Even though it is fairly simple to make, a nice batch of maple taffy is almost considered to be a piece of art in the province of Quebec. Not only is this tradition part of our heritage as Quebecers, its undeniable deliciousness is also sine qua non when taking part in a sugar party. Sure, other Canadian provinces and some New England states might practice it as well, but enjoying sugar on snow is inherently associated to French-Canadian culture. Indeed, according to the stories, maple taffy would have been invented in Quebec during the 16th century. A nun poured molasses on snow in order to draw new students to her school: that’s how it all started.
Each year, many families gather at sugar shacks to enjoy different traditions, and the famous “tire d’érable” is often one of them. Organized by most sugar shack owners, this practice is very popular and is even considered by many to be the highlight activity of their visit. As I mentioned before, maple taffy is as fun to eat as it is easy to make. My colleagues, for instance, simply continue the boiling process past the point where sap becomes maple syrup. The more it is heated, the more the syrup thickens. Obviously, boiling it too much or for too long will turn the syrup into maple butter or sugar, which is why a precise temperature has to be met for the taffy to have the perfect consistency. They then proceed to pour the molten syrup in long stripes, usually on top of a thick layer of white snow. When in contact with ice, the syrup slightly thickens and after a few seconds, it can finally be picked up and eaten. Visitors simply roll the taffy around the end of a popsicle stick and enjoy a sweet, delicious lollypop-shaped treat.
While it is most commonly enjoyed at sugar shacks, it is also possible to make maple taffy at home and still obtain a tasty result. The only ingredients you need are maple syrup, clean snow and popsicle sticks, as well as a pot to heat the syrup, a container to collect snow and a candy thermometer. Of course, taffy is harder to make during the warmer months since it requires to have a bit of snow on hand. That probably explains why maple taffy is more popular in colder regions. Here, in Quebec, snow is available for a comprehensive period of time, which allows us to enjoy one of the most delicious spring treats for a while.
Here are the few steps to follow if you wish to make maple taffy at home:
1. Start by finding white, clean snow and fill the container of your choice with it. A foil pan, a deep plate or a large bowl will easily do the trick. Just make sure the syrup won’t drip on the sides of the container – a flat one probably isn’t the best idea. Flatten the snow and place it in the freezer while the taffy is being cooked.
2. Pour the desired amount of pure maple syrup in your pot. Two cups of syrup should yield about 15 servings, which should be more than enough for a family of five. Add more if you plan to invite more people. Heat the syrup over medium heat, but do not stir as the syrup might crystallize.
3. With your candy thermometer, check the temperature of the syrup. If you wish your maple taffy to be soft, which is probably best, boiling the syrup to 235°F (112°C) will be enough. For a thicker batch of taffy, simply heat it more. Be careful not to let it boil for too long though, as the syrup will become too solid.
4. As soon as the syrup reaches the desired temperature, pour it over the clean snow you previously collected. I would recommend pouring it in long, thin stripes as it is easier to pick up, but you could also make small puddles if you wish. The idea is to separate the molten syrup in order to make small portions.
5. Wait about 10 seconds before picking up the taffy by wrapping it around popsicle sticks. A fork could also do the trick.
Lightest grades of maple syrup are usually used to produce taffy, because their delicate yet delicious taste can be enjoyed to the fullest. Therefore, the Grade A Amber Color maple syrup is an especially good choice for those who wish to try their hand at making maple taffy at home.