This Valentine’s Day, skip the roses. Chances are good they were shipped in from South America, are covered in pesticides and carry a hefty carbon footprint. Chocolates, even those registered organic and Fair Trade, still raise travel issues for even the blindest of their lovers.

Maple products, though, are local and sustainable. If given to your beloved in the form of heart-shaped candies, poured over breakfast-in-bed pancakes or used in homemade baked goods, they can also be very romantic.

Maine maple syrup and value-added products like granulated maple sugar and maple butter or cream (syrup that has been reduced and whipped) are easily found online at Maine sugarhouse sites or in many a brick-and-mortar local food shop.

And even if your recipe isn’t written with maple syrup as an ingredient, you can use it in place of other sweeteners. But when making those substitutions, you need to keep a few facts in mind, says Katie Webster, author of “Maple, 100 Sweet and Savory Recipes Featuring Pure Maple Syrup,” which is due out later this year.

Maple syrup varies among producers and among batches, as both weather conditions and processing equipment affect the levels of sugar in the final product. All Maine maple syrup sold is U.S. Grade A quality, but it is further classified by flavor and color as light, medium, dark or extra-dark amber.

Webster sees that variation as a challenge, not an obstacle. She swaps maple syrup in equal measure when a recipe calls for other natural liquid sweeteners like honey or agave. Because corn syrup is often employed for its high levels of invert sugars, she does not substitute maple syrup for it in complicated confections or high-heat candies.

Maple syrup is generally sweeter than white sugar. If a recipe calls for 1 cup of granulated white sugar, use ¾ cup of maple syrup and decrease the other liquid in the recipe by 2¼ tablespoons. The Maine Maple Producers Association website also recommends adding ¼ to ½ teaspoon of baking soda to any baking recipes to help cakes or cookies rise, unless the recipe already calls for buttermilk, sour milk or sour cream; and reducing the baking time and temperature to prevent burning.

Granulated maple sugar can be substituted one-for-one for white sugar, but it too is a bit sweeter than white sugar. It “adds the most intense maple flavor to baked recipes because the natural water content of maple syrup is removed,” said Webster, adding that it’s particularly good for producing crispy baked goods (like the shortbread recipe here).

To elevate the flavor of maple further, use complementary ingredients. Webster says maple’s BFFs are nuts, butter, vanilla, celery(!), sherry, rum and bourbon. Adding those to whatever you decide to mix up for your sweetheart can only help sustain his or her devotion to Maine maple products – and to you.

MAPLE-WALNUT SHORTBREAD HEARTS

My husband’s favorite ice cream is maple walnut. He adores shortbread. I developed this recipe for him. If you can’t find maple butter/cream, but still want to make a glaze for these cookies, combine 2 tablespoons each of maple syrup and confectioners’ sugar, 1 tablespoon melted butter and a pinch of sea salt.

Makes 1 dozen cookies

1¼ cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/3 cup granulated maple sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for sprinkling

3 tablespoons maple syrup

¼ cup finely chopped walnuts

¼ cup maple butter/cream (for optional glaze)

Use a whisk to combine the flour and salt in a small bowl. Use an electric mixer to cream together the butter and 1/3 cup granulated maple sugar in a larger bowl. Slowly beat in the maple syrup. Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Stir in the walnuts. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Roll the dough out on parchment paper to 1/4-inch thickness and cut it into heart shapes. Leave the cookies in place, simply pulling the excess dough away from the sides of the cutouts. You can keep the cookies pretty close together because this dough will not spread in the oven. (I cook the scraps on a separate baking sheet for a cook’s treat or mix them into vanilla ice cream for a maple-walnut cookie dough effect.)

Place the parchment with the cookies on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle the cookies with the remaining 1 tablespoon of granulated maple sugar and bake for about 15 minutes. You’ll know the cookies are ready when their edges are light brown but the cookies are still soft.

Remove from the oven and let rest on the baking sheet for 5 minutes until the cookies harden a bit. Transfer them to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Warm the maple butter/cream slightly and drizzle it over (or use it to decorate) the cooled cookies.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, recipe developer and tester, and cooking teacher in Brunswick. She writes about feeding her family Maine seafood at familyfish.net. Contact her at [email protected]