Birch syrup is made from the sap of the paper birch (or black birch) tree, in the same way that maple syrup is made from the sap of the sugar maple tree. But the spicy, warm caramel flavor of birch syrup is quite distinct, and it’s an excellent backdrop for buttered wild hickory nuts in this rich, custard based ice cream.
Birch syrup is a latest and greatest gourmet confection. Using it is a fun culinary adventure, and, more importantly, supports sugar bush farmers. Most birch syrup is made in Alaska, the Yukon, and Russia, but maple syrup producers as far south as New England are beginning to expand to birch syrup production. Why?
It’s a great add-on to the maple sugar industry, because the equipment and techniques are the same, and the proper time to tap birch trees is just after the season for tapping sugar maples draws to a close. So, when they finish with sugar maples, farmers can use the same equipment to tap birch trees and process the sap, thus extending the season. For now, anyway.
Sometime in the not too distant future, the New England maple syrup industry could dwindle. Changes in early spring weather patterns have reduced sugar maple sap flow, and acid rain reduces the survival of maple seedlings. So the future of maple sugaring is somewhat uncertain, and putting some of their eggs in the birch syrup basket is a way for farmers to reduce risk. I like supporting their attempts to ensure future viability.
Birch syrup is beginning to appear in farm stands and specialty shops across the country, but if you cannot find it locally, you can purchase Alaska Birch Syrup online. The price is high because birch syrup is expensive to produce (birch sap is dilute and requires more boiling than maple sap), but its much stronger flavor means that a little bit goes a very long way.
The intensity of the flavor of birch syrup depends on when the sap was obtained from the tree. You can buy early-run, mid-run, or late-run birch syrup, with early-run being the mildest and late-run being most intense. In this recipe, I used 1/4 cup of mid-run birch syrup. If you use early-run, you might need to add an extra tablespoon or two. If you use late-run, you might need only 2 or 3 tablespoons.
Have you cooked with birch syrup? Have a question about it? Go ahead – make my day and leave me a comment!
Buttered hickory nuts
- 3/4 cups hickory nuts (or chopped pecans, walnuts, almonds, or hazelnuts)
- 1 and 1/2 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp granulated sugar
- Pinch of salt, if butter is unsalted
- Line a small cookie sheet with foil and set aside.
- Melt butter in small saucepan. Add remaining ingredients and cook over low heat for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Spread nuts onto foil lined cookie sheet and cool in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
- Break apart nuts and store in refrigerator until ready to use.
Birch syrup ice cream with buttered hickory nuts
Makes about 1 quart
- 3 whole large eggs
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup whole or low fat milk
- 1/4 cup mid-run birch syrup
- 1 tbsp tapioca syrup or corn syrup
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- Pinch of salt
- about 3/4 cups buttered hickory nuts
- Whisk eggs in a medium bowl until yolks and whites are well blended. Set aside.
- Add remaining ingredients to a 4 qt saucepan, and heat just to a simmer. Remove from heat immediately.
- Temper the eggs by slowly drizzling about 1 and 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture into the eggs, while vigorously whisking the eggs.
- Carefully pour the egg/cream mixture into the 4 qt pan that contains the rest of the hot cream mixture, while whisking the contents of the saucepan. You do not need to drizzle it in, since the eggs are tempered, but do not dump it in all at once.
- Cook, stirring constantly (preferably with a heat proof rubber spatula, but a spoon will do) over medium-low heat, until it thickens and reaches a temperature of about 170-175 degrees F. Be sure to scrape all portions of the bottom of the pan while stirring. Mixture should be noticeably thicker than the raw milk/cream mixture was at the start.
- Remove from heat and immediately strain through a fine mesh strainer, into a clean bowl.
- Refrigerate immediately, or pre-cool in a cold water bath for about 30 minutes. Stir occasionally during first 30 minutes of cooling.
- Cool completely, at least 4 hours in refrigerator, or overnight, but no more than 24 hours.
- Churn in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions.
- Stir in nuts as you transfer ice cream to a freezer storage container. Freeze until ready to eat.
Shared on: The HomeAcre Harvest Hop, From the Farm Blog Hop #57, Homesteaders Hop#17, Tutorials, Tips, and Tidbits #73, Showcase Your Talent Thursday #86, Backyard Farming Connection #57, Show and Share Wednesday #63, Fresh Foods Wednesday #65, Simple Life Sunday #2