The skeletal frames stand tall in a river of white. They have survived yet another freezing Quebec winter. The first signs of spring call out to the thousands of producers, inviting them deep into the maple forests when the sap starts to thaw, and the tapping season can begin.
Each tree carries a silver bucket around its girth, collecting sap, which is then boiled down in a “sugar shack” to make 100% pure Canadian maple syrup – Liquid gold. Depending on when in the tapping season the sap is harvested determines which of the 4 grades it is classed into.
1. Golden – delicate and light in colour.
2. Amber – pure and rich in taste.
3. Dark – a more pronounced, robust taste.
4. Very dark – strong, distinctive flavour.
It was the glistening dark maple, which may I add, comes presented in a maple leaf-shaped glass bottle, only adding to its charm that made my pumpkin, maple, and date cake* with maple cream cheese frosting, complete with a crown of caramelized maple pecans just that little bit extra special. Along with the warming spices of ground ginger and nutmeg, and the kick of fresh ginger, it makes for a wonderful cake to be enjoyed at any time of the day. Particularly during the months when wood smoke casts silvery mists over the tree tops, the air is crisp enough to crack with the back of a wooden spoon, and we hibernate within the warm glow of our homes, awaiting the first signs of Spring.
*I am thrilled to have partnered up with Maple from Canada - Australia for this post.
You can find many more Maple-inspired recipes on their website
Makes one 23cm round cake.
For the cake
150g pitted medjool dates, roughly chopped.
100ml orange juice
1 tsp bi-carb soda
4 eggs, at room temperature
160g brown sugar or maple sugar
140ml light olive oil
60ml dark maple syrup
150g wholemeal plain flour
200g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
1 ½ tsp fresh ginger, finely grated
Zest of an orange
500g pumpkin, peeled
For the frosting
150g cream cheese, at room temperature
80g unsalted butter, at room temperature
80g icing sugar, sifted
1 tbsp dark maple syrup
For the pecans
125ml dark maple syrup
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
A pinch of sea-salt flakes
Preheat your oven to 160c fan forced. Grease and line a 23cm round cake tin with softened butter and baking paper.
Combine dates and orange juice (reserving the zest) in a small saucepan. Boil for 1 minute over medium heat, remove from the heat and then stir in the bi-carb. It will foam up. Allow to rest for 5 minutes. Using a food processor or blender, blitz until smooth. Set aside.
Beat eggs, sugar, olive oil, and maple syrup with an electric mixer until it becomes thick and light in colour. This should take about 6 minutes at a medium-high speed. Then add the dates and mix to combine.
Sift the flours, salt, and baking powder into a large bowl followed by the spices, fresh ginger, and orange zest and then whisk briefly to combine.
Lay a clean tea towel over a large bowl, and then grate the pumpkin into this. Bring the sides of the towel up to form a little parcel and then twist as tight as you can to squeeze as much of the liquid from the pumpkin as possible.
Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, followed by the pumpkin. Stirring well to combine. Spoon the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for about 55-60 minutes by which time it should spring back when lightly pressed with your fingertips, or a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow to rest in the tin for 10 minutes before removing onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
Now you can make the caramelized pecans. Bring the maple syrup and cinnamon to the boil, and continue to boil for 1 minute. Add the pecans, stirring for 2-3 minutes, or until thickened slightly. Pour out onto a tray lined with a sheet of baking paper, sprinkle with sea salt flakes and store in the freezer. This will make more than what you need for the cake, but it makes for a delicious snack and keeps well in the freezer in an airtight container for months.
Beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth and creamy. Add the icing sugar and maple syrup and continue to beat until combined. Set aside until the cake has completely cooled.
When the cake has cooled, spread the maple cream cheese over the top, roughly chop your desired amount of caramelized pecans and scatter over the top, then slice, serve and enjoy.
This cake will keep for at least 5 – 6 days, stored in an airtight container in the fridge, but do bring it back to room temperature before serving.