When a native Vermonter friend popped one of these little morsels in his mouth, he said, “I’m tasting my childhood.” If you have ever bought maple sugar candy as a souvenir from The Vermont Country Store, you will recognize the same sweet creamy flavor when you taste these family “heirloom” maple bonbons. We did manage to hide one batch (keep them covered on the counter or in the freezer), and they were still delectable weeks later.
1 cup dark amber maple syrup
2 cups sugar
1 cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ pecan or walnut halves
Combine the maple syrup, sugar, and cream in a heavy 2-quart saucepan and attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Heat slowly over medium heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon to keep from burning, until the mixture comes to a boil. Keep stirring until the temperature reaches 236 degrees, or soft ball stage (if you drip some into cold water, it will form a soft ball). This may take up to 15 minutes — keep a close eye on it so it does not go beyond, or it may turn into a hard candy instead!
Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool to the point that you can touch the candy and it is still warm, but does not burn. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, add the vanilla, and beat the mixture until it just begins to thicken and lose its gloss. This will take only a few minutes and can also be done by hand, beating with a whisk. Be careful to watch the consistency to note the change from glossy to not, since overmixing will give it a grainy texture.
Line a baking sheet or your counter with a piece of parchment paper. While the candy is still very warm, form it into balls. Wear thin cotton cooking gloves if you have them, or lightly butter your hands. Using 2 teaspoons, scoop the candy with one spoon and push it out onto the paper with the other. With your hands, roll it into a ball and then lightly press to form an oval. Press a pecan on top and set aside to cool completely. (If you have chocolate or candy molds in the shape of a maple leaf, place a pecan in the mold and, instead of forming balls, spoon the warm candy evenly over. Cool completely before popping out of the molds.)
If you are making these with a child or a friend, like the Wilcox family did, have one person spoon the candy directly into the other person’s hands to roll, place on the paper, and press. When all the candies are made, both need to press the nuts on before the candy gets hard.
Makes 24 Bonbons