Sunday, April 29, 2012

Maple Blossom Fritters

Like squash blossoms, the racemes of bigleaf maple trees can be transformed into a surprising culinary confection. Does frying them up in batter and sprinkling with powdered sugar have anything to do with it? You decide.

The maples where I live are too far along now for harvest, but higher up in the Cascade foothills I found plenty that had just blossomed the other day. You want to get the racemes just as they emerge from the protective red sheath that guards them and the unfurling leaves. At that point the racemes will be compact and tightly clustered; as they blossom, the flower-clusters become large, elongated (several inches or more), and some of the older flowers will have cottony material inside. The newly emerged racemes are easier to work with and make a daintier presentation.

Picking bigleaf maple racemes can present a challenge. On bigger trees the blossoms will often hang tantalizingly out of reach. Look for smaller trees or trees growing on a slope—or nab the blossoms from a bridge or overpass.

The taste of bigleaf maple blossoms is subtle: slightly nutty with a hint of sweetness. I've used them in the past to make pesto. The most common use is for fritters. My recipe is adapted from Poppy chef Jerry Traunfeld's, which can be found in Jennifer Hahn's excellent wild food resource, Pacific Feast. I used less water for a slightly thicker batter. Even so, this batter is very tempura-like. It's thin, drippy, and puffs up around the blossom upon hitting the hot oil. This makes for a light, chewy, beignet-like fritter that's perfect for breakfast, as a dessert course, or, with the smaller blossoms, as an adornment to pudding or crème brûlée. As with beignets, it's best to serve right away while hot and crispy.

2 - 4 cups blossoms
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp corn starch
2 cups ice water
vegetable oil
powdered sugar

1. Check blossoms for insects. Usually they'll evacuate after their hiding place has been plucked.

2. Sift together flour, baking powder, and corn starch in a large bowl.

3. Stir in ice water.

4. Heat 1 inch of vegetable oil in a large saucepan on medium-high until a drop of water crackles and pops. Dredge blossoms in batter, allow excess to drip off, and carefully place in hot oil. Don't crowd the pan. Fry until lightly browned all over. Remove to paper towels.

5. Serve immediately while hot with a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

Note: I discovered on this occasion that I'm allergic to the pollen of big-leaf maples. After a few minutes of working in the kitchen with the blossoms, I was sniffling and my eyes were a red, teary mess. The upside is that this solves a recently developing mystery for me.


k said...

Very interesting - had never thought about eating those. Too bad about the allergy though - I found out last year that I'm allergic to lupines as I had picked a bunch to dye with and a similar reaction to what you described.

Chris Troutner said...

Hey Langdon!

What a coincidence! I just put up a post on my blog about my experience with a maple flower recipe. It was a good one! Your pictures look just as tasty as mine did.

Thanks for the heads up on not eating the flowers when they are too far along. I got them early when the buds had just burst and they were delicious. I have been eyeing the larger flower buds, but wondered if they'd be nearly as good.

K Lambert said...

I like the idea of a tree growling on a out! It bites!
Have you ever tried making maple syrup from bigleaf? I've heard it can be done. Too late this season, of course, but there's always next year.

Langdon Cook said...

k - The allergy seems to be one of those late-onset deals. Only noticed it in recent years, but now I know at least one species responsible.

Chris - Just checked out your post. Cool. We're on the same page, if not the same boat. Try using the older, larger flower clusters to make pesto. Your gig up in the San Juans sounds most excellent.

K Lambert - Ha, I'm tempted to leave that typo. From what I've heard, bigleaf maples can be used for syrup, but it takes more sap than a sugar maple and no small effort. I have no plans to go sugaring any time soon, though I once helped my college roommate's family in Vermont for a weekend of sugaring.

Unknown said...

Cool!!!! I love this idea.
Last year I had maple syrup with maple blossoms at Portage Bay Cafe. I'm not sure how much flavor was imparted by the maple blossoms, but it sure was interesting.

Marcus said...

I live in eastern Washington and we have what we call vine maple. Have you ever done anything with the blossoms of these?

Epicuranoid / Michael Q. said...

Very cool, bummer about the allergy. I don't think we have the big leaf here in new england, at least not as plentiful as I recall it out there ... of course everything is bigger out there :D

Langdon Cook said...

Marcus - I haven't heard of using vine maple blossoms. They don't have the same sort of heft as a big-leaf maple.

basic bassist said...

Great recipe! I've only seen this done with elderberry blossoms before (usually with a side ofapple sauce or a preserve.) Any other blossoms this would work for?

Mr. Andy said...

Over here in the UK the Elder flowers are starting to bloom. Usually this calls for wine making but I'm definitely going to investigate the fritter option whilst I wait for the wine to ferment...
Cheers Langdon

Daniel chavez said...

Just heard about langdon on npr, very curios about foraging in new mexico. Awesome story!

Anonymous said...

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