How To Make Apple Butter: A Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Guide

updated Sep 30, 2020
How to Make Apple Butter

This choose-your-own-adventure guide lets you customize your way to the most delicious apple butter possible.

Makes5 to 6 cups

Prep20 minutes

Cook6 hours to 10 hours

Jump to Recipe
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Apple butter being scooped out of jar with spoon.
Credit: Photo: Justin Bridges | Food Styling: Tyna Hoang

Apple butter is one of the most highly praised preserves of autumn. It’s the ideal thing to make after a day of apple picking, as it allows you to revisit the pleasure of the time spent in the orchard throughout the winter. This choose-your-own-adventure guide is the best place to start, with options for cooking it on the stovetop or in the slow cooker. You’ll also choose two or three flavor enhancers, allowing you to customize your way to the most delicious apple butter possible. 

What Is Apple Butter? 

Apple butter is simply applesauce that has been cooked down over the course of hours until it is thick. It gets its spreadable consistency via reduction, and leaving the peels on the apples helps bring more pectin and fiber, which means it needs less cooking than a batch where you removed the peels. Because apples are high in both sugar and acid, it can safely be canned without any additional ingredients. However, the finished product often needs a little help to reach its full flavor potential, which is why you’ll find suggestions for some of my favorite flavor boosters in the recipe below.

Credit: Photo: Justin Bridges | Food styling: Tyna Hoang

The Best Apples for Apple Butter

When gathering up apples to use in apple butter, make sure to collect at least two varieties, which allows for a deeper, more nuanced flavor. I like to use a tart apple (like a Granny Smith, Cortland, Braeburn, or McIntosh) in combination with a sweeter variety (like Gala, Golden Delicious, or Fuji). Skip pricier apples like Honeycrisp or Cosmic Crisp, as they are best for eating fresh and their virtues don’t translate well to a cooked product. 

Credit: Photo: Justin Bridges | Food Styling: Tyna Hoang

Stovetop vs. Slow Cooker: Which Cooking Method Should I Use? 

This recipe offers two different methods for cooking down your apples into butter. The stovetop version is great if you want a more hands-on experience making your apple butter, or if gadgets just aren’t your thing. However, if you don’t want to spend the day checking on a simmering pot, the slow cooker is the way to go. It’s a nearly hands-off method, although you may still want to give it a stir when you pass through the kitchen. 

How to Use Apple Butter

Apple butter can be used anywhere you’d use jam or jelly. It’s wonderful on toast, sublime in oatmeal, and perfection swirled into plain yogurt. It’s also nice on a cheese plate or snack board, and sealed jars make lovely gifts. 

Credit: Photo: Justin Bridges | Food Styling: Tyna Hoang
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Here's how to make apple butter any way you like it.

How to Make Apple Butter

This choose-your-own-adventure guide lets you customize your way to the most delicious apple butter possible.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 6 hours to 10 hours

Makes 5 to 6 cups

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the apple butter:

  • 8 pounds

    assorted apples

  • 1 cup

    water

Optional flavor enhancers:

  • 1/2 cup

    granulated sugar

  • 1/2 cup

    maple syrup

  • 2 to 3 tablespoons

    molasses

  • Finely grated zest and juice of 1 medium lemon

  • 2 teaspoons

    pumpkin pie spice

  • 1 teaspoon

    ground cardamom

  • 1 teaspoon

    vanilla bean paste

  • 2 to 3 tablespoons

    bourbon

  • 1 tablespoon

    peeled and grated fresh ginger

Equipment

  • 8-quart Dutch oven or stock pot

  • Slow cooker (optional)

  • Immersion or stand blender

  • Chef’s knife and cutting board

Instructions

  1. Prep the apples. Wash, quarter, and core 8 pounds apples (for the best flavor, choose two or three different varieties).

  2. Cook the apples. Place the apple quarters in a 8-quart Dutch oven or stock pot and add 1 cup water. Place over high heat, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until they have slumped and you can easily crush the apples with the back of a wooden spoon, 40 to 45 minutes.

  3. Purée the apples. Purée the apples directly in the pot with an immersion blender until smooth. Alternatively, blend in batches in a stand blender.

  4. Option 1: Cook on the stovetop. Place the pot of apple purée over very low heat and cover with a mesh splatter shield. (If you don’t have a splatter shield, consider using the slow cooker option. The process of making stove top apple butter is quite splooshy.) Cook over very low heat, stirring occasionally, until the applesauce is reduced by at least half, has darkened in color, and sits high when scooped into the bowl of a spoon, 4 to 5 hours.

  5. Option 2: Cook in the slow cooker. Transfer the apple purée to a slow cooker. Place a wooden spoon or chopstick on top of the slow cooker, then place the lid on — this will allow the apple butter to vent as it cooks down. Cook on the LOW setting, stirring occasionally, until the applesauce is reduced by at least half, has darkened in color, and sits high when scooped into the bowl of a spoon, 8 to 10 hours.

  6. Purée again. Once you are happy with the consistency and amount of reduction, purée the apple butter again with an immersion or stand blender. This smooths out the butter and gives it a silky, consistent texture.

  7. Add flavor enhancers if desired. The apple butter is finished once it has reduced and thickened, but often needs a few flavor enhancers to really shine. Choose two or three from the above list and add to your finished butter.

  8. Store the apple butter. The finished apple butter can either be frozen or canned for longer term storage. To freeze, pack into 1-cup containers, leaving a bit of headspace to allow for expansion. To can, funnel the finished apple butter into hot half-pint jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Apply clean, new lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath canner for 20 minutes.

Recipe Notes

For more information about preserving via canning, visit Marisa’s series on canning.

Make ahead: The applesauce can be made several days ahead of time before it is cooked down into butter.

Storage: The apple butter can be refrigerated 2 to 3 weeks, frozen 6 to 9 months, or canned and stored unopened up to 18 months.

Flavor suggestions: Need a little help deciding? Maple and bourbon are great together. You can’t go wrong with brown sugar, lemon juice, and pumpkin pie spice. And honey, vanilla, and cardamom hit all the right notes.

Ingredient/Equipment Variation: This same recipe works beautifully with pears.