When the apples go on sale, I like to take advantage of the pricing and get bunch of them. The problem is, I know they'll go bad before the family eats them all. I could make pie, but what if there's still a lot left? Make apple butter, of course.
For those who don't know, apple butter is not a fruit filled dairy product. It's more like caramelized applesauce. But it's really not applesauce, either. I've tried several recipes for apple butter, a couple of which used a crock pot. They weren't bad, but they left me wanting. I'm a fan of using a crock pot for apple butter, because it really does take a good deal of time to make it, but I didn't want to lock myself into a particular appliance without trying out a few other methods. As a foodie, I'm always after the good stuff.
Some recipes I tried used a little spice, cinnamon, ginger, clove, and so on. Some used so much that they ended up tasting more like a spicy slurry, with little to no apple flavor. Others weren't so bad, but I wanted something that celebrated the apple, no spice needed.
Eventually I tried one recipe from America's Test Kitchen. I'm a huge fan of theirs, as some of you may know, but sometimes their recipes don't work well for my situation. In this case, a couple of minor tweaks gave me an apple butter that had deep, rich, apple flavor, well beyond the other recipes I'd made. Sweet, but not too sweet, full of apple goodness, with nothing to get in the way. Best of all, it works for the kitchen I have, and uses affordable apples varieties.
There are several apple varieties that work well for apple butter, and a few that you'll want to stay away from. Even though you'll be cooking these apples until they break down, you don't want their flavors to break down along the way, or the resulting product become too watery. Varieties that hold up well to cooking, such as Fuji, Gala, and Granny Smith, are the way to go. Use two or three different varieties of cooking apples for the riches flavor. Stay away from Red Delicious or Golden Delicious apples. They're great for eating raw, but they don't hold up well under heat.
Apple butter is wonderful on just about everything you might put jam or applesauce on. I like it on toast, topping cottage cheese, or mixed into plain yogurt, when I'm not eating strait out of the jar, that is. It's super tasty as a topping for vanilla ice cream, as well.
Dutch or other large pot (at least 6 quarts)
Fine mesh sieve
(You can substitute a food mill, or other blender, if you like. I'll talk about that, later.)
4 pounds of cooking apples (about 12 medium apples)
1 ¾ cups apple juice or cider
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed brown sugar
3 Tbsp lemon juice
¼ tsp salt
Wash and then core the apples; chop them into 2-inch pieces. Don't bother peeling them. The oils in the peel with deepen the flavor. Put the cut apples into a large cooking pot, along with the apple juice, over medium high heat. Once it reaches a simmer, reduce the heat to medium low, cover, and simmer until the apples are very soft, stirring two or three times while cooking, about 30 minutes.
Remove from the heat and use an immersion blender to break up the apples, until very smooth.
You can use a regular blender or food processor if you don't have an immersion blender. Just do it in batches and be careful. The apples are very hot. Alternately, you can run them through a food mill, eliminating the next step. I don't have a food mill, they're a little pricey, so I need to use the next step.
Putting the fine mesh sieve over a large bowl, pour the apple mixture in, a little at a time, and push it through the mesh with a flexible spatula. This will remove the peels and make the mixture silky. Discard the peels.
Pour the apples back into the empty cooking pot. Mix in the granulated sugar, brown sugar, lemon juice, and salt. Heat the pot over medium high until it comes to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover, and simmer until the mixture becomes thick, like loose jam, about 1 ½ hours.
Let the mixture cool completely before transferring to pint jars or plastic freezer containers. It can be kept in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks, or in the freezer for a few months.
Makes about 1 ½ quarts.