it’s fall here, which means apples are everywhere. i’ve always loved apples but for some reason i’ve been really craving them lately and finding myself eating 2 or 3 a day and still feeling like i want more. this year, with how much we’ve been inside, i’ve been channeling my creative energy and love of food into cooking.
last weekend i was thinking about apple butter – that thick, spiced spread with a concentrated apple flavor. i had no idea how to make it but thought it couldn’t be difficult, so i researched some recipes and came up with something i thought would work.
it did work and i had so much fun with it that i decided i would try to make applesauce, which you’ll see below is basically what you make on your way to apple butter.
when you’re making apple anything, the most important part is the apples. for the butter and sauce, i chose a mix of apples – honeycrisp, pink lady, and fuji for both, with some gala apples thrown in to the mix for the apple sauce because i was curious. you could probably use pretty much any kind of apple you wanted, but i woud avoid red delicious apples, which are red, but definitely not delicious.
the next most important item is your spice blend. cinnamon is a classic and almost compulsory, and while you can make it however you want, i’m not sure we can be friends if you skip the cinnamon. other spices that would work well here would be allspice, clove, and nutmeg. i use some nutmeg because it’s what i have and it’s slightly less pungent than clove.
after these items, you will need to consider what sweetener and what liquid to use. yes, you can use white sugar and water and you’ll get a perfectly fine product – these both cook so long that the flavors will definitely fill out that water – but i prefer to use apple cider for my liquid and maple syrup for my sweetener. you could also use apple juice or pear juice/cider for the liquid and honey or agave for the sweetener. don’t worry about the flavor of the sweetner coming through too much; these recipes don’t call for a lot and when it all cooks together, you’ll taste the apple.
the last things you need are some kitchen gadgets. you need a peeler and a knife or apple corer to peel, core, and cut the apples. i cook my apple sauce and apple butter in a slow cooker. if you can afford it, invest in a slow cooker/crock pot – they are invaluable in the kitchen, particulary if you like warm, hearty meals like beef stew or stuffed peppers. you could also do this stovetop, but you need to be extra mindful because it can easily burn. also, you’ll need something to mash the applesauce and puree the apple butter – i use an immersion blender, but you could use a regular blender (for the apple butter) or a potato masher (for the apple sauce).
both of these recipes are nearly identical except for the spice mix and amount. i wanted my apple butter to have a stronger, deeper spice flavor and less so for the apple sauce, so there’s less spice in the apple sauce.
to make both, start with 6 pounds of apples that you’ve peeled, cored, and chopped. i estimate an apple to be about half a pound, so i use 12. you can use any amount you want (and that will fit in your slow cooker) just peel, core, chop and throw it into your crock pot.
next i add the liquid and sweetener. i use half a cup of cider and a scant quarter cup of maple syrup. you might be tempted to add a lot more of both but don’t or you risk it being too sweet and too runny.
lastly, i add the spice mix and this is the only place where there’s something different in the recipe. for the apple butter, i add a rounded teaspoon of cinnamon and a quarter teaspoon of nutmeg. as with the liquid and sweetener, be cautious about going overboard. you’d think 6 pounds of apples might need more than a quarter teaspoon of nutmeg, but if you go overboard with the spices, you’ll kill the apple flavor and offend your taste buds.
once everything is in the slow cooker, it’s time to get it cooking. i cook on low for 10 hours. you can do high for shorter times, but i haven’t tried it and don’t recommend it – i think you risk hot spots that will burn the sugars in your ingredients, though rationally i know this is unlikely and not part of the design of a slow cooker.
after about 6 hours, you’ll have what something like you see in the picture above. i didn’t see any indication in any of the recipes that i researched that you need to stir this, but i did every 2 hours or so – both to see how things were going and to help distribute the ingredients.
after 10 hours, grab your immersion blender. this is where you’re going to process the apple sauce or butter and make it the texture and consistency you want.
for the apple sauce, i use the immersion blender to puree the sauce to a fairly even consistency. it’s entirely up to you how much or little you want to puree it. after it’s processed, i let it cool and then package it up – more on that in a minute. you’ll get around 8 cups of apple sauce with this recipe.
for the apple butter, there are a few more steps. after the first 10 hours of cooking, you’ll want to use your immersion blender to puree the apple mixture down to a smooth consistency with no lumps. it will look like the picture above.
after it’s all pureed, you want to turn your slow cooker to high and leave it uncovered. this step is to cook off some of the excess water and concentrate your apple butter. most of the recipes i researched said this would take about 2 hours, but this time it took me 3 to get it to the thickness i wanted.
once it’s to your desired thickness, you pack and store it. this recipe gave me 6 half-pint jars of apple butter. that’s about three cups.
a couple of quick notes:
you can cook your apple sauce for a shorter amount of time. really all you need is the apples to be mushy enough to mash up to sauce, and you might prefer the slightly brighter taste you’ll get from cooking it a shorter time.
speaking of brightness, you can add some lemon juice to either recipe to brighten up the flavor. keep it to a tablespoon at most unless you really want the lemon to shine. i didn’t use lemon in either of my recipes.
you can can these recipes if you want, or you can simply freeze them and then take them out as you need them. i’ve never canned so i chose freezing. i’ve had the apple butter since it was frozen and thawed and it was wonderful. i have some frozen apple sauce and i imagine it will be just as good, too.
i hope you enjoy making these things as much as i did!