Maple syrup and maple sugar, the first local foods to show up in our farmers markets, reflect to me that spring is finally here. The sap began flowing early this year, says Stephen Horner of Horner’s Corner, a vendor at Mill City Farmers Market in Minneapolis. He and his wife, Sandy, tap maples in western Wisconsin.

“It’s not farming, it’s an obsession,” he says.

Maple syrup and sugar are staples in my kitchen. The syrup is not just for pancakes; it gives a sweet, woody lift to vinaigrettes and meat glazes.

I use maple sugar in all my baking — brownies, toffee bars, cookies and granola. Unlike refined white sugar that is sweet but neutral, maple sugar’s distinctive flavor allows me to use less. It’s pricey, but the extra dimension it adds is well worth the cost.

Maple sugar is especially nice in biscotti, the twice-baked Italian cookie that can be savory or sweet. I make biscotti in stages, which works well in these stay-at-home days. The first is to make the dough. You can let it rest in the refrigerator until you are ready to shape into logs; these can be held, wrapped in plastic, for a couple of days. After baking the logs, they are cut into slices and baked once again. The biscotti will keep several weeks in an airtight container.

These biscotti, sparked with black pepper, a tad maple sweet, are made for dunking in morning coffee or a cup of strong tea. Serve them alongside a salad or bowl of soup at lunch.

When evening comes, head outside to watch the light fade, and nibble them with a tart jam or tangy pickle and slices of well-aged cheese.

 

Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.

 

Maple Pepper Biscotti

Makes about 24 to 32 biscotti.

Note: These crunchy twice-baked savory cookies are terrific any time of day. Feel free to vary the nuts depending on what you have on hand. Maple sugar is available in the baking section of many grocery stores and in the bulk section of local food co-ops and at farmers markets, as well as online. The cost is about $9 to $10 for a half-pound. Substitute light brown sugar, if preferred. If you don’t have buttermilk available, you can add 1 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar or lemon juice to 1/2 cup milk, or use plain yogurt (not Greek style). From "Sweet Nature," by Beth Dooley and Mette Nielsen.

• 1/2 c. blanched almonds

• 2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour

• 1/4 c. cornmeal

• 1 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper

• 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

• 1 1/2 tsp. salt

• 1 1/4 tsp. baking powder

• 1/2 tsp. baking soda

• 2 tsp. maple sugar (see Note)

• 1/2 c. buttermilk (see Note)

• 2 eggs

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Put the almonds in a baking pan and roast, tossing occasionally, until fragrant, about 7 to 8 minutes. Remove, cool and chop fine.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, black pepper, and cayenne pepper, salt, baking powder and baking soda, maple sugar, and the almonds. Make a well in the center.

In a small bowl, whisk the buttermilk with the eggs. Pour this into the well. Stir with a fork to create a crumbly dough. Gather the dough with your hands.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth but still slightly sticky. Divide the dough into 4 parts. Working with 1 piece of dough at a time, roll the dough into a log that is about 2 inches wide and 12 inches long. Repeat with the remaining dough. If not baking immediately, cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate. To bake, put the logs on 2 baking sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Bake at 375 degrees until golden, about 15 to 20 minutes. As they bake, the ends may split down the center. Cool on the baking sheets.

Reduce the heat to 200 degrees. Transfer the logs to a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut the logs into slices that are 1/2 inch thick. Arrange the slices cut side up on the baking sheets and bake until hard to the touch, about 15 minutes. Turn the biscotti over and continue baking until they are dry and very crisp, another 15 minutes. Set aside to cool. These will keep in an airtight container for several weeks.

Nutrition information per each of 32:

Calories 55 Fat 2 g

Sodium 270 mg Carbohydrates 8 g

Saturated fat 0 g Added sugars 0 g

Protein 2 g Cholesterol 12 mg

Dietary fiber 1 g

Exchanges per serving: ½ starch, ½ fat.