Apples Galore! How to Make Apple Butter

By this time of year, you may consumed your seasonal quota of apples, eating them every which way, from straight off the tree to baked in pies, tortes and coffee cakes. If you're still searching for ways to use that half-bushel you still have left over from the orchard, or if you're just looking for a new way to enjoy this versatile fruit, it might be time for you to try your hand at making apple butter.

Personally, I can't get enough of it.

Apple butter is applesauce that gets slowly cooked down until it becomes a thick, glossy, caramelized spread. It's delicious on toast and swirled into ice cream. And it's not difficult to make it at home, although it does require patience. Here's how to do it.

Step 1: Choose Apples

The best apples are the ones that taste good to you. I like apples that are tart and tangy, but you might prefer ones that are more sweet and mellow. Both are good! If you're buying your apples at a farmer's market or orchard, you might mention to the vendor what you're making and ask if he or she recommends any specific varieties.

Since making apple butter is more of a technique than a strict recipe, you can use any amount of apples you want. The applesauce recipe we'll be using as a base calls for 3 pounds of apples, and this will make 2 to 3 cups of apple butter. You can double, triple or quadruple this if you want!

Step 2: Make Applesauce

Here is a simple recipe to make about 4 cups of applesauce

    Prep Time: 30 minutes

    Cook time: 30 minutes

    Yield: 4 cups

5 large apples (about 3 pounds)

1/4 cup dark brown sugar (or less, if desired)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 cinnamon sticks

1/2 cup water

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon brandy (optional)

    Peel, core and cut up the apples. Put them in a large, heavy pan with the other ingredients and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cover tightly. Cook the apples down until they're completely soft and falling apart, about 30 minutes. If the mixture is too watery, leave the lid off for a few minutes to let it reduce.

    Remove the cinnamon sticks. If you want smooth applesauce, puree in a food processor or with an immersion blender. Otherwise, just mash with a fork. If you have a food mill, run the apples through this so you get a uniform texture.

    Taste the applesauce to see how you like it. Remember that this will be reducing down, so the flavors will be concentrating. You can always add a bit more sugar later on if you think it's too tart.

    Step 3: Cook the Applesauce

    This is the part that takes some patience and attention. Set the applesauce in a saucepan over very low heat. Add in a spice packet with a cinnamon stick, a few cloves and a star anise, or any combination of those spices.

    Cook the sauce very slowly, stirring it every so often so you're sure the bottom isn't burning. Leave the lid off so that the liquid can evaporate. The sauce should be simmering very quietly -- you should only see a bubble or two every few seconds.

    As it cooks, the sauce will slowly turn color from yellow-pink to deep red-brown, and it will get thicker and thicker. Taste it every so often to see how it's coming along. You can add more sugar if it's too tart or remove the spice packet if it's getting too spicy.

    The apple butter is done when a ribbon of the sauce drizzled on the surface holds its shape for several seconds. This isn't an exact science, so you can feel free to stop cooking sooner or later than this as you prefer. For small batches like this one, this whole process will take approximately 2-3 hours. Larger batches can take 10-12 hours.

    Fresh apple butter will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks. For longer storage, can your apple butter using the hot water bath method.

Variations: In the Oven or in the Slow Cooker

If you're making a very large batch of apple butter -- say, from a bushel of apples -- it will be easier to cook the sauce in the oven. Set your oven to 300 F with an oven rack positioned in the bottom third of the oven. Cook the sauce in a dutch oven or other big baking dish with the lid off, and stir every half hour or so until the butter is done.

I've also cooked batches in the slow cooker. Set the slow cooker to the longest time setting and leave the lid ajar so that steam can escape. Remember to stir the butter every so often so that it cooks evenly.


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Apples Galore! How to Make Apple Butter

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