Monday, March 28, 2016

Maple Sugaring in New Hampshire

In late February and most of March, when the weather is above freezing during the day and below freezing at night, many folks in New England begin tapping sugar maple trees.  The rising temperatures creating pressure below and above the ground in the maple tree cause the sap to flow.  The girth of the maple determines how many taps to put into it.  The sap resembles water and tastes slightly sweet. 

March is when the New Hampshire Maple Syrup Producers open their doors each weekend to visitors viewing their large scale sugaring operations where many sell maple syrup to candies.  We serve award-winning maple syrup at breakfast made by the multi-generational, family-run business Fuller’s Sugarhouse in Lancaster, NH. Their grand scale operation produces more than 4,000 gallons of maple syrup each year. 

When we moved up to New Hampshire from New Jersey, we saw that some of our neighbors tapped their maple trees running plastic lines from tree to tree emptying sap into a plastic barrel.  We decided to join in the fun and tap some of our sugar maples, including one over 100 years old.  It takes about 40 gallons of sap to yield 1 gallon of dark, thick maple syrup but we pressed on not caring how long it would take us to boil it down.

Bill drilled a hole into the tree and hammered in a copper spile that he fastened to an empty plastic milk jug collecting the sap.  Each day, we would empty the sap into a large stock pot, bring it to a boil on our gas stove, turn off the flame, and let the heat from the pilot light under the pot generate enough heat for condensation of water in the sap to occur.  A slower process that took about one week, but the end result was the same as if we boiled it constantly.  The sap eventually reduced down to a dark amber maple syrup that was thick and sweet.  Our small scale operation yielded over 1-1/2 quarts of syrup which we proudly bottled for our children in New Jersey.

Our neighbor was more ambitious. He boiled sap on a wood fire pit near the edge of the forest where he tapped the sugar maples.  This larger scale home operation was more efficient because plastic tubes were connected to taps in about a dozen maple trees dripping sap into several large containers.  The sap was emptied into metal trays and boiled over the fire at a faster rate.  The wood was replenished all day until the sap became maple syrup.  The family rotated monitoring the sap boiling process.  It’s an enjoyable way to spend the day in an idyllic setting of forest, stream, and mountains.

Outdoor photos courtesy of Brian Boyle
Bottled photo courtesy of Bill Petrone

Friday, March 11, 2016

March Maple Madness Inn-to-Inn Tour – March 19, 2016

If you enjoy maple flavored treats, both sweet and savory, come stay at the Buttonwood Inn on March 18 and 19, 2016 for the March MapleMadness inn-to-inn tour.  Participants travel to the inns and maple sugar houses sampling maple-inspired treats and  receive the recipes.  If you go to each inn and obtain the puzzle piece, you will have a chance to win first prize of a $200 gift certificate for a weekend stay at any of these inns, including other gifts in the basket.

It’s a fun event because you not only sample maple treats, but tour each inn while meeting the innkeepers.  Some folks are interested in the Buttonwood Inn history which we elucidate them on or they can read it on our wall in the Mount Surprise Room.  It’s a full day of stops at ten inns and five sugarhouses where you can view their sugaring operations.

You can reserve online or call us at 1-800-258-2625 for this fun-filled and delicious event!

Chef Paula will be making Maple Ice Cream with Grade B maple syrup that is darker amber and more concentrated in flavor purchased from  Fuller’s Sugarhouse.  We serve their Grade A Amber maple syrup at breakfast.  Try this very “mapley” and creamy ice cream recipe:

Maple Ice Cream

2/3 cup Grade B maple syrup
1-3/4 cups heavy cream
¾ cup whole milk
4 large egg yolks
¼ teaspoon Kosher salt

Prepare an ice water bath in a large bowl of half ice and half water.  Heat the maple syrup in small saucepan over medium heat, simmering until reduced by a quarter, about 5 minutes, and set aside.

Heat the cream and milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat until just simmering, about 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, whisk the yolks in a medium bowl until light in color and slightly thickened, about 2 minutes.

Once the milk mixture is simmering, remove from the heat and pour about ½ cup into the yolks, whisking constantly.  Return the yolk mixture to the saucepan with the milk mixture and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the custard is thick and coats the back of a wooden spoon, about 3 minutes (when you run your finger on the back of the spoon, the line should not run back onto itself).

Remove the custard from the heat and stir in the maple syrup reduction and salt.  Pour the custard into a strainer into a large bowl and place it over the ice bath until chilled, about 40 minutes.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.  Then freeze the ice cream custard in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

27th Annual Chocolate Festival…

…is always a popular event on the last Sunday in February because chocolate lovers can cross country ski or snow shoe the trails, while consuming chocolate treats along the way.  Other participants walk or drive to each chocolate laden stop.

The Buttonwood Inn was off the beaten path and folks came up to our Bed and Breakfast sampling Paula’s chocolate delights and toured the inn.  Our inn was open from 1:00 to 5:00 pm. A few of the participants mentioned that they had been doing the Chocolate Festival for many years skiing the trails and stopping at points in North Conway village, but didn’t have enough time to come to the Buttonwood Inn. When they heard from others that our chocolate treats were the best, they had to come up this year to sample it.  A mother and daughter who live nearby came in just under the wire and asked, “Can we still receive the chocolate treat because we heard yours was the best?”  I said, “You’ve come all the way up here, so, of course, you can try a mini blackout cupcake.”  As they ate it, their faces expressed joy of the chocolate deliciousness and said, “We are so glad we made it up here because this is the best chocolate treat today.”  Every chef likes to hear their food is the best we’ve ever eaten because you know and your guests know how much attention and love you put into preparing it.

When I researched various chocolate recipes, I thought that a Chocolate Blackout Cake, a three-layer very dark chocolate cake (almost black) with chocolate pudding layers and frosting coated with chocolate cake crumbs, would be irresistible no matter how many chocolate treats were already consumed.  We were pretty much the last stop, but it was unanimous by everyone that the velvety dark chocolate pudding coated with dark chocolate cake crumbs on top of the moist, black chocolate cake layer was exquisitely luscious.  

Later at our afternoon tea service, I served our guests a regular sized Blackout Cupcake who commented, “this was the best cupcake they’ve ever had.”  I make cupcakes every Saturday afternoon because they are so popular among everyone.  When guests see them on the buffet table, I enjoy hearing them exclaim, “Oooh, cupcakes!”  We never found any left on the plate the next morning.

Reserve online for next year's Chocolate Festival or anytime at the Buttonwood Inn or call us at 1-800-258-2625.

Have fun trying this recipe.

Chocolate Blackout Cupcakes

Yield:  About 30 cupcakes


1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
¾ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 cup brewed coffee
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Fill cupcake pans with paper liners. 

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl.  Melt the butter in a large saucepan, then stir in cocoa for about 1 minute.  Take off the heat and whisk in coffee, buttermilk, and sugars until dissolved.  Whisk in the eggs and vanilla and add to the flour mixture and mix until well combined.  Using an ice cream scoop, fill the cupcake papers with the batter.  Bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the cupcake comes out clean.  Cool cupcakes completely before frosting.  Reserve 2 to 3 cupcakes to grind into crumbs in a food processor.

Pudding Frosting:

1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup whole milk
¼ cup cornstarch
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a large saucepan, cook the sugar, chocolate, half-and-half, milk, cornstarch and salt over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture begins to bubble and thicken, about 3 to 5 minutes, or longer.  Stir in the vanilla and pour into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap tightly to the top of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming.  Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight until cold and very thick.

Frost each cupcake with a ½ inch thick layer (or more) of pudding frosting and sprinkle cupcake crumbs on top.