Although Thanksgiving marks the yearly high point of actual pumpkin eating, thanks largely to the near-ubiquitous appearance if pumpkin pies, in recent years that pie consumption has been dwarfed by a monthslong parade of pumpkin-spice products. Starbucks has sold more than 350 million pumpkin-spice drinks so it’s not surprising that makers of everything from coffee creamer to scented candles jumped on the cinnamon, gingery bandwagon. There are even pumpkin-spice Oreos, Cheerios and potato chips available.
However, news reports indicate that pumpkin spice’s flavor reign is about to be challenged. This fall, dozens of cooking articles have proclaimed maple to be “the new pumpkin spice.” Market watchers reached this conclusion partly because Starbucks rolled out a maple pecan latte with much of the same fanfare that the chain had previously reserved for pumpkin-spice lattes, and also because of a new flurry of maple-flavored products.
Suddenly, whiskey distillers have discovered maple flavor. Perhaps inspired by the “Mad Men” episode where young Sally made pancakes for her father and mistakenly topped them with bourbon instead of syrup, there’s now a way to combine the two. Jim Beam, Crown Royal and even Texas’ own Knob Creek are marketing maple-flavored varieties.
Beyond the bar, maple syrup adds a mellow flavor, and of course some sweetness, to baked goods, roasted vegetables and meats. While maple and bacon has become a popular combination as a doughnut topping, it’s even better to skip the doughnut and just apply the maple glaze directly to the bacon.
Making a maple cake that isn’t reminiscent of a stack of pancakes can be challenging, but adding a small amount of Greek yogurt or sour cream brings a contrasting note of tartness that counteracts the generous pour of maple syrup.
Maple syrup, whether on its own or spiced up with cayenne or hot sauce, makes an excellent glaze for grilled salmon, chicken or pork, because its high sugar content creates dark, well-defined grill marks. It can either be brushed on or used as part of a marinade.
For cooking, any one of the four grades of maple syrup will work equally well. Maple syrup used to be sold as either “Grade A’ or “Grade B,” with the primary difference being color. Now, in one of the clearest examples of grade inflation imaginable, there are four types of Grade A: Golden Color, the most delicate; Amber Color, a honey-colored syrup; Dark Color, a stronger-tasting variety; and Very Dark, rarely seen in stores because it is too thick to pour easily.