Apples are the harbingers of fall in many places, most especially here in the Northeast. As soon as the local apples begin to appear at the market along with an unmistakable chill in the air, I begin to crave crumbles, cakes, and that delectable cousin of applesauce: apple butter.
There are a variety of ways to go from whole fruit to butter; my method is a bit unconventional in that it only takes a few hours, rather than a whole day, to yield a batch of apple butter. The secret: roasting. And uncored apples.
Apple cores (and peels) contain a good deal of pectin, which helps firm up the sauce and give it a more butter-like consistency. And roasting allows for complex caramelized flavors to develop, while removing a bit more water. Once the cooked fruit has been run through a food mill, I often find it requires very little (and sometimes no) stovetop time to be cooked down into butter.
When deciding on apples, many people prefer a mix of sweet (Fuji, McIntosh, Jonagold) and tart (Braeburn, Granny Smith, Liberty). I like to use mostly tart varieties, so I add extra sweetness with cider. If you use a mix of sweet and tart, swap out some of the cider for water. The sugar and spices in the recipe should be treated as guidelines rather than gospel -- feel free to add more or less to suit your own tastes.
1 cup cider, divided 7 tablespoons dark brown sugar 1 teaspoon lemon juice Pinch of kosher salt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes 3 lbs apples 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon Pinch of nutmeg Pinch of cloves
Preheat oven to 400° F. Cut apples into large chunks. Arrange on a large metal roasting pan, add the lemon juice and 1/4 cup cider, then sprinkle with brown sugar and salt and dot with butter.
Roast your apples until they are very soft and fall apart at the touch of a fork. Remove from the oven and let rest for one minute, then pour the remaining cider over the pan to deglaze.
Transfer everything to a large flat-bottomed bowl or pot. Mash until the pieces become sauce.
Run the mixture through a food mill to remove the cores, seeds, and peels. Stir in the spices, then give it a taste. Add more sweetener or spices until you have the flavor you want.
At this point, assess the consistency of your butter. If you’d like it to be a bit smoother, you can blend it up with a food processor or an immersion blender. (I like mine with a little bit of texture, so I leave it as is.) If it isn’t quite as thick as you’d like it to be, transfer it a heavy bottom saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally -- just beware of cooking it down too much. I like mine at the point where it just holds its form when stirred or spread.
Once cooled, store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week, or freeze it to keep it for longer.