As the holiday season approaches, many of us are probably starting to think about gift giving. Something we always give are homemade food gifts. One item you might want to consider gifting is homemade Apple Butter. What it is and how to make it is the subject of this Cooking Tip.
The first question you may ask is how much butter it contains. The answer is none. The name has more to do with the consistency and spreadability that is akin to butter.
The second question is if apple butter is the same as applesauce. They are not the same thing. Applesauce is made from apples, some form of liquid, warm spices and sugar. It is all cooked down to a mushy consistency. It can be pureed or left a bit chunky. It is lighter in consistency and flavor than apple butter due to the larger amount of liquid in the end product. It has a spoonable and soft consistency.
Apple butter is cooked longer, resulting in a thicker, darker and more spreadable end product. Some describe it as between jam and peanut butter.
You can make apple butter on the stovetop, in your slow cooker or in your Instant Pot although they all basically involve cooking apples until they are very soft and then processed to your desired consistency. Whether or not you peel the apples before cooking depends on the method you will use to process the cooked mixture. If you are going to put it through a food mill that will catch the peelings, all you need to do is core and slice the apples. If you are going to process it in a blender or food processor, most will peel the apples first. Leaving the peel on, however, means more naturally-occurring pectin, which results in a thicker, more jam-like consistency. Others prefer to leave the peels on so that they remain in the final product.
With this method, the apples are simmered with a liquid, typically apple cider or apple cider vinegar. Sugar (white, brown or a combination) is added along with spices such as cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and cloves. Some will add the sugar to the apples as they are cooking. Others like a two-step approach. In the first step, you cook the apples with your liquid until very soft and then put them through a food mill or puree them. The second step is putting the resulting mixture back into the pot along with the spices and sugar and cooking a second time until thick and dark brown in color. Often, lemon juice is added to balance the sweetness.
There are a couple of reasons for recommending the two-step method. If you add the sugar to the cooking apples while they are simmering, the sugar could burn before the apples soften sufficiently. The second reason is that the sugar and spices will be more thoroughly incorporated into the apples after they are pureed.
This is more of a hands-off method. Proponents of using a slow cooker claim it results in a smoother and richer texture.
As with other uses of this appliance, it is faster than the slow cooker method. You also have the choice to sauté the apples first, which concentrates and darkens the mixture. Or, you can skip this step and just cook the apples for a longer time.
As with any apple dish, there is always an argument as to which are the best apples to use. You can use any variety but using softer apples means a quicker cook time. Many chefs like to use a combination of different apples for the best flavor. For more information on types of apples, see this prior Tip.
Apple butter can be used as any fruit spread. It is great on toast, biscuits, pancakes or waffles. You can stir it into your oatmeal or add it to baked goods. It is also wonderful with pork or poultry dishes.
In an airtight container, it will last in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks. It may also be frozen for up to 6 months. Canning is another option although you should be sure to use an appropriate method.
This gift-giving season, why not whip up a batch of beautiful and delicious apple butter, package it in a pretty jar, decorate with a ribbon and give to those you care about. They will love it!