You might’ve seen it at farmers markets or in local grocery stores, but what is apple butter?
And how do you make it at home?
Apple butter consists of apples, liquid, sugar, and spices. It can be made in the slow cooker or on the stovetop and requires slow-cooking fresh apples until they’re tender and mashable. It’s a type of jam or preserves with a deep brown color and smooth texture that’s used to top toast or muffins.
So, there’s no actual butter in the mix.
Instead, apple butter is an intensely flavorful, spreadable condiment that can be used like butter.
I guess “applesauce” was taken, and “apple spread” doesn’t sound quite as appealing.
Anyway, it’s a centuries-old culinary delight you should definitely try whenever you get the chance.
And if you want to find out more, keep reading.
What Is Apple Butter?
Apple butter is a type of apple sauce made by slow-cooking apples with sugar, spices, and cider, juice, or water until caramelized and soft. This gives the mix a very concentrated flavor and thick, spreadable texture. Apple butter has a long shelf life and deep apple flavor, so it’s ideal for gifting.
It’s dairy-free and basically an upgraded version of applesauce.
So, you can’t really eat it with a spoon. But it tastes phenomenal on warm muffins and biscuits.
The consistency is much thicker, and you’ll add a bunch of spices to boost its flavor.
But the key is in the cooking. When you slow-cook apples, they release all their natural sugars, which caramelize and concentrate into something spectacular.
What’s the Difference Between Apple Butter and Apple Jam?
If you want a sweet, apple-flavored spread for toast, apple butter or apple jam are excellent options.
And the two have a lot in common – they’re apple-y, rich, and lip-smackingly delicious.
They aren’t the same thing, though.
The difference between apple butter and apple jam lies in the cooking times and texture. Apple butter is cooked for a long time until the fruit is caramelized and dark, while apple jam isn’t cooked that long, so it’s much paler. Apple butter is thick and smooth, whereas apple jam often has chunks.
When you look at apple butter, it’s quite dark and glossy. But it’s not sticky or jam-like. And that’s down to the high water content.
In contrast, apple jam is pale and shiny with a sticky finish.
Sometimes, the cooked apples are pureed before being cooked with the sugar, and other times it’s left chunky.
Either way, it’s got a higher sugar content, making it more jelly-like. So if you take a spoonful out of a jar, it usually holds its shape pretty well.
To sum up: apple jam is like the jam you get from the store. Be it strawberry, grape, or apricot, they all have a sticky finish and jelly-like texture.
Apple butter, on the other hand, is thick but pourable.
Apple Butter vs. Applesauce
So if apple butter is so different from apple jam, is it more like applesauce?
Well, yes. In a way.
Applesauce is more similar to apple butter than apple jam. However, even these two spreads have their differences.
Apple butter is much thicker and darker and has a different texture.
Applesauce is light and somewhat grainy or mushy. It’s also kind of watery.
Apple butter, though, is thick and smooth. And since it’s cooked for so long, it’s not that watery at all.
The way it spreads across a piece of toast is more like peanut butter than applesauce.
The reason they’re so different is the same as with apple jam: apple butter is cooked for longer.
Of course, you’ll still notice some similarities between the two.
They have similar flavor profiles, for one thing. They’re both apple-based and contain many of the same spices.
The methods for cooking both products are also a lot alike.
They both undergo a slow-cooking process over low heat. Apple butter just requires a lot more time to finish cooking.
How to Make Apple Butter
There are multiple ways to make apple butter, but I prefer using a slow cooker. Doing so just makes the process so much simpler.
Clean-up is a breeze when you use the slow cooker, too!
Here are the steps for making it:
1. Clean the apples and gather the other ingredients.
To make apple butter, you’ll need about five pounds of apples. And it’s best to wash them before use.
You’ll also need a base in which to cook the apples. This recipe calls for a 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar and 1 cup of apple cider.
(Apple juice can replace apple cider in a pinch.)
Finally, you’ll need your seasoning blend:
- 1-1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- One pinch salt
2. Chop and cook the apples.
Once everything is ready and the apples are washed free from the waxy coating, chop them into evenly sized-pieces.
I like to core them and cut them into wedges. And leave the skin on! That’s where most of the flavor comes from.
Pour the apple cider vinegar and apple cider into the slow cooker. Then, add the apples.
Set the heat to low, put the lid in place, and cook for about 8 hours.
(Alternatively, you can cook for 4 hours on high heat – though the flavor won’t be as deep.)
3. Mash and puree the cooked apples.
Remove the apples from the slow cooker and mash them with a potato masher. They should be thoroughly mushy when you’ve finished.
Then, use a sieve or food mill to remove any remaining skins or seeds. Continue passing the apple pulp through the food mill until it’s smooth.
Or pop everything into a blender and blitz until smooth (you’ll need to let it cool first).
Return the apple pulp to the slow cooker.
4. Add the spices and cook again.
Next, add all of the spices, stir well, and increase the heat to high.
Cook uncovered for approximately an hour, stirring occasionally to keep it from sticking and burning.
Near the 1-hour mark, the apple butter should turn dark. It should also be pretty thick.
By thick, I mean: you should be able to scoop a spoonful without it running off.
The culinary term for this is “mounding on the spoon.” In layman’s terms, it looks like chocolate pudding when you scoop a spoonful out of the container.
5. Let it cool and transfer it to suitable containers.
After the butter cools, transfer it to Mason jars or other suitable containers. Then, store it in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
Place the jars in a 15-minute hot water bath to make them shelf-stable. Then, store them somewhere dark and cool.
They should stay fresh for up to a year. Just be sure to refrigerate the jars after you open them.
Apple Butter Uses
Believe it or not, you can do much more with apple butter than most people realize.
It works wonderfully as a sweet spread, of course. So put it on warm biscuits, toast, bagels, and more.
Other uses include:
- Topping for waffles or pancakes
- Spread on muffins and homemade bread, like banana or zucchini
- Over oatmeal, congee, or rice pudding
- On pork chops
- As a glaze for chicken wings
How to Store Apple Butter
As mentioned, you can use a water bath to make your jars shelf-stable. You can also pop the jars in the fridge for up to a month.
Your final option for long-term storage is the freezer.
Remember to let the apple butter cool completely. Then, place it in an airtight container with an inch or two free at the top.
Then, seal them tightly and stick them in the freezer.
You should be able to store the butter for up to a year without it spoiling.
More Apple Recipes You’ll Love
Mock Apple Pie
Apple Dump Cake
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