Several times in almost eight years of writing this column, I’ve documented how food friends regularly give me sundry locally grown or crafted ingredients. I don’t ask for the paper bags of foraged mushrooms, the jars of unique preserves, or the containers of dried and ground spices left on my stoop. The givers simply know the gifts will never go to waste and will always be appreciated.

Many Maple Sundays ago, an old Mainer with a significant sugar bush on his property told me that in March he made his morning coffee with fresh maple sap. I’ve wanted to give it a go since. But try as I might to cozy up to folks who tap sugar maples, I’ve never been given sap. Maple sap is different from commercial maple water in that it’s unpasteurized, a process that helps preserve it. The part of my brain that has a direct line to my taste buds and knows my love for cheese made from unpasteurized milk has been whispering, shouting really, “Sap simply must taste better in coffee than plain water!”

Aficionados say the caramel sweetness of maple can elevate the chocolatey, nutty undertones of coffee.

Columnist Christine Burns Rudalevige holds up a container of maple sap from a friend’s tree. She used the sap in place of water to make a cup of coffee. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

I was sick of waiting so straight out asked for some of the good stuff to be brought to my door. A friend posted pictures on social media of sap boiling into syrup over a wood fire in her driveway in southern Maine. She was also, coincidentally, coming to dinner that weekend and inquired what she could bring. “How about some sap?” I said.

She did not hesitate. She did do some research and found that the best way to transport a quart of sap tapped on a Tuesday to a dinner party on a Saturday was to strain it first for bits of bark and bugs and then freeze it so it wouldn’t go cloudy. I’d just need to thaw it in the fridge the night before I wanted to make coffee.

Maybe my sap-to-coffee ratio was off, maybe the freezing altered the sap in some unanticipated way or maybe that old Mainer has a sharper palate than I, but I was underwhelmed with my sap coffee. Possibly, the sap smoothed some of the bitter edge of the coffee, but the combination was not at all sweet. I should not have expected it to be, as sap is 98 percent water and just 2 percent maple sugars. That’s why is takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.

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There must be a better way to meld maple and coffee flavors in the same cup, especially since coffee retailers from the national chain Starbucks to the Portland-based Coffee By Design add maple flavor to some of their roasted coffee beans. According to Valerie Cole of the Cole Farm Maple in Dayton, the maple-flavored coffee sold at the Maine Maple Sugar House at the annual Cumberland County Fair is a very popular item.

Cole also recalled an accidental flavor melding, and a hit, at one of the first Maine Maple Sunday pancake breakfasts held at Andy’s Agway, a feed and farm center also operated by the Coles. “I sent a helper back to the sap house to get more coffee to top off the carafes. He mistakenly came back with a pot of maple syrup, which he poured into the carafes…and suddenly, everyone wanted more of that terrific maple coffee!”

Maple syrup dissolves quickly in both hot and cold beverages, so you’re never left with crystals at the bottom of your drink. And unlike processed white sugar, maple syrup doesn’t add empty calories because it also contains antioxidants and essential minerals from calcium to zinc. Cole recommends using the “dark” grade of maple syrup as its robust flavor is the best match for coffee.

Third-party processors also infuse coffee flavor into maple syrup and sell it as a premium product. Stonewall Kitchen in York has sold one for several years but recently discontinued it, not because customers didn’t like it, a company spokesman told me, but due to supply chain logistics. Runamok Maple, which sells a 250-milliliter bottle of coffee-flavored maple for $17.95, suggests pouring it over buckwheat pancakes, baking it into chocolate cakes, and stirring it into creamy cocktails.

I suggest making your own by combining 1 cup of Maine maple syrup with 1/4 cup Maine-roasted coffee beans and 1/4 cup brewed coffee in a small pan. Simmer the lot over low heat for five minutes, turn off the heat, allow the mixture to cool to room temperature and strain the syrup from the beans into a clean jar. Store the infused syrup in your refrigerator for anytime you crave the mix of coffee and maple flavors or to whip up these cookies.

Local foods advocate Christine Burns Rudalevige is the editor of Edible Maine magazine and author of “Green Plate Special,” both a column about eating sustainably in the Portland Press Herald and the name of her 2017 cookbook. She can be contacted at: [email protected]

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Rudalevige makes the coffee-infused maple syrup. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Chewy Maple-Coffee Cookies

Take care not to overmix this dough, which will make the cookies tough.

Makes 24 cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup coffee-infused maple syrup
1 tablespoon instant coffee or espresso powder
1 teaspoon vanilla paste

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, cardamom, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the flavored maple syrup, the egg and the instant coffee and beat until thoroughly combined.

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Add the combined reserved dry ingredients in 2 parts, beating after each addition only until the dough just comes together. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the dough for 1 to 48 hours to allow the flavor and color to develop.

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Adjust the rack to the middle position. Line 3 sheet pans with parchment paper or silicon mats.

Form the chilled dough into 1-ounce-sized balls (about 2 tablespoons). Roll each in maple or white granulated sugar. Place 8 balls on each sheet pan, leaving 3 inches between them as these cookies will spread considerably.

Bake the cookies until they are puffy in the center, about 7 minutes. Give the pan a firm few taps against the oven rack to deflate the centers, and cook until the cookies spread out a bit, and the edges are golden brown, 2-3 more minutes. The centers will be just slightly underdone.

Remove the cookies from the oven and tap the pan against the counter so that the edges wrinkle and the centers are flat and crinkled. Cool the cookies in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer them to a rack to cool completely.


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