In spite of its name, apple butter is entirely fat-free. Its richness comes from the deep flavor that develops as the natural sugars in the apples, along with any added sugar, caramelize during a long, slow cooking process.
The recipe is simple. Make some applesauce on top of the stove by combining chopped apples and a little bit of water. Purée the sauce, add a sweetener and some spices, and continue to cook until it is thick and dark. Our version employs maple syrup, which we love, but brown or granulated sugar can be substituted. Just use a little less since both are sweeter than maple syrup, and taste at different moments during cooking. You can always add more if your apple butter is too tart for your taste.
Apple butter can be preserved for long keeping by boiling it in sterilized canning jars, but if you make it in small batches, which will stay fresh in the refrigerator for several weeks, it will probably disappear before it goes bad!
Some ideas for enjoying small batch apple butter:
- For breakfast. Try pumpkin pancakes or gingerbread waffles slathered with apple butter, or spread it on some buttered whole grain toast.
- On sandwiches. Try the spread with ham and cheddar cheese or with smoked turkey and Swiss.
- In barbecue sauce. Add some vinegar and spices to your apple butter and you’ve got a great sauce for pork tenderloin or chicken.
- In baked goods. Recipes for apple butter cakes and muffins abound. Or make some sensational bar cookies by spreading some of the butter on top of shortbread dough and then sprinkling with a streusel topping before baking.
Below is a picture of it simmering on the stove:
Images: Lauren Chattman
- 3 pounds apples (such as McIntosh, Jonathan, or Mutsu), peeled, cored and cut into chunks
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup pure maple syrup plus more if necessary
- 1 cinnamon stick
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Place the apples and water in a large, heavy pot. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover and simmer until the apples are very soft, about 30 minutes. Puree the apples in batches in a blender and return to the pot.
- Add the maple syrup, cinnamon stick and salt and cook at a bare simmer, stirring once in a while to make sure the apple butter isn’t burning. Taste as it cooks. If it is too tart, stir in a little more maple syrup. If it is getting too spicy, remove the cinnamon stick. Continue to cook until the mixture is thick and dark, 2 to 2 ½ hours. Remove the cinnamon stick. Stir in vanilla.
- Transfer the apple butter to a glass jar or two and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.
- We used an enamel-coated cast iron pot to make this apple butter recipe. Heavy and nonstick, it cooked the apples down to a thick, sweet butter without any scorching and with only infrequent stirring.
- It’s easy to customize this recipe to suit your taste. Use honey or brown or granulated sugar instead of maple syrup. Add a couple of whole cloves, star anise and/or a piece of fresh ginger (just be sure to remove the spices after cooking).