Apple butter is, essentially, a concentrated, spreadable version of applesauce. There are a variety of ways to go from whole fruit to butter (i.e., stovetop, crockpot, etc.), and I think many people have an opinion on which way is best. My method is a bit unconventional in that it yields a batch of apple butter in a matter of hours, rather than taking all day to create. The secret: roasting. And uncored apples. The cores (as well as the 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, and also removes 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. (If you don’t have a food mill, you can run the mixture through a sieve, but it will be a tedious process due to the thickness of the mixture. To make this easier, I would suggest coring the apples before you roast them, and perhaps covering the pan while it's in the oven to retain some of the moisture. You should wind up with something that has a more sauce-like consistency, and will therefore run through the sieve with less difficulty.)
When deciding on apples, many people prefer a mix of sweet (Fuji, McIntosh, Jonagold) and tart (Braeburn, Granny Smith, Liberty). I love tart apples, so I usually wind up using mostly tart with maybe one or two sweet ones thrown in, and then using cider in place of water to up the sweetness. If you use a mix of sweet and tart, swap out some of the cider for water. Overall, 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. —Carey Nershi
- Makes 2 cups
cider, divided into 1/4- and 3/4-cup amounts
dark brown sugar
unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
- Preheat oven to 400°. Cut apples into large chunks (quarters for small apples, eighths for larger). Arrange on a large metal roasting pan, add the 1/4 cup of cider and lemon juice, then sprinkle with brown sugar and salt and dot with butter.
- Roast for 30–35 minutes, or until apples are very soft and fall apart at the touch of a fork. Remove from oven and let rest for one minute, then pour the remaining 3/4 cup of cider over the pan. (This will help deglaze the pan and pick up the maximum amount of yummy caramelized flavor. Be careful when you pour, though, as it will sputter and steam a bit.)
- Transfer apples and liquid to a large flat-bottomed bowl or pot. Mash with a spoon, fork, or potato masher until the pieces have been broken up into sauce.
- Run the mixture through a food mill to remove the cores, seeds, and peels (see note above if you do not have a food mill). Stir in the spices, then give it a taste. Add more sweetener and/or spices until you have the flavor where you want it.
- 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, until you’ve achieved the right consistency. (Beware of cooking it down too much though, as you can wind up with a very heavy, intense butter. I like mine at the point where it just holds its form when stirred or spread. When it cooks down more than this, I find it develops an overwhelming pectin texture, which isn’t my favorite.)
- Once cooled, store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week, or freeze it to keep it for longer.