snow Taffy

Despite the title of this post, we actually call it by its early American name. “Why is it called sugar on snow?” Birdy asks, indignant, the entire time I’m making it. “It’s not sugar.” And the entire time I’m making it, I try to explain how the early settlers and later pioneers—like Laura and Mary—didn’t have access to cane sugar, and how maple syrup was sugar for them. And Birdy pauses before saying, “Still. It shouldn’t be called sugar on snow.” I’m just warning you, in case you have any terminological sticklers in your family. So it might be simpler just to call it maple taffy, which is really what you’re making here. That will also help clarify the whole snow-eating issue: you’re not making snow ice cream, where you pour cream and sugar and vanilla on snow and eat the whole bowl with a spoon, although that is also lots of fun and certainly easier—even though it’s altogether maybe 1 gazillionth as good as this, IMHO (as people like to add unhumbly). What you’re doing instead is pouring liquid maple caramel onto snow, which chills the syrup, which then hardens into a chewy lump, which you use to rid yourself of any malingering dental work (kidding, ha ha, it’s actually fairly soft). Eating the leftover snow is certainly an option, but I always think snow tastes the way a jar of pennies smells—I cannot hear its snowy siren song the way, say, Birdy can, who will gobble snow from a car tire or the bottom of someone’s boot like she’s been starving for months. She also favors the seed-and-shell-strewn snow from beneath the bird feeder. Fiber, right?

If you happen to live in Santa Cruz, where you’re much too busy hiking mountains in your bikini and boogie boarding with a frozen margarita in one hand and gathering the Meyer lemons that have fallen all over your patio to scrounge up a bowl of snow, simply spoon the hot caramel into a dish of ice cream, you poor thing.

Maple Snow Taffy
This is my friend Nicole’s recipe, and, like her, it is perfect in every way.

1 cup maple syrup (ours is B-grade amber—cheaper and darker—and we love it)
¼ cup salted butter
Clean snow (or, need be, ice cream)

In a medium-sized pot over medium heat, heat the syrup and butter together until the mixture reaches 220-235 on a candy thermometer, aka somewhere between the thread and soft ball stage, for you candy-making hardcores out there. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, time it for about 5 minutes after it comes to a boil, and then pour a little onto a plate that’s been waiting in the fridge: when the syrup is ready, it should thicken up into a soft taffy on the plate; if it doesn’t, then cook it a minute or two longer. Needless to say, your children should be nowhere near this while it’s on the stove. “There is nothing hotter than hot sugar,” my mother used to say (“Really, Mom? Not even the sun?”), and, because of the crisp English certainty of her pronouncements, I still assume they’re all true.

Let the mixture cool for a couple of minutes, then pour it by the spoonful over bowls of clean snow (or ice cream) where it will harden into a sweet lump of maple insanity. You won’t be sorry—well, until it’s gone, and then you’ll be sorry.

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