Maple syrup has a lovely, distinctive flavour. When buying it, look for the darker "grades", which, although they're cheaper than the lighter ones, have a stronger flavour. Don't substitute maple-flavoured syrup for the real thing in these recipes.
Maple tarts with chocolate-pecan crust (pictured)
This recipe makes one 22cm tart or lots of little ones. Be sure to use flan rings or tart pans with a removable bottom, because if you're using solid pans and the filling oozes out, it will stick maddeningly and you'll have a difficult time prying the tarts from the moulds.
For the chocolate-pecan dough:
50 grams pecans
95 grams icing sugar
¼ tsp fine sea salt
30 grams Dutch-process cocoa powder
200 grams plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for rolling the dough
150 grams unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 large egg, chilled
½ tsp vanilla extract
For the filling:
2 large eggs
½ tsp fine sea salt
30 grams crème fraiche, plus extra for serving
400ml maple syrup
20 grams dried breadcrumbs (such as panko)
Make the dough. Put the pecans, icing sugar, salt and cocoa powder in a food processor and process until the nuts are very finely ground. Add the flour and process until combined. Cut the butter into 1cm chunks, add it to the other ingredients and process until the butter is the size of small peas. Put the ingredients into a large bowl. Whisk the egg with the vanilla extract and add it to the bowl. Work the ingredients with your fingertips to make a cohesive mass. Knead the dough briefly then divide it into two portions. Shape each portion of dough into a flat disc then wrap it in cling-film and refrigerate for at least an hour. If you're making a 22cm tart, you'll need only one piece of dough; if you're making tartlets, you'll need both. The excess dough can be used for other recipes; it keeps well in the fridge or freezer.
If the dough has been refrigerated for longer than an hour, it will be very firm. Leave it at room temperature briefly - so the edges soften slightly - then knead it with your hands so it's evenly pliable. Dust a work surface with flour then roll out the dough so it's a large circle that's about 2.5mm thick. If making a large tart, carefully drape the dough over the pan. Fit the dough, without stretching it, into the contours of the pan, then double over the edges to reinforce them. Press on the edges so the layers adhere, then trim off the excess dough. If using smaller pans or flan rings (the ones I use hold about 40ml of filling, and you'll need 15 to 20), roll the dough so it's about 2.5mm thick, then cut circles of dough that are slightly larger than the pan or ring. Fit the dough into the moulds and trim off the excess. Whichever pan(s) you use, refrigerate them for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Fit a square of aluminium foil over the dough-lined pan(s) and press it into the contours. If you're making small tarts, put them on a baking tray. Put the baking tray, or the large tart, in the oven and reduce the heat to 180 degrees. Bake for 10 minutes (for small tarts) or 15 minutes (for a large tart); if the dough puffs up, press on the foil gently to flatten it. Remove the foil then continue to bake to dry out the surface: about five more minutes for the small tarts, or 10 more for a large tart. Take the tart shell(s) from the oven. Turn the oven temperature to 190 degrees.
Make the filling. Whisk the eggs with the salt and crème fraiche. Whisk in the maple syrup then gently stir in the breadcrumbs. Pour the filling into the tart shell(s) and bake at 190 degrees until the filling is set - about 10 minutes for small tarts and 30 minutes for a large one.
Cool to room temperature then serve with a dollop of crème fraiche.
Maple crème caramel
200 grams granulated sugar
600ml whole milk
6 large eggs, at room temperature
3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
½ tsp fine sea salt
200ml maple syrup
15ml vanilla extract
Make the caramel. Put the sugar in a saucepan, add about 50ml of water (the exact amount doesn't matter) and stir to moisten the sugar. Bring to the boil then wash down the sides of the interior of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in hot water. Boil the sugar until it turns a medium-dark amber; watch it carefully towards the end because it will turn from dark to burnt in an instant. Immediately pour the caramel to the depth of 5mm into eight ramekins that hold 150ml each, or six that hold 200ml each. You won't need all the caramel.
Pour the milk into a medium-sized saucepan, bring to the boil, then turn off the heat. In a bowl, whisk the eggs, yolks and salt. Whisk in the maple syrup and vanilla extract. Pour about 100ml of the hot milk into the egg mixture and whisk immediately. Add another 100ml of the milk and whisk. Whisking constantly, pour the milk in a steady stream into the other ingredients. Strain through a fine sieve then skim off the foam from the surface of the mixture.
Preheat the oven to 160 degrees. Place the ramekins on a baking pan that's about 5cm deep. Divide the egg/maple syrup mixture between the ramekins then place the pan in the oven. Pour water into the pan so it comes about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the custards are gently set. Take the pan from the oven and let the custards cool to room temperature.
Wrap each ramekin in cling-film and refrigerate for several hours.
When it's time to serve dessert, run a sharp paring knife between the custard and the side of the ramekin. Invert the ramekin onto a plate and shake to loosen the custard. Serve immediately.
Styling: Nellie Ming Lee