Apple Butter like a Pro
September means apple season and APPLE BUTTER!!!! If you’ve had apple butter, then you know how amazing it is, and if you haven’t, just know that’s is like apple sauce with the flavor turned up to 11. We have a saying in our home (jokingly) that brown is flavor. In the case of apple butter, you take an already tasty thing like apple sauce, then cook it slow and low until it's brown. The sugars caramelize and brand new flavor profiles sneak in.
The problem is that, after 16 years as a professional cook, I cook mostly by feel and taste, rather than recipes. I will include a conventional recipe as a starting point, but I will also talk you through how I make apple butter and why I make it the way I do.
Recipes are always a great starting point, but understanding why the recipe works allows you to tweak it for your own tastes and adjust if things don't go as planned, as they rarely do. By the end, you’ll have an understanding of this dish. That way, when you don’t have the exact ingredients or equipment, you'll feel more comfortable improvising.
5 lbs Apple (Use what you like that's local.)
4 cups Sugar (Whoa! Skip this entirely.)
2 cups Water
1 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
2 tsp Cinnamon
½ tsp Clove
½ tsp Allspice
Juice of 1 Lemon
- Peel, core, and small dice the apples.
- Cook apples in water and vinegar until soft.
- Puree (make applesauce).
- Place in crock pot with spices.
- Cook low and slow for 2-22 hours.
- Can or freeze. Enjoy on bread or anything else.
Pretty simple, now let’s take a look at what’s really happening in this recipe and how you can make it your own:
To start, having a food mill or a fine mesh sieve saves time and reduces waste.
This is the method I use. The recipe has you peel, core and dice the apples. This seems to make sense unless you look a few steps ahead and realize you’re going to blend the apple anyway (blending just being a super super fine dice). Being a restaurant cook means you have to be fast and efficient (code for lazy), but still produce something you’re proud of. So instead of small dicing, I only rough chop the apples, leaving the skins, core and even stem, cook them until they’re soft and then puree. My preferred method would be food mill. This removes the seed and peel while retaining the pectin from the skins and keeping ALL of the apple, no waste! Using a food processor and then sieving also works.
The water in the recipe is just there to help the blending process, and to prevent the apples from sticking and burning. You will eventually cook all of that moisture out, so more water means easier blending but longer cook time.
Next, the sugar. Not necessary. While the recipe above and many others call for roughly 1/2C of sugar to 1C of apple puree, this is not needed. Instead, choose an apple with a good level of sweetness. As you cook down the apples, their natural sugars will caramelize and intensify. If you do tend to have a sweet tooth, then wait until the end and add sugar or any other sweetener you like to taste. You can always add more, but you can't take it back out.
Spices can be changed depending on your preference. Just know that the earlier you add a spice, the more background flavor it provides. The later you add it, the more prominent or “tip of your tongue” it will feel.
Lastly the vinegar and citrus. I personally don’t use lemon but can see how that would be tasty. Again, how much you use coincides the the sweetness or tartness of your apples. This can be a last minute seasoning to your preference.
Once you’ve successfully pureed your apples, put the puree in a crockpot with spices, set on low, and let it go until t's dark, rich and thick. Stir it every hour or so, and maybe taste it every once and awhile to see if it's going to be sweet enough or needs a little vinegar or citrus to brighten it up. Will most likely take closer to 10 hours than 2 depending on the amount of water, the softness of your apples and your particular crock pot. Be patient; it’s worth it.
My test batch for this blog ending up cooking for 22 hrs, used no sugar and it is delicious. I used,
5 apples (2.76#)
1/4 t cinnamon
1/8 t clove
1T apple cider vinegar
Now, if you’re not scared of canning, this can make a wonderful Christmas present. If that’s not your cup o’ tea, simply put a jar in your fridge for a week or two, freeze the rest.
Chef Bonus: For something less seasonal but truly amazing, try adding dark Miso paste to the recipe. Dial back the other spices or omit them entirely, but the cinnamon should still work here. I did add some maple syrup to this variation. Start with about 3T miso for the above recipe and add more to taste. Your Foodie friends will love this.