First, let's get something straight: apple butter is not applesauce.
I would know. Even though my mother insists that I ate applesauce when I was a kid, for as long as I can remember, I've hated the stuff. At best, the bland, light-colored mush tastes like a ton of cinnamon and spices—and at worst, it doesn't really taste like much at all.
So when I go apple picking and have a bushel I need to use up, instead of making a batch of sad sauce, I make apple butter. Applesauce is generally made by boiling apples, and so is apple butter—really, apple butter is just a more concentrated (and delicious) version of applesauce.
There’s no better way to welcome the fall season than with a big batch of apple butter that’s bursting with sweet, warm spices. Unlike applesauce—which honestly, really only has one acceptable application (as a dipping sauce for potato pancakes)—apple butter has an endless list of uses. You can spread it over toasted French spiced bread or buttermilk biscuits, or mix it into yogurt or smoothies, or top pancakes and waffles with it. Or you can really win by using it as a filling in your cookies and cupcakes.
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Apple butter is in its own class of spreads—it’s not really a jam or jelly, and it doesn’t have the thin texture of applesauce. It’s thicker, silkier, and because it’s more concentrated, it has more flavor. It’s more like a caramelized paste. Most of all, it’s just a great way to liven up any dish with a little sweet fall flavor.
The best part? This make-ahead butter is easy to make at home, and it only takes a few ingredients that you (most likely) already have in your kitchen. And just when you thought it couldn't be more convenient, you can make it with any kind of apple. If you’re going for a butter that’s naturally sweeter, go for something like Honeycrisp. For the most vibrant flavor, mix multiple apple varieties like Fuji and Golden Delicious. Pro tip: Since the apples need to be cooked-down, try to stick with softer apple varieties.
There are a couple different ways to make it. Sometimes apple butter is made similar to jam, by first boiling the apples, then cooking the boiled purée super slowly to thicken it. But for an even easier approach, I turn to the roasting pan. The apples are quickly chopped—peels and all—then roasted for deep, caramelized flavor. The natural pectin in the peels and seeds thickens the mixture, creating a rich, buttery texture. So much better than the watery mess applesauce usually turns out to be.
How to Make Apple Butter
Quarter apples whole including cores and peels. Chop into eighths if they're really big.
Toss apples with a little brown sugar, cinnamon, and other favorite spices in a roasting pan. Top with a few cubes of butter.
Roast apples at 400°F until tender and caramelized, about 30 minutes.
Break up large apple pieces using a potato masher or large spoon. Push mixture through a food mill (or a sieve) to remove the cores, seeds, and peels. For a chunky butter, leave as is; for a smoother butter, blend in a food processor to desired consistency.
Storing Apple Butter
When properly stored, apple butter will last for several months up to a year. Two of the best ways to preserve it are freezing and canning. To can it, fill a large pot with enough water to cover the tops of the jars you’re using by an inch. Put clean jars (without lids) in the water, and bring it to a boil. Ladle a little bit of the boiling water onto the lids to sanitize them. Pull the jars out of the water with a jar lifter, pour the water back into the pot, and ladle the apple butter into the jars. Once all the jars are full, put them back in the boiling water (with the lids on) for about 10 minutes. These can be stored in your pantry for up to three months.
To freeze your apple butter, allow your finished product to cool, then ladle it into freezer-safe containers (be sure to leave at least a 1/2-inch space between and apple butter and the lid). Apple butter can be stored in the freezer for up to a year. When you’re ready to use it, thaw it out in the refrigerator. Once it’s been thawed, you can keep it in the fridge for up to three weeks.