Homemade maple sugar is easy to make at home and only takes about 20 minutes, start to finish. The best part? All you need is one ingredient…maple syrup.
Maple syrup is downright delicious, but it can be tricky to substitute maple in place of granular sugar in recipes. Maple sugar is different, and it’s very convenient for use in your favorite recipes. The problem is, it can be expensive to buy, as much as $25 to $30 per pound.
Maple syrup is expensive, but it’s nothing compared to maple sugar. It takes roughly one pint of maple syrup to make one pound of maple sugar, but the syrup is half the price of the sugar.
You’d think with that kind of cost that it must be hard to make your own maple sugar, but it’s actually remarkably easy. Since we make our own maple syrup on our land here in Vermont, converting some of it to maple sugar means we can cook just about anything with homegrown sweetener.
What is Maple Sugar?
Maple sugar is just maple syrup that’s been cooked a bit longer and then stirred with a paddle until it forms a granular sugar. Making cane sugar is actually a similar process, where the cane juice is heated and then stirred with a paddle until it crystallizes.
In the days before European colonization, native peoples poured this hot syrup into troughs made from hollowed-out logs and stirred it with giant paddles until it crystalized. Granular sugar is a lot easier to transport and store than liquid, especially before convenient bottles. In a more solid form, the sugar cakes could be stored in birch bark packets, like this birch bark cone from a museum display here in Vermont.
To make maple syrup, you cook maple sap until it’s heated to 7.5 degrees F above the boiling point of water. Fun fact…the boiling point of water changes with elevation, so it’s not always 212 F.
For every 500 feet of elevation above sea level, the boiling point of water drops by about 1 degree. Our home is at about 1000 feet in elevation, so water boils at 210 degrees F, and when we’re canning up our homemade maple syrup it’s cooked to 217.5 degrees.
According to the Cornell Maple Bulletin, “Granulated maple sugar is prepared by heating maple syrup until the temperature is 45° to 50° F (25° to 28° C) above the boiling point of water.” This corresponds pretty closely to the “hardball” stage for candy making. There’s a bit of wiggle room in there, and the temperature doesn’t need to be as exact as when you’re making maple syrup, so it’s much easier for the home maple sugar maker.
Choosing Maple Syrup for Making Maple Sugar
The first step to making maple sugar is obtaining some maple syrup. You can make it yourself like we do, or you can buy a pint at the grocery store. It really makes no difference to the final product. What does matter is the grade of maple syrup you’ve chosen.
Maple grading used to be simple, and “Grade A Fancy” was the very light delicate syrup with minimal maple flavor, while grade B is much darker and has a lot more maple-y taste. It was a little joke Vermonter’s played on out-of-state tourists because the best tasting syrup is grade “B” and by naming it that, Vermonters were able to keep it to themselves.
In the last few years the maple trade organization changed things up, and now everything’s grade “A.” More or less because grade “A” sells better, but now it’s hard to know what you’re buying. Here’s a guide to the current maple grading system, but in a nutshell look for the darker syrup if you want more concentrated maple flavor, and lighter grades if you want something that approximates table sugar (why bother?).
For dark full flavored maple sugar, choose what’s currently known as “Grade A Dark Amber” (formerly grade B).
How to Make Maple Sugar
Regardless of the maple syrup you choose, the process is the same. Place the syrup in a deep, heavy-bottomed pot and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat.
It’s important that you don’t stir the syrup as it boils because that can initiate crystallization prematurely. Not the end of the world, but you’ll end up with something more like maple hard candy instead of maple sugar. If that happens by mistake, just add water to the pot to re-dissolve the sugar and start over.
The syrup will bubble vigorously, and often sugar makers add a tiny sliver of butter to the pot to help keep the foam down. I think a better trick is to take a pat of butter and run it in a ring around the hot pan about an inch above the level of the syrup. When the syrup starts to bubble, it’ll foam up and hit that tiny greased ring and the bubbles won’t foam over that, at least in my experience.
Either way, use a deep pot so that there’s plenty of space. That’ll allow the syrup space to foam, but you won’t need to stir it to prevent an overflow.
At medium-high heat, maple syrup reaches maple sugar stage pretty quickly. On my stove, it only took about 12 minutes of cooking to reach 255 to 260 degrees F.
I use an instant-read digital candy thermometer for this, and it’s really convenient. Once the syrup is up to temp, remove the pot from the heat immediately so that the syrup doesn’t scorch.
At this point, you can either begin stirring immediately or you can wait for the syrup to cool to a more manageable temperature. The Cornell Maple Sugar bulletin discusses this point, with a note of caution: “Following cooking the syrup can then be stirred immediately or allowed to cool to about 200° F (93°C), and stirred either in the cooking vessel or in an appropriately sized container until granulation is achieved. Due to the high temperature of the syrup when it is being handled and stirred several precautions should be observed. The producer should have protective gloves, protective apron, long pants, closed shoes, and eye protection.”
Keep in mind, that’s in a commercial setting where they’re working with huge amounts of extremely hot syrup. At home, yes it’s hot, and it will burn you if you get it on yourself, but there’s no reason to go full hazmat when making maple sugar.
You have two options, either begin stirring the maple directly in the pot with a sturdy wooden spoon or carefully transfer the hot syrup to a stand mixer. If you stir it by hand, it takes about 5-7 minutes of continuous stirring and a lot of elbow grease.
As the syrup thickens, it becomes very difficult to stir, and if you stop it’ll harden into a solid brick. If you’ve got a few strapping teenagers in the house, put them to work stirring it by hand.
If not, a KitchenAid mixer makes short work of the job. After about 1 minute on low, the sugar is already starting to form into crystals.
Keep the mixer steadily paddling the maple and it’ll be a fine maple sugar soon after. In a KitchenAid mixer with the paddle attachment, it only took about 2 minutes from hot syrup to full maple sugar.
I didn’t allow it to cool to 200 degrees, I just put the hot “hardball” stage maple syrup directly into the stand mixer and turned the paddle on low. Keep it on low so it doesn’t splash, but still obviously keep your face and hands away for safety.
Once the color changes dramatically, and the syrup has formed into a light-colored powder it’s done.
Turn off the mixer and marvel at your homemade maple sugar! At this point, the maple sugar is technically done, but there are going to be some larger chunks in the mix. If you want a smooth maple sugar that’s good for baking, you need to sift it through a fine-mesh strainer.
That’ll give you fine maple sugar, and then you’ll have some larger maple nubbins sifted out. Those bigger pieces are perfect for sweetening coffee or using in other hot liquids where they’ll dissolve.
I didn’t have to worry about that, my 3-year-old daughter swooped in and stole the leftover chunks. They’re just basically tiny pieces of maple sugar candy, and you cant keep tiny baby hands off them.
Once you’ve filtered out the maple sugar, store it in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and it’ll keep at room temperature indefinitely, just like table sugar.
Homemade maple sugar makes really lovely gifts, and it’s a great way to take something simple you can pick up at the grocery store and turn it into something a little bit exotic for your loved ones. Most people have never had the luxury of maple sugar, and it’s not often sold outside the northeast.
A note on yield: Though the syrup cooks down considerably as water evaporates, the resulting sugar fluffs back up in volume. If you’re trying to make 1 cup of finished sugar, start with one cup of maple syrup. One pint of syrup yields about 1 pint of maple sugar, or about 1 pound of maple sugar.
Homemade maple sugar is easy to make at home with only one ingredient: Maple Syrup. A note on yield: Though the syrup cooks down considerably as water evaporates, the resulting sugar fluffs back up in volume. If you're trying to make 1 cup of finished sugar, start with one cup of maple syrup. One pint of syrup yields about 1 pint of maple sugar, or about 1 pound of maple sugar.
How to Make Maple Sugar
Homemade maple sugar is easy to make at home with only one ingredient: Maple Syrup.
A note on yield: Though the syrup cooks down considerably as water evaporates, the resulting sugar fluffs back up in volume. If you're trying to make 1 cup of finished sugar, start with one cup of maple syrup. One pint of syrup yields about 1 pint of maple sugar, or about 1 pound of maple sugar.
Have you used Maple Sugar to make jelly? My DIL cant have white sugar. I make jelly the old fashioned way with just fruit juice and sugar, no pectin. I am wondering if this will work with maple sugar. I would like your thoughts on this.
I have made plenty of jams with either honey or maple syrup instead of white sugar. Both are a bit sweeter than white sugar, and add a bit more flavor since they’re not plain white sugar. Use about 2/3 as much with liquid honey or maple.
I haven’t used maple sugar, since it works just fine with maple syrup, but there’s no reason maple sugar wouldn’t work too. Again, use less than you would with white sugar.
Little confused. Looks like it’s going to work but the times were WAY off for me. Hard ball state at vigorous boil was about 20-25 minutes and I’m at 15 minutes with the KitchenAid and it’s slowly, slowly getting there.
That’s really strange…I’ve actually accidentally made maple sugar by stirring it too much when cooking. I found a recipe for maple shortbread and it had you cook the maple syrup down a bit to reduce it before then adding flour and butter for a simple shortbread. I stirred it while it was cooking down, literally just a few times, and it seized up into a brick. Not exactly maple sugar because I didn’t keep stirring it to fluff it up, but the consistency should change VERY rapidly if you stir it at temperature.
I wonder…are you at a higher altitude? If so, your hardball stage is at a different temperature. Stove efficiency could be the reason for it taking longer to get up to hardball temp, but it should change consistency with just a few minutes of stirring in the Kitchenaid. If it’s not, then something’s not quite right…altitude (or a thermometer not reading quite right) is my best guess.
This happened to me, I just kept going. I started it on low until it was cooled down enough and put it at medium. It was taking forever so I jacked it up to medium high and it came together within a minute.
Mine is a lot darker than the one pictured though, it’s more of a light brown sugar color. It may be due to the grade? I used A because that’s what I could find. It took longer to get there than the recipe stated but there are several factors that can affect time.
I was told that you need to use light syrup because the dark syrup had too many impurities in it to crystallize. True or not??
Not true. Grade B works fine, and that’s what I use for more flavor in the finished sugar.
Great! I have gallons of that
GREAT info and recipe. I have purchased maple syrup hard candies and they usually add glucose and/or cane sugar.
I wonder if you boil the syrup until is seizes up then you’d have 100% maple sugar candy. Am I correct?
Maple candy is actually made at a lower temperature. There’s good instructions on that process here: https://food52.com/blog/12258-how-to-make-maple-candy
I was given some hard maple syrup cubes and was told the folks who were making the syrup let it go too long. They couldn’t do a thing with these cubes. They are rock solid. Your sight says to add water. This is all new to me! Do I put it in cold or hot water? Is there a ratio for water to maple cubes? I would love to reconstitute it and try making your maple sugar! But even maple syrup would be fine with me.😊
So maple cubes are pretty darn good if you have a micro plane (which is a very sharp grater with fine teeth). But yes, if you want maple syrup, you can dissolve them in water and cook them again to the correct finish temperature. The downside is that it’ll be darker than the original. It’ll have a darker caramel color and stronger flavor that it would have just cooked to syrup once.
There’s no particular ratio, but maybe try starting at a 1:1 ratio like you would if making a simple syrup. Slowly warm it until the cubes dissolve, then cook until it reaches the finish temperature for maple at your altitude. Good luck!
I made my maple sugar according to your recipe and I’m very pleased! I did end up with a layer of hardened sugar in the bowl of my KitchenAid and now I’m trying to find a way to get it out so I don’t waste it. I’m thinking about dipping the bowl in really hot water to attempt toloosen it. Thank you for making this process so simple to follow. We have made syrup for many years but I never tried sugar until now. 🙂
Could I do this with honey?
Yep, it should work!
Your recipe says to use a Kitchenaid paddle, would a regular old school mixer with beaters work? Or must it be a paddle?
I love the idea of making this but I don’t have any strapping boys and my elbow is losing some of its grease.
You can really use any method of stirring that is available to you. The paddle attachment on the kitchen aid just makes it a little easier.
I have made maple sugar several times but always by hand. After the last time making/stirring by hand, I had enough and figured it had to be do-able using a stand mixer. I found your post and was overjoyed that I may save my arm and shoulders the strain of stirring. I followed these instructions to mix in my stand mixer, and the maple sugar never came to be – even after 30 minutes. It just ended up like soft maple candy. The mixture had come to temperature (about 257 degrees), so I’m not sure that was the issue. Perhaps the level of humidity in my kitchen? This just happened this afternoon, so I put it all on a baking sheet in the fridge, hoping to harden it and then run it through the blender to see if I can salvage it. Would that work in theory?
I’d guess that maybe it needed to get ever so slightly hotter? Are you at a higher elevation (above 500 to 1000 ft)? In that case, the boiling temperature goes up by 1 degree for every 500 feet in elevation gain, so it may just not be quite hot enough to make sugar (especially if going into a cold mixer). You should be able to re-heat the mixture to salvage it, if you can get it off the pan…
My city’s elevation is about 900 ft., so maybe that was a factor. Luckily, I put the mixture on a Silpat on the baking sheet, so no problems with sticking. I ended up drying it out in the oven on the lowest heat setting and then running it through my Vitamix to make the sugar. It actually worked! Perhaps I will try heating the mixing bowl next time. Thank you for the tip!
Do you think this would work with a hand mixer?
It should, but I haven’t tried it. Honestly, it was made historically in a trough with a wooden paddle by hand, so a hand mixer should work out just fine.
Vamoose Sugar Shack
If you’re going to stir in a mixer, and not in the pot, I would recommend taking the option of letting it cool a bit first, and also brushing the edge of the mixer bowl with oil or butter. It can boil up again in the mixing bowl and over the edge, even after a few minutes of mixing. Also, the heat rising from the bowl can trigger the mixer’s automatic shutoff due to overheating.
Please please mention NOT to use a plastic coated paddle with the Kitchen Aid mixer! It will decompose in such hot temps. I have an older KitchenAid mixer and my paddle is plastic coated which is wearing down after years of use.
We just finished our first-ever batch of maple sugar! We’ve been making syrup from sap from our trees for a couple years now and since we still have enough syrup for the next year, we decided to make the sap into sugar this year. Our 22 gallons of sap (not the greatest year for sap collection in our neck of the woods) resulted in a little over 3 quarts of loose-pack sugar. It is near identical consistency and color to brown sugar. It has quite a smoky flavor, like our syrups, since we use an open air wood fire sugar shack for the bulk of the evaporation. We just kept going past the syrup temp in our final boil to get to hardball. Like other comments, the syrup to hardball times were more like 90 minutes, and the mixer did well but went 15 minutes before it couldn’t turn anymore – I believe that was because of the softer consistency we experienced. We finished it off by hand. By the way, we rubbed a cold wet towel on the outside of the mixing bowl to help it cool down quicker. Thanks for pointing us in the right direction – great article!
I made this today (twice) and both times I had a substantial amount of sugar stick to the side of my mixer. I boiled water and added it to my mixer bowl to dissolve, so now I have delicious maple water, but I would rather have it in sugar form. How have you successfully made yours without so much sticking? (You mention a pint of syrup yields about a pint of sugar, my yield was less due to the sticking.)
You can always take that maple water and boil it back down to eliminate the water. Did you use the paddle attachment and how long did you process it for?
Yes, I used my metal KitchenAid paddle the first time, and I didn’t time how long, but it was a few minutes. I couldn’t scrape off with any other tools, so I don’t think it would have helped if I processed longer. The second time, I used an off brand paddle attachment that has silicone meant to scrape the sides as you mix. That was a great idea until I realized I didn’t let the maple syrup cool enough and bent the plastic (whoops!), so I was again left with a thick coating on the bowl.
I decided to keep the maple water to add to drinks as both ice and liquid form. 🙂
Ooops. Oh no. Well hopefully if you try it again it will work out better for you. I bet the maple water is really tasty though.
I tried to make half gal syrup to sugar and my kit aid got so hot I turned it off. Never turned to sugar. Could it b cause I cooked it to 272 being too hot, or cause there was sugar sand at bottom of jar that went into boil. We make our own syrup. Thanks
It sounds like you definitely got it too hot. You only need to heat it to 7.5 degrees above boiling.