I don’t believe that apple butter needs to be a fussy, complicated thing to make. You shouldn’t have to hover over a stove for hours, praying that nothing burns. You shouldn’t need to own a food mill. It’s not something you need to set a whole day aside to do, nor is it something that you should only make if you have pounds upon pounds of apples on hand. It shouldn’t feel like a chore. And when it doesn’t feel like a chore, you end up making it a lot more often. You end up realizing the spectacular number of ways a good apple butter can improve your life. You just need a good recipe.
I don’t like my apple butter sickly sweet. In fact, I like it barely sweetened at all, believing most of the sugar (and flavor) should come from the apples themselves. You can do this with any firm baking apples you’re fond of—I’m partial to Granny Smiths and Honeycrisps, myself. Roasting the apples at high heat caramelizes their sugars and concentrates their flavor, gradually transforming a rough melange of chopped up apples into a thick, amber paste.
Once you’ve reduced your apples into butter, you can take it where you’d like it. If you want to make it sweeter, you can stir in a bit of sugar or maple syrup, or you could add a bit of finely chopped herbs to go a more savory route. You can puree it if you’d like, but again, entirely up to you. You can blend hot apple butter with peanut butter before pouring it into a jar, or perhaps some tahini and honey.
In fact, consider this a non-recipe recipe. Once you get the hang of the technique, feel free to mix up the spices, cook it longer, cook it shorter, futz around with it until you get it where you like it. This only makes about a pint of apple butter, and once you taste it, you’ll going to want to make it by the gallon.
makes approximately one pint
- 8 medium-sized, firm apples
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 6 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
- 1 star anise pod
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups ginger ale
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Peel and core the apples, then roughly chop into medium-sized pieces.
Toss the apples with the salt, cinnamon, cardamom and star anise, then spread out evenly in a 9 x 13" non-reactive casserole dish. Mix vanilla with the ginger ale; pour over the apples. Slide onto the middle rack of the oven and roast for 25 minutes.
Take the apples out of the oven and stir them in the casserole dish—they will begin to melt. Continue stirring until mostly smooth, removing the cardamom and star anise pods as you find them. Roughly smooth the top, return the pan to the oven and continue roasting for another 30 minutes, giving it a good stir about every seven minutes or so to keep it caramelizing evenly.
Reduce heat to 375 degrees, and continue roasting until the apple butter is thick and has become the shade of caramel you prefer. I, personally, like a medium caramel, which takes about another 20 minutes of roasting and stirring.
When the apple butter has cooled to room temperature, give it a go in the food processor until smooth, then pour into a jar and refrigerate. As the apple butter sits, it’ll firm up quite a bit, transforming from a thick sauce into a smooth, spreadable paste.