Any good Southern cook has a supply of sweetening syrups that would put Willy Wonka to shame. Corn syrup, light and dark, and generally known by its brand name Karo (pronounced KAY-Ro). Molasses, regular and blackstrap. Sorghum. Cane syrup. Maybe even maple syrup, though that smacks somewhat of the Yankee. I use them all. Corn syrup for chess pie and pecan pie, molasses in cookies, sorghum with beans. And all are good drizzled over fresh biscuits. They each have a subtly different taste, from pure sweetness to rich complexity. But for me, cane syrup has a distinctly Southern taste.
Cane syrup is made from a sugar cane breed, ribbon cane, that grows in the South. Sorghum is made from sorghum grass, molasses from sugar cane, but by a different process, and corn syrup is, of course, made from corn. Real cane syrup can be hard to come by. It’s generally found at country stores, farm shops and roadside stands. A few years ago, I was thrilled to find some cane syrup at Boomland, an emporium of country products on the way to a friend’s grandmother’s house in the boot heel of Missouri. On the shelf next to the homemade fig preserves, pickled watermelon rind and chow chow, across from the country ham slices and thick bacon, I found the elusive jar of ribbon cane syrup. I brought it home and went on a little cane syrup spree, stirring it into my baked beans, baking cookies, Acadian gateau de sirop, drizzling over biscuits and pancakes. The next time my friend was heading to see her grandmother, I asked her if she wouldn’t mind picking up a jar of the cane syrup for me. In her generous way, she returned with half a case of jars. That really set me on the path to discovery – all the many ways to use cane syrup.
I now find Louisiana’s Steen cane syrup at the local produce market, so cane syrup never has to be an imported item anymore. And like everything else, I have no doubt it can be bought online. These simple cakes, with their crumble topping, really feature the flavor of cane syrup. You’ll be impressed by how such a simple recipe can produce such a nuanced flavor.
Cane Syrup Cupcakes
If you really can’t find cane syrup, you can use molasses (not blackstrap) instead.
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups light brown sugar, packed
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup cold butter, cut into cubes
2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups boiling water
1 cup cane syrup
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners or spray well with non-stick spray.
Combine the flour, brown sugar and salt in the large bowl of a stand mixer. Add the butter and mix until the mixture is crumbly. Set aside one cup of this mixture for the topping. Add the baking soda to the remaining mixture and combine thoroughly. Beat in the boiling water and the cane syrup until just blended.
Fill the muffin cups two-thirds full. Sprinkle the reserved topping mix over the cupcakes, spreading out evenly.
Bake the cupcakes for 20 – 25 minutes until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.
Makes 24 cupcakes