By Dianne Bunis

It must be spring -- maple sap is flowing!

During four to six weeks of New England's spring weather, the combination of cold nights and freezing days promotes the sap from sugar maple trees to flow. You might notice while driving through town, buckets collecting sap. It takes approximately 40 gallons of maple sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup. Pure maple syrup is a natural sweetener containing minerals and is low fructose. Celebrate spring with a New England tradition.

Maple Bread Pudding

Serves 4 - 6

INGREDIENTS

2 large Ciabatta rolls, (French bread is fine too)

4 dates, remove pit, finely chop

2 organic eggs, beaten

2 cups organic almond milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons 100% pure maple syrup*

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon orange zest

PREPARATION

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter four 12-ounce oven-proof ramekins.

Whisk eggs until frothy, then whisk in almond milk, vanilla, syrup, cinnamon and zest. Cut bread into 1/4-inch-thick slices, discard the crusty ends. Arrange slices upright in tightly spaced rows into prepared ramekins, tuck dates between slices.

Pour the liquid over the bread and let stand for 30 minutes, pressing down periodically with a spatula to help absorb the liquid.

To bake the pudding in a water bath, place ramekins in a roasting pan large enough to accommodate so the cups are not touching one another or the pan walls, and are sitting on top of a rack in the pan. Pour enough scalding-hot tap water into the pan to come one-half to two-thirds of the way up the sides of ramekins.


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Bake until puffed and firm in the center, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Serve warm with a drizzle of maple syrup and a dollop of crème fraîche.

*Visit Boggastowe Farm, 20 Shattuck St., Pepperell for fresh maple syrup made the old-fashioned way; call ahead 978-433-5191.