How to Make Toffee With Maple Syrup, Snow and Your Kids

Ever wonder how that maple syrup got to your breakfast table?

Do your kids love sweet treats?

Does your family like music, dancing, good food and great company?

Wherever you live, you can have a sugar shack adventure and bring the traditions of the sugaring off season to your table.

Sugaring off, which usually happens in March, is the time of year when sugar maple trees are tapped for their slightly sweet sap. This sap is then boiled down and transformed into maple syrup. This is the good stuff—none of that corn syrup and water!

And in maple country, it’s much more than that. In this article I’ll show you how to bring to life the best of the sugaring off season, whether you live in Quebec (where 75% of the world’s maple syrup is produced) or amid palm trees in southern California or anywhere in between!

Discover how to harvest maple syrup, make maple taffy in your own kitchen and experience Quebec's sugaring off season from wherever you live.

Why Have a Sugar Shack Adventure?

A sugar shack adventure, commonly known as sugaring off, is a wonderful way to say goodbye to the last days of winter and watch as the world starts gearing up for spring. Sugaring off season is the perfect time to take a walk with your family through the forest and discover various natural processes in the world around us.

It’s also a great time to discuss the seasons with your kids and share with them all of the gifts that nature has to offer. Maple syrup is one of those gifts—a natural, pure and unprocessed substitute for sugar.

In sugar maple country, this is also a time to get together with friends and family to celebrate.

A party to celebrate and enjoy sugar? How cool is that?

Sugaring off is steeped in tradition.

A sugar shack, or cabane à sucre in French, is the place to visit during the month of March. Imagine being whisked through the snow-covered forest in a horse-drawn sled past hundreds of maple trees to a traditional wood cabin where sap is being simmered into syrup in large, flat metal pans over wood fires.

boy in carriage

A horse-drawn carriage takes visitors through the woods to the sugar shack.

After seeing the maple syrup process in action, you follow friends and family into a large room full of long, wooden tables. You’re served steaming plates of omelets, baked beans, sausages and pancakes—with lots of maple syrup, of course—while you listen to lively folk music played on fiddle and accordion.


Enjoy listening to folk music from the sugar maple region while you read.

After the meal and dancing, it’s time to go back outside, where long, thin strips of hot maple toffee are being poured on snow.

maple sugar hardening in snow

Hot maple toffee cools on snow, waiting to be scooped up and savored!

Twirl some of the sticky sweetness onto a stick—that’s called tire d’érable!

child eating maple stick

Sugar on snow is a special treat that announces the coming of spring, whether or not you’re surrounded by snow.

If you don’t live in sugar maple country, bring the experience to you! Take your kids on a sugar shack adventure wherever you live.

kids outside eating

The sap is rising—time for sugar on snow.

Gather these supplies, and get ready for your family sugar shack adventure.

You Will Need

  • Cookie sheets
  • Ladle
  • Spoons, chopsticks or popsicle sticks
  • Glass microwave-safe measuring cup or pan
  • Snow or shaved or crushed ice
  • Maple toffee or pure maple syrup and butter
  • CD of fiddle music (suggestions below)

Preparation Time

10 minutes

Activity Time

30 minutes to 1 hour

Location

Your kitchen

#1: Discover How Maple Syrup Gets From the Tree to Your Table

Start your sugar shack adventure by learning, along with your kids, how maple trees are traditionally tapped.

Before you learn how maple syrup is actually made, discuss the possibilities with your kids. Take a walk with your kids, preferably in a wooded area to simulate an authentic sugaring off scenario. If you live in a cold-weather climate, make sure you bundle up.

Lead the conversation and ask simple questions:

  • How do you think maple syrup is made?
  • How do you think they get syrup out of the tree?
  • What would be the most fun about living in a place where you make sugar?

Add these if you live in a warm climate:

  • How would you feel about living in a snowy place?
  • What would be the best and worst things about it?

    maple forest

    Maple forests are beautiful year-round, but a snowy walk during sugaring off season is extra-special.

Once you come up with your own creative scenario, sit down with your kids and learn the real story.

The first settlers in North America learned to tap the maple trees according to Amerindian custom. Since then, some parts of the process have been modernized; but many things have remained the same.

syrup producing plant

Traditional, small-scale maple syrup producers keep lots of wood on hand to boil the sap.

Take five minutes to watch this video with your kids.


See how maple syrup is produced on a farm in Quebec.

First, the maple tree is tapped. That means a hole is drilled into the tree, a spout is inserted into the hole, and a bucket hung to collect the dripping sap.

boy checking sap bucket

The sap that drips into this bucket is only slightly sweet. It takes a long boiling-down process to get to the maple syrup we love.

Did you know it takes 10 gallons of sap to make one quart of syrup?

When enough watery sap is collected, the next step is to boil it down. The sap is only slightly sweet. You have to remove the water to get down to the sugar. The sap is collected into large, shallow pans and boiled, often over a wood fire.

sap being boiled

Here, clear sap is being boiled down.

Seventy-five percent of the world’s maple syrup is produced in Quebec. Other syrup-producing U.S. states and Canadian provinces include Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Once you learn the tradition and the process, it’s time to try it with your kids.

#2: Do Your Own Tire

In the United States, it’s called sugar on snow. In English-speaking Canada, it’s called maple toffee or maple taffy and in French-speaking Canada, it’s called tire d’érable (teer-de-rah-ble).

I’m going to show you how to make this tasty treat in your own kitchen.

Note: If there’s no snow outside, make sure you have shaved or crushed ice in your freezer before you get started.

The first step will depend on whether you have maple toffee or maple syrup.

supplies needed

Readily available supplies allow you to recreate “sugar on snow” in your own kitchen.

If you live in a maple syrup-producing area, you’ll likely have access to maple toffee. You can buy it at a local farm or even at some grocery stores.

tub of maple toffee

This is maple toffee. It’s mostly solid and very sticky.

If you don’t live in a syrup-producing region, you may still be able to find maple toffee in a specialty food store. But if not, don’t fear! You can use butter and any pure maple syrup (no substitutes, which are little more than corn syrup, water, artificial colors and flavors); it will just require an extra step.

can of maple syrup

This is pure maple syrup. It comes in cans or glass bottles.

Note: Younger kids will need help with this next step.

If you’re working with maple syrup, put two cups of it in a saucepan with one teaspoon of butter. Boil uncovered on medium-high heat until the syrup reaches 250-260° F. (Use a candy thermometer to check the temperature.) Do not stir. You are boiling down the syrup even more to get to the sugars.

If you’re working with maple toffee, put one cup of it in a microwave-safe container and heat on high for about 45 seconds, or until it becomes liquid.

Do you have snow outside? If so, while you finish heating the maple syrup or toffee, your kids should put on their boots! Give them a cookie sheet or two and a ladle to scoop snow. Have them pack clean, fresh snow on the cookie sheets, tapping it down firmly and smoothing the top.

kids scooping fresh snow

Scoop fresh, clean snow onto a cookie sheet.

If you don’t have snow, use a cookie sheet with shaved or crushed ice! Shaved ice is better, but you can also put crushed ice in a blender to chop it even more.

Another option if you have room in your freezer: put a layer of water into a deep cooking sheet or freezable baking dish and freeze. Make sure to have your “ice” ready before heating your maple syrup or toffee.

pan of snow

Pack the snow or shaved ice down firmly on the cookie sheet.

Hot maple toffee can cause burns, so always be careful. If you heated syrup and butter over the stove, pour directly from the pan. If you are using toffee, pour from the measuring cup you used to heat it.

boy pouring syrup over snow

Transform your kitchen into a sugar shack!

Either you or your child—decide whether your child is capable of doing this step safely—can carefully pour a thin strip of toffee on top of the snow (or ice). This is a great test of fine motor skills for younger children.

strips of syrup

Aim to pour short, thin strips.

After the strips of toffee are poured, wait a few seconds for them to cool. Then, use a popsicle stick, chopstick or spoon to roll it up. Now, it’s ready to eat!

spoon over stick

Roll each strip around a popsicle stick, chopstick or spoon, and voilà!

Note: If your kids go a little crazy with the pouring, don’t worry. It might not roll up as beautifully, but it will still taste great.

kids eating syrup

Even if the pouring isn’t exact, your kids will find other ways of getting the maple-y sweetness into their mouths!

#3: Have a Sugar Celebration

Sugaring off isn’t just about the maple syrup! It’s also about spending time with family and friends, and enjoying the many traditions that have grown around it. If you can’t visit an authentic sugar shack, set up the scene for your kids.

Start by playing some folk music. Here are some traditional choices:

La Belle Province Québec: French-Canadian Folk Songs (Alexander Zelkin and Denise Bérard)

French Canadian, Irish and Scottish Fiddle Music (Jean Carignan)


Check out the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra – a lively Canadian Barn Dance.

Hungry for more? Prepare a traditional sugar shack meal as a family. Typical fare includes pancakes, baked beans, sausages and omelets, all served with a side of maple syrup. Come up with a menu, divide the responsibilities and cook together.

traditional meal

A traditional meal, like this one served at Sucrerie de la Montagne in Rigaud (QC), includes baked beans, sausages, pancakes and more.

Add to the Experience—Learn Some French

Visiting a sugar shack is a yearly tradition in Quebec. In honor of La Belle Province, learn a little French! Here are some important words to know:

  • sugar shack = une cabane à sucre
  • maple syrup = le sirop d’érable
  • maple tree = un érablier
  • meal = un repas
  • pancake = une crêpe
  • snow = la neige
  • winter = l’hiver
  • spring = le printemps

Now that you speak the language, you can celebrate in true French-Canadian style!

Once your meal is prepared and your fiddle music is ready to play, sit down, share stories and talk about your favorite parts of the experience. Enjoy your family sugar shack celebration.

Some Final Thoughts

The sugaring off season is a time to get outside and observe how the forest starts to wake up to spring after a long, cold winter. Remember, this is something you can do even if there’s no snow on the ground. This is a time to be with family and friends and celebrate nature’s gifts. Traditions that everyone can enjoy have evolved around the work of producing maple syrup.

All over the world, people celebrate the changing of the seasons. And now you can celebrate and enjoy them too!

How do you celebrate the coming of spring where you live?

What do you think? Did you enjoy your sugar shack adventure, celebrating the sugaring off season, Canadian style? Share your experience and photos of your kids enjoying their tire d’érable below!

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About the Author, Amanda Shaw

Amanda Shaw is mom to three spirited children and doubles as director of content marketing at WebrunnerMG. On any given day, she dons a tutu or a hard hat. Other posts by »


  • http://socialmediaopenkitchen.wordpress.com/ Linda D’Alessandro

    Loved this post, thank you!! Brought back memories of our family trip in Quebec city a couple of years ago where my kids made maple toffee in the snow and they had so much fun. I will replicate this very soon, since we live in Maine and have the main ingredients, snow and Maine Maple Syrup, in abundance!!
    Every year Maine celebrates Maine Maple Sunday. This year it’s happening on March 23rd, though some sugarhouses will be open the entire weekend to show how maple syrup is produced. It’s a great day for families to spend the morning at a farm, have breakfast together and stock in bottles of fresh maple syrup. I am really looking forward to that weekend, but would love to go back to Quebec soon too (once it’s warmer!).

  • http://www.mykidsadventures.com/ Jennifer Ballard

    Thanks, Amanda! I love learning about traditions from around the world and sharing them with my kids.

  • Amanda Shaw

    That sounds so fun! Maine is another major producer of maple syrup. I’m glad this brought back happy family memories.

  • Amanda Shaw

    And My Kids’ Adventures has a lot of great articles showcasing such traditions!

  • http://www.fineartmom.com/ Crystal Foth

    Yummy! Looks like fun – and great traditions to share!

  • Guest

    Amanda! This was a bunch of fun. We had a new heavy snowfall on Saturday so I had the kids put out a couple cookie sheets for two hours to catch new snow (wanted to avoid eating old snow) We had plenty in two hours. The toffee hardened almost immediately. I think I ate more than my 4 kids did. I have a 13 year span in ages and they all got in and had fun. Love this activity – so simple, I had everything I needed and it got everyone involved!

  • Amanda Shaw

    Great photos! Thanks for sharing.

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