It's apple season, which means you went apple picking last weekend, right? Or maybe you're planning to go this weekend? Or maybe you've just been hoarding beautiful apples from the farmers' market like I have. Or maybe, like my mother in New Hampshire, you've got an apple tree in your backyard that's currently throwing down huge amounts of spotted apples that aren't quite good enough to eat whole but are still good enough to cook with (after you cut off those spots). Whatever the reason, you've probably got a lot of apples around. And if you've got 20 minutes to spare, you should turn some of those apples into apple compote.
A compote is simply a quickly-cooked sauce made of fruit. It's not as thick as jam and not as thin as syrup; it maintains some of the fruit's original texture and shape. And best of all, it's easily customizable. You can sweeten it—or not—any way you like, and you can infuse it with spices or aromatics as it cooks. I love compotes of all fruits and flavors, but apples are the easiest fruit to turn into a compote, because of the natural pectin they contain. No additional thickening agents are required to get that bit of jammy-ness.
A jar of homemade compote keeps in the fridge for at least a week, and is a very good thing to have around. It's also a good thing to whip up on the spot when you want to jazz up breakfast or make an almost-instant warm dessert. I like to spoon it on top of my morning oatmeal or overnight oats, or swirl it into a bowl of yogurt. Or heat it up and top pancakes or French toast with it. Or pair a warm dollop of compote with cold vanilla ice cream, and it's just like eating apple pie without all the work of making apple pie. Sometimes I serve it on top of a pureed squash soup. Or just eat it with a spoon. It's your compote, enjoy it as you wish. But first, you have to make it. Here's how:
1. Cut up some apples
To make about 3 cups of an all-apple compote, start with four apples, which should be somewhere between 1 1/2 and 2 pounds. I like to use a mix of apple varieties, just like when making pie or crisp since some of them melt down more than others and some are more tart or sweet. If you'd like to add another fruit to your apple compote, do! Use at least half apples, and then add pears, quince, plums, blueberries, apricots, peaches, plums, raspberries, cranberries, etc. Peel your apples if desired—they'll break down more without the peel, but it's totally not necessary to do so. I often peel at least one or two of my apples and leave the rest of the skins on. Then cut them into cubes about 1-inch in size, and toss them into a pot. Feel free to double or halve the amount as needed, depending on how much compote you want to end up with.
2. Add water and sweetener
For every half pound of fruit, add 2 Tbsp. of water and 1 tsp. of sweetener to the pot. So if you're starting with 2 pounds, that's 8 Tbsp. (1/2 cup) of water and 4 tsp. of sweetener. Your sweetener can be white sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, date syrup, coconut syrup, agave, etc. (The New Englander in me will always love apples with maple syrup.) This measurement of sweetener is just enough to balance the natural tartness of apples and make your compote taste like a treat. But if you'd like to cut back on the sugar or skip it entirely, you can! And if it doesn't taste sweet enough after the compote is cooked, you can always stir in more of any of the liquid sweetener options.
3. Add some spices and/or aromatics
First up, toss a pinch of salt into your pot. Yes, just a pinch to intensify the flavors and help everything taste better. Then add something fragrant to infuse into the compote while it cooks. Try a cinnamon stick or two, a few cardamom pods, some star anise, cloves, or a few slices of ginger. Add a splash of vanilla extract or a vanilla bean, or go for a little bourbon or brandy or sherry or gin if you like. Add a sprig of rosemary or a few strips of lemon or orange zest. Or a combination of any the above.
4. Cook it
Set your pot over high heat and cook just until the water starts to boil, then turn it down to medium-low. Stir to combine, then cover the pot and let it cook for about 10 minutes, stirring at least once halfway through. Remove the cover and continue to cook until the apples are soft and the compote has thickened, anywhere from 2 to 10 minutes longer. (If you've got berries in there it might take a little longer, since those berries create so much juice.) If at any point your compote looks like it's drying out too much or sticking to the bottom of the pot, splash in a bit more water to rescue it from burning.
5. Fuss with the flavor
Remove your pot of compote from the heat and give it a taste. If it's not sweet enough, stir in a bit of your favorite liquid sweetener. If it needs a little brightness, squeeze in some lemon juice. If it tastes too sweet, add a pinch of salt. If you want a more pronounced spice flavor, add a sprinkle of ground cinnamon or freshly grated nutmeg.
6. And serve
Eat your apple compote right away, or let it cool and transfer it to a resealable container to stash in the fridge for the week. Or do both—enjoy it now, and save some for later—you'll be glad you did.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious