You can make a rich and comforting batch of apple butter in less than 2 hours on the stovetop. This homemade apple butter recipe is sugar conscious and adaptable. It gets a robust flavor from spices and brown sugar.
If only the internet had smellnet so you could enjoy the aroma of apples mingling with spices. I’m sharing this preserve recipe just in the nick of time for those future cheese boards.
This apple butter would be so good alongside a manchego or a gruyere.
If you don’t already know, it’s incredibly easy to make applesauce. Well, apple butter is a similar process–it’s just reduced further giving you a more concentrated flavor and silky texture. I think of it like apple sauce with soul.
This recipe came about because my Dad came to visit and we all picked teeny tiny apples off my very young apple trees. We were so excited to get them and it got me thinking. How could I use these tiny apples? The answer, of course, is apple butter. You can use almost any size apple as long as the flavor is there.
Speaking of apple cultivars, my Dad told me to Google the disappearance of his favorite apple: the Jonathan apple. It’s so funny to think that there are probably thousands of varieties of apple, and we have such a limited selection at the store.
I like to think that apple butter can be a solution for those of us who want to buy our apples with imperfections at a discount, too, because with a few pantry ingredients and a little time, your mouth won’t know the difference.
Truly, anyone can master apple butter. It’s definitely a treat to add a spoonful to your breakfast toast or oatmeal.
The history and origins of apple butter
Pennsylvania Dutch settlers were the first to make apple butter as a way to preserve their harvest throughout the winter. In their homeland of Germany, they were familiar with turning pears or plums into fruit spreads.
Over the years, apple butter has become an American pastime involving regional variations. From the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition of adding apple cider to the Southern tradition of using sorghum as a sweetener, apple butter can be basic or complex, depending on what you put in it.
Benefits of making apple butter at home
As usual, you could buy apple butter but as I always say, where’s the fun in that?!
1. Flavor: Store-bought apple butter often contains preservatives and artificial flavors. By making your own, you can control the quality of the ingredients and tailor the flavors to your liking. Experiment with different types of apples, spices, and sweeteners to create a unique apple butter that suits your taste preferences.
2. Healthier Alternative: Homemade apple butter allows you to control the amount of sugar and other sweeteners that go into the recipe. You can opt for natural sweeteners like maple syrup or coconut sugar instead of refined sugars, making it a healthier option. For example, my recipe contains less overall sugar than some other recipes online.
3. Versatility: Apple butter is incredibly versatile and can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. Spread it on toast, pancakes, or waffles for a delicious breakfast treat, or use it as a glaze for roasted meats and vegetables. If you’re a seasoned baker, you might try using it in pumpkin pie or cinnamon rolls. The possibilities are endless!
4. Cost-effective: With just a few simple ingredients, you can make a large batch of apple butter at a fraction of the cost of store-bought varieties. Plus, it’s a great way to use up excess apples that may otherwise go to waste. I’m thinking about the time I went apple-picking in New Jersey and went a little (a lot) overboard needing to try Every. Single. Variety.
By making apple butter at home, you can involve the kiddos. It’s a fun and rewarding cooking project that will leave you with a delicious homemade treat.
Key ingredients for stovetop apple butter
Let’s take a deep dive into the key ingredients required to make this recipe start to finish:
1. Apples: Choose a variety of apples that are suitable for cooking and have a good balance of sweetness and tartness. Popular choices include Braeburn, Gala, Fuji, Golden Delicious, Cortland, McIntosh, Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, and Jonathan apples. As is true for apple pie, it’s best to use a mix of apples for a more complex flavor profile.
2. Sugar: Light or dark brown sugar is typically used in apple butter recipes for its rich, caramel flavor. However, you can also use white sugar or natural sweetener like maple syrup or apple cider if you prefer.
3. Spices: Cinnamon is the classic spice used in apple butter and truly the only one you need, but feel free to branch out. I love star-anise with apples and prefer freshly ground or grated spices best (nutmeg, cloves, allspice, or cardamom). Just note that these spices are strong. Even a pinch goes far.
4. Lemon Juice: Adding a splash of lemon juice helps to balance the sweetness of the apples and adds a touch of brightness to the final product. You can add anywhere from 1 to 3 tablespoons (a lemon usually contains 3 tablespoons total).
Time and four basic ingredients form the foundation of a quality apple butter. You’ll notice there’s no actual butter in “apple butter.” That’s because the “butter” just refers to the texture being rich and decadent.
Step-by-step instructions for making stovetop apple butter
I like the straightforward method of making apple butter in a pot on the stove. Just be sure to keep the heat turned down. Your patience is the key to a thick, flavorful spread.
1. Prepare the Apples: Start by washing, peeling, and coring the apples. Remove any seeds or tough parts. Cut the apples into small chunks or slices. The size of the pieces doesn’t matter much since we will be cooking them down to mush anyway.
2. Cook the Apples: In a large, heavy-bottomed pot (I love using a Dutch oven), combine the chopped apples, sugar, spices, and salt. Stir well to coat the apples evenly. Place the pot over medium low heat. Cover and bring the mixture to a gentle simmer. You want to cook the apple mixture slowly for about 1 hour until soft and chunky (see below image).
3. Blend the Apples: Once the apples have softened and cooked down, use an immersion blender or a regular blender to puree the mixture until smooth. Be careful when blending hot liquids, and work in batches if necessary.
4. Thicken the Apple Butter: Return the blended mixture to the pot and continue cooking over low heat. This is when the magic happens. As the apple butter simmers, it will slowly thicken and develop a rich, caramelized flavor. Stir frequently to prevent the bottom from sticking or burning.
5. Test for Doneness: To test if the apple butter is ready, spoon a small amount onto a chilled plate and let it cool for a few minutes. If the apple butter holds its shape and doesn’t slide off the plate, it’s done. If it’s still too runny, continue cooking until it reaches the desired consistency.
6. Jar and Store: Once the apple butter is done, remove it from the heat and let it cool slightly. Carefully transfer the apple butter into clean, sterilized jars, leaving a bit of headspace at the top. Seal the jars tightly and let them cool completely before storing them in the refrigerator.
With these step-by-step instructions, you’ll be on your way to creating a batch of velvety-smooth stovetop apple butter that will impress your family and friends. But before you start cooking, here are a few tips and tricks to help you perfect your apple butter recipe.
Tips and Tidbits for perfecting your apple butter recipe
1. Choose the Right Apples: Different apple varieties have different flavors and textures. Experiment with different types of apples or a combination of varieties to find the flavor profile that you prefer. Sweeter apples will result in a sweeter apple butter, while tart apples (crab apples or Granny Smith) will lend a tangy note.
2. Adjust the Sweetness: The amount of sugar needed will depend on the sweetness of the apples and your personal taste preferences. Start with the recommended amount and adjust as needed.
3. Add Some Spice: While cinnamon is the classic spice for apple butter, don’t be afraid to experiment or try things you have on hand. Spices will add depth and complexity to your apple butter but if you like a lighter touch, you can go with fresh grated ginger reduce the spices to fit your tastebuds.
4. Cook Slow and Low: Cooking the apples over low heat for an extended period allows the flavors to develop and intensify. Be patient and resist the temptation to turn up the heat. On the flip side, you can always do this entire recipe in a slow-cooker on low heat if you prefer.
5. Stir Frequently: To prevent the apple butter from sticking or burning, make sure to stir it frequently, especially as it thickens towards the end of the cooking process.
6. Adjust the Consistency: If your apple butter is too thick, you can thin it out with a bit of apple cider or water. On the other hand, if it’s too runny, continue cooking until it reaches the desired consistency.
By following these tips and tricks, you’ll be able to fine-tune your apple butter recipe and create a batch that suits your taste preferences perfectly.
Creative ways to use apple butter
Now that you’ve mastered the art of making apple butter, it’s time to explore the various ways you can enjoy this versatile condiment. Here are some creative ideas to get you started:
- Pancake or Waffle Syrup: Replace traditional maple syrup with apple butter for a unique twist on your breakfast French toast casserole or Beignets.
- Yogurt Parfait: Layer apple butter, Greek yogurt, and granola in a glass for a delicious and nutritious snack or breakfast option.
- Glaze for Meats: Use apple butter as a glaze for roasted meats, such as pork tenderloin or chicken. Brush it on during the last few minutes of cooking for a sticky, sweet finish.
- Cheese Pairing: Apple butter pairs beautifully with a variety of hard cheeses. Serve it alongside a cheese board for a sweet and tangy contrast. This is especially fun for holiday parties because people love trying new things.
Did I miss anything? Please share your ideas for using this spread.
Storing and preserving homemade apple butter
Proper storage is essential to ensure the longevity and quality of your homemade apple butter. Here are some guidelines to follow:
1. Refrigeration: Once your apple butter has cooled completely, transfer it to clean, sterilized jars with tight-fitting lids. Store the jars in the refrigerator to keep the apple butter fresh. It should last for several weeks, if not longer.
2. Freezing: Apple butter can also be frozen for longer-term storage. Divide it into freezer-safe containers or zip-top bags, leaving some room for expansion. Label and date the containers before placing them in the freezer. Frozen apple butter should be consumed within 6-8 months for the best flavor and texture.
3. Canning: If you’re interested in canning your apple butter for long-term storage, it’s important to follow proper canning procedures to ensure safety. Consult reputable canning resources or websites for detailed instructions on canning apple butter.
By following these storage guidelines, you can enjoy your homemade apple butter throughout the year and savor the flavors of fall even when the season has passed.
Variations and flavor additions for unique apple butter recipes
While the classic combination of apples, sugar, and spices is hard to beat, there are endless possibilities for customizing your apple butter recipe. Here are a few variations and flavor additions to consider:
- Vanilla Bean: Split a vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds and the pod to the pot while cooking the apples. The aromatic vanilla will enhance the flavor of the apple butter.
- Citrus Zest: Add a pop of brightness by incorporating the zest of an orange or a lemon. The citrus oils will add a refreshing note to the apple butter.
- Alcohol Infusion: For an adult twist, try adding a splash of bourbon, rum, or whiskey to the apple butter. The alcohol will deepen the flavors and add a subtle warmth.
- Spiced Apple Butter: Experiment with additional spices. My personal favorites are cardamom or star anise for a more complex flavor profile. Be mindful of the proportions, as some spices can easily overpower the apples. For example, I would use 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom to replace the cinnamon in this recipe or swap 2 star anise for the ground cloves.
- Apple Butter with Nuts: Add a crunchy element by stirring in chopped nuts like walnuts, pecans, or almonds towards the end of the cooking process. The nuts will provide texture and a nutty undertone.
- Apple Butter with Dried Fruit: Stir in a handful of dried fruit, such as raisins, cranberries, or chopped dates, to add bursts of sweetness and chewiness.
These are just a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing. Don’t be afraid to experiment and create your own signature apple butter recipe.
Don Your Apron and Experiment with Different Apple Varieties
With any recipe like this where you have full control over the ingredients and flavors, I hope you’ll leave a note to your future self (and all of us) describing your unique batch. Did you discover a new spice? What apple varieties are you trying?
Here’s to wishing you some warm and cozy energy!
STOVETOP APPLE BUTTER
- 6 pounds apples (12 large or 18 medium)
- 1 cup 200 g brown sugar (light or dark)
- 1 cup 200 g granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon sea salt or Kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger or 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 lemon for juice (to taste)
- Prepare the apples. Peel, core, and roughly chop the apples. Put the chopped apple in a Dutch oven or large pot on the stove.
- Cook the apples. Turn the heat to medium-low. Stir in the brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg. Cover the pot and simmer for about 1 hour, until the apples release their juices and become very tender. Using a wooden spatula, stir vigorously, breaking up larger pieces (you can use an immersion blender or regular blender to achieve a silky smooth texture). Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to develop even more caramelized flavor. Once it reaches a deep brown color and has a consistency of a thick spread, remove it from the heat and squeeze in fresh lemon juice to brighten the flavor. Serve warm with a scoop of ice cream or spread over toast. Refrigerate leftovers in sterile jars for up to two weeks or freeze for up to 12 months if not canning. Canned apple butter is shelf stable at room temperature for up to 18 months.
Photography by Adam Rahman