Maple bread: Soft, subtle, satisfying

March in Vermont: one day you step out of your car and, if your Bean boots aren’t laced tightly enough, lose a shoe in shin-deep mud. The next day, snow drifts out of a gunmetal-gray sky and covers the soft ground, turning the landscape wintry again.

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Thaw. Freeze. Thaw. Freeze. Yesterday it was 50°F. The crocuses alongside my south foundation made their first appearance.

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Last night, 25°F. And today, snow. (This is the view from our IT team’s window. If they ever get a chance to glance away from their computers, they can enjoy it.)

All of this adds up to absolutely perfect weather for maple sugaring.

The sap in our Vermont sugar maples flows best when it’s cold at night, warm during the day. Driving on back roads now, you’ll see tapped trees drip-drip-dripping sap into buckets. Or, just as likely, you’ll see tubes snaking among the trees, siphoning out the sap and delivering it, sometimes with a vacuum assist, to a common collection point. The sap is boiled, producing billows of sweet-scented steam, and gallons of maple syrup: one gallon of syrup for every 25 to 75 gallons of sap.

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Here’s what  it looks like out at the Sands home, where three generations gather to boil sap each year. Frank Sands is King Arthur’s chairman of the board; his wife, Brinna, wrote our “200th Anniversary Cookbook.” Frank and Brinna owned the company for years, before selling it to us, the employees, about 10 years ago. It’s a wonderful responsibility—carrying forward a 219-year-old company.

Anyway, you can see why real maple products are expensive: they’re both labor- and material-intensive.

Not only that, the flavor of real maple is so subtle that it’s difficult to bake with. But once you figure it out—ahhh, SO much better than supermarket syrup.

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Most of which, you’ll notice, is no longer labeled “maple syrup,” but simply syrup, or pancake syrup. Maple doesn’t really enter into it much at all.

So, how DO you bake with maple syrup or sugar? By using it judiciously as an integral ingredient, and more generously as a topping or glaze. For instance: our recipe for Vermont Maple Oatmeal Bread originally called for ½ cup maple sugar in the dough. Maple sugar is a pricey ingredient; to save money, I substituted 1/4 cup maple syrup in the dough, then used a mere 2 teaspoons maple sugar on top, to add crunch and stronger maple flavor.

And to enhance the dough’s “mapleness”—1/2 teaspoon maple flavor.

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The resulting loaf isn’t going to scream maple. Like the change from winter to spring, it’s subtle, gradually creeping up on you. Toasting brings out the maple flavor. And, of course, maple butter (a.k.a. maple cream)—which is simply maple syrup, whipped till thick and smooth.

Ready to experience a taste of Vermont? Let’s bake Vermont Maple Oatmeal Bread.

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There’s more to maple than Mrs. Butterworth’s. Let’s start with three ingredients that’ll enhance your maple baked treats: real maple syrup; maple sugar, and maple flavor. I’ve tried making this bread with supermarket pancake (“maple”) syrup, and not only does the flavor not come through; the bread doesn’t rise as well, probably due to the fact that real maple syrup incudes a lot of minerals (good for yeast growth) that fake maple syrup doesn’t.

For most things in life, Grade A is preferable to Grade B. But in the case of maple syrup for baking, Grade B is much more flavorful. Use subtle Grade A on your pancakes; assertive Grade B for your baking.

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Let’s get started. Mix hot water, oats, maple sugar or syrup, maple flavor, butter, salt, and cinnamon.

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Stir to combine. As you stir, the butter will soften and melt. Let the mixture cool to lukewarm; it’ll be most of the way there just by virtue of you stirring it.

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Add the yeast and the flours: all-purpose and whole wheat. I love King Arthur white whole wheat flour; and the organic version is great in yeast bread, as yeast seems to love organic flour.

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Mix for a couple of minutes with your mixer’s flat beater, till the dough comes together and starts to smooth out. You can also do this dough start to finish in the bread machine, set on the dough cycle.

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Switch to the dough hook, and continue to knead for 5 minutes or so. The dough will feel soft and elastic. It won’t be totally smooth due to the oats, but will definitely feel stretchy.

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Place the dough in a lightly greased container. As usual, I use my 8-cup measure, so I can easily track the dough as it rises.

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Let the dough rise for an hour or so; it should just about double in bulk. Look at those nice air bubbles!

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Shape the dough into a rough log. As you work with it, it’ll gently deflate. There’s no need to punch down or pound yeast dough; all that does is toughen the gluten, making it more difficult to shape.

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Smooth the dough into a log about 8 1/2” long…

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…and nestle it into an 8 1/2” x 4 1/2” loaf pan.

Ah, I feel a rant coming on…  Measure your loaf pan, inside/top dimensions. Is it an 8 1/2” x 4 1/2” standard pan? Or a larger 9” x 5” quick bread pan? The smaller pan will produce a high-rising, domed loaf. The 9” x 5” pan, which is actually 30% larger, makes a shorter, flatter loaf. So yes, that 1/2” DOES make a huge difference. A word to the wise.

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Let the loaf rise, covered, till it’s crowned about 1” over the rim of the pan; this will take about an hour or so.

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Here’s the first glaze I tried for the crust: granulated sugar, maple flavor, and water.

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Brushed on the loaf before baking, it produced a golden-brown, slightly crunchy crust.

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Now let’s take a side trip down the “real vs. fake” maple syrup path.

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I made two loaves, the one on the left with 1/3 cup fake maple syrup, the one on the right with 1/4 cup real maple syrup. Since real maple syrup is sweeter than fake, I was able to use less of it. But look how much better the yeast liked the real maple syrup—again, it’s probably the extra minerals.

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OK, back to crust glazes. This time, I brushed the crust with water…

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…and sprinkled with maple sugar.

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Be generous. Even a thick coating requires less than 1 tablespoon of maple sugar.

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And here are the finished loaves. “Fake” on the left, “real” on the right.

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Notice the crust: a little bit crunchy-crackly, and VERY tasty, due to the maple sugar. And look how nicely the loaf slices!

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Now THAT’S a thin slice of bread!

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Moist, good texture, slices like a dream—yes! This bread is especially good spread with maple butter—maple syrup whipped to a thick, creamy, nonfat spread.

Read, rate, and review (please?) our recipe for Vermont Maple Oatmeal Bread.

Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Matthew’s All-Natural Honey-Oatmeal Bread, 17¢/ounce

Bake at home: Vermont Maple Oat Bread made with real maple syrup, 14¢/ounce

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. rebender

    I was sitting on my couch last night going through the Bakers Companion cookbook when I came across this recipe. I love oatmeal and anything maple flavored so I just had to give this a try. The bread was still rising when my daughter asked me what I baked because she said the house smelled wonderful. I laughed and told her I haven’t even baked it yet. After it was done, I couldn’t believe it. It was by far the best bread I have made so far. The rise was perfect and the taste and smell incredible!!! I LOVE THIS BREAD!!!! I followed the recipe in the book and then found this blog this morning with different ingredients. I can’t wait to try it again using the new version. Thanks for the wonderful job you do there supplying all of us with great recipes and terrific products to make them.

    Reply
  2. Lish

    I just made this bread again, and it comes out perfectly. I baked it last night, and sliced it this morning with some of Cabot’s new Maple Sage rubbed Cheddar. Awesome! This bread is so soft tasty and easy to slice. My kids love it, and so does my husband who isn’t always a maple fan. Can’t wait to have it with some maple bacon or sausage as a breakfast sandwich!

    Reply
  3. Janet P.

    I just made this bread and while it was in the oven, the aroma just filled the house so much that as soon as it was out and yet still a little warm, my husband and I just had to taste it. WOW! It is so delicious! It was wonderful with just a little butter on the warm bread, and we were excited to use it on a turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce, cheddar cheese and bacon. Oh so fattening, but oh so good! I am so glad to have found this recipe! We are maple syrup lovers and the subtle taste of it in the bread is just delightful! I think this just might become our weekly bread! And by the way, thank you to the ones who answer emails asking questions about baking your recipes. They have always answered so fast and are so ever helpful!

    Reply
  4. Ann Ringness

    I’ve made this bread in my breadmachine twice now. It has a great taste and texture but the crust is too dark even though I baked it on light crust. Any suggestions? Should the water be hot even though I make it in the machine? Thanks for your help!

    Ann, keep the water hot unless you’re finding your machine over-rises the bread. As for dark crust – 5 minutes before the end of the baking cycle, open the machine and add the maple sugar glaze. That should help. Good luck – PJH

    Reply

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