Learn how to make apple butter 3 different ways –stovetop, slow cooker, and pressure cooker. The recipe is easy, and this is a delicious spreadable condiment boosts the flavor of your favorite foods.
Table of Contents
- What is apple butter?
- Apple selection
- Skin-on vs. skin-off
- Developing color and flavor
- Adding in spices
- Sweetener selection
- What happens when you don’t add sugar?
- Creating a smooth texture
- Stovetop method
- Slow cooker method
- Pressure cooker (Instant Pot) method
- Ways to use apple butter
- Apple Butter (3-Ways!) Recipe
Making a big batch of apple butter is one of the best ways to enjoy the taste of fall. And with so many varieties of apples, you can use your favorite or customize the flavor with a mixture of types. The ingredients are simple; fresh-chopped apples, apple cider, warm spices, and sweetener. That’s it!
The process is similar to making apple sauce, but the extended cooking time takes this recipe to the next level. Apple butter is a great addition to add as a spreadable topping or even filling. I also like to place them in jars and send them to the family as edible gifts.
What is apple butter?
Apple butter is a condiment that cooks fresh apples until incredibly soft and then further processes them until very smooth. Slow-cooking the fruit with some apple cider concentrates the flavors while evaporating the moisture. The heat caramelizes the sugars, creating a deep golden-brown hue. You can add spices and sugar to complement the fruit to make it sweeter. The spread can be filled into sterilized jars and sealed for longer shelf life.
The beauty of this recipe is that you can use any type of apple. I like a combination of Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, and Fuji (making up half). It’s the right balance of sweet and tart. These varieties’ texture is crisper and not mealy, which works well since the fruit cooks for a long time. Fuji tends to hold it’s shape better and takes longer to soften. Four pounds of apples yields about 3 ½ to 4 cups of apple butter.
Skin-on vs. skin-off
No matter what, I cook the diced apples with the peel on. The reason is that both the pulp and skin contain pectin. The complex carbohydrates (pectic polysaccharides) are naturally found in the cell walls and non-woody parts of plants, acting as cement to hold the fruit or vegetable’s shape. When heated and combined with sugar and acid, the molecules start to bind together and trap water. This stabilizes fruit purees like jams and jellies due to their gelling capability.
I like to let the apples simmer with the flesh and skin to extract as much pectin as possible for spreadable apple butter. For an even thicker consistency, I also puree the skin. It has a deep apple flavor and provides more fiber to each serving. If you want to peel the apples first before cooking, go for it, but the taste and consistency won’t be as intense.
Developing color and flavor
The goal is to create a puree that’s concentrated in apple flavor with a deep amber color. To achieve this, we need to apply moist heat to soften the fruit by steaming, developing more flavor and a darker hue.
When you remove the lid from the pot, moisture begins to evaporate. A non-enzymatic chemical reaction occurs called caramelization. The heat breaks down the sugars, creating hundreds of new flavor and aroma compounds, plus the color changes.
Adding in spices
For this recipe, I use ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Other options are ginger, allspice, or cardamom. Adding the spices at the beginning of cooking infuses the flavors together. However, if you find that you like a more intense aroma, you can use half to start, and then the rest when ready to puree.
I use two types of sweeteners; equal parts granulated and brown sugar. White sugar adds a clean sweetness that’s easy to adjust. The molasses in the brown sugar provides deeper color and caramel-like notes that become more developed as the apples cook. Depending on the kind of apples used, more or less sweetener can be added. A small amount of lemon juice and zest also helps to provide a hint of tartness for balance.
What happens when you don’t add sugar?
The apples can be left unsweetened since there’s natural fructose in the fruit. Although, depending on the variety, it can taste tangier and not as amber in hue. The added sugars help the pectin gel better for a thicker consistency.
Another option is to cook the apples first, then adjust the sweetness afterward to gauge input. There will be less caramelization since the sugars weren’t present throughout the cooking process. Select Fuji or Honeycrisp that are naturally sweeter.
Creating a smooth texture
Use a handheld immersion blender for the best control. It’s portable so it’s easy to process the softened apples right inside the cooking vessel and watch the consistency change. Alternatively, you can use a countertop blender. Just work in batches, and cover the small opening with a towel to allow steam to escape. Blend until the apple butter is smooth. The texture will thicken more as it cools down.
The stovetop is the quickest method, but more attention is needed to monitor and stir. It provides the most control for making apple butter. I like to use a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven. It takes about 40 minutes to pre-cook the apples until completely soft and then about 1 hour of simmering to develop a deeper color.
Slow cooker method
I use a 6-quart Crock-Pot to make a large batch of apple butter. The low and slow method yields a super smooth and rich texture. The apples have a very long time to soften and release the pectin in the cell walls, about 2 to 3 hours.
Then simmer over moderate heat for several hours with the lid ajar to allow the steam to escape. The air circulation allows for better browning and concentrates the flavor. This method is excellent to start the day before and cook for about 10 hours overnight.
Pressure cooker (Instant Pot) method
I use a 6-quart Instant Pot to make the apple butter. The enclosed vessel traps moisture and the pressure cooks the apples in just 10-minutes. The apples have a lot of juice in the flesh, so you only need a small amount of apple cider to prevent the bottom of the pot from burning. This multi-function device allows you to finish cooking the apple butter in two ways.
The saute function quickly concentrates and darkens the puree in about 30 to 60 minutes. The hot puree does bubble and splatter, so make sure to keep the pot partially covered, and be very careful when stirring. Alternately, the slow cooker function takes about 4 to 6 hours. You get slow cooker taste but in less than half the time of a Crock-Pot.
Ways to use apple butter
- Use as a filling for hand pies
- Add to frosting or fill inside cupcakes
- Serve with cheeses and meats for a charcuterie board
- Spread on top of toast or on a bagel with cream cheese
- Stir into oatmeal or layer it into a yogurt parfait
Completely cool the apple butter before storing it in an airtight container. It will last about two weeks in the refrigerator or one month if stored in sterilized jars. You can freeze it for up to 1 year, just defrost when ready to use. It can also be canned in sterilized jars and last for about 1 year. However, I would keep it refrigerated. The natural acid in the apples and sugar helps to preserve and prolong the shelf life.
Sugar and time elevates caramelization
The apples contain a natural sugar called fructose, which caramelization occurs around 230ºF (110ºC). I also add in sucrose (granulated sugar) and brown sugar to intensify the browning process and increase the sweetness. Sucrose begins to caramelize at 320ºF (160ºC), which is why it takes a longer time to see a shift in appearance. Depending on the method and heat emitted, this could take 1 hour on the stovetop or up to 10 hours in a slow cooker.
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Apple Butter (3-Ways!)
- 2 pounds fuji apples, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 pound honeycrisp apples, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 pound Granny Smith apples, cut into 1-inch pieces
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup golden brown sugar, packed, or light brown
- ½ teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 ½ cups apple cider, (¼ cup for Instant Pot method)
- In a large dutch oven, add diced apples, granulated sugar, brown sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and cloves. Pour in 1 ½ cups apple cider, stir to combine.
- Cook the apple mixture over medium-high heat until the liquid begins to boil. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer and stir occasionally until the apples are tender and thoroughly soft, about 35 to 40 minutes.
- Working in batches, place the apples in a strainer or food mill, set over a bowl. Stir and pass the apples through the strainer to remove any lumps, there should only be flesh in the bowl, about 4 cups. The consistency will be like applesauce.
- Add the apple butter back to the dutch oven. There will be juices in the pan. Simmer, uncovered, over low heat, occasionally stirring until dark brown in color and reduce to about 4 cups, 60 to 75 minutes.
- Use a handheld immersion blender or countertop blender to process the puree until very smooth and thick. Season to taste.
- The apple butter will thicken slightly as it cools.
Slow Cooker Method
- In a 6-quart slow cooker, add diced apples, granulated sugar, brown sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and cloves. Pour in 1 ½ cups apple cider, stir to combine.
- Cover and heat on the high setting until the apples completely soften, about 2 to 3 hours. Stir each hour.
- Set the lid slightly ajar. Continue to cook the mixture on the low setting until the apples are extremely soft, dark brown in color, and the juice has reduced and thickened, about 4 cups, 9 to 10 hours.
- Working in batches, place the apples in a strainer or food mill, set over a bowl. Stir and pass the fruit through the strainer to remove any lumps. There should only be flesh in the bowl. The consistency will be like applesauce.
- Add the apple butter back to the slow cooker. Use a handheld immersion blender or countertop blender to process the puree until smooth and thick. If needed for a thicker consistency, cook on high setting in the slow cooker, uncovered, and occasionally stirring until the desired thickness is reached. Season to taste.
- The apple butter will thicken slightly as it cools.
Instant Pot Method
- In a 6-quart Instant Pot add the diced apples, granulated sugar, brown sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and cloves. Pour in ¼ cup apple cider, stir to combine.
- Make sure that the release valve is in the "Sealing" position. Place the lid on the Instant Pot, turn and lock.
- Press the "Manual" button on the Instant Pot on high pressure, and then set the timer to 10-minutes using the "+" or "-" controls. It will take about 25-minutes for the pot to heat up and build pressure. You will see some steam release from the lid, and then the time will start on the display.
- Once the cooking time is complete, allow the pressure to naturally release for 15-minutes.
- Use an oven mitt or towel to slowly and carefully twist the steam release handle on the lid to the "Venting" position. The initial release will spray some moisture around the pot so be careful. Remove the lid, opening the top away from you as steam will release.
- Working in batches, place the apples in a strainer or food mill, set over a bowl. Stir and pass the fruit through the strainer to remove any lumps. There should only be flesh in the bowl. The consistency will be like applesauce. Transfer back to the Instant Pot.
- Use a hand immersion blender to puree the apple butter until very smooth. The mixture will be a thick soup-like consistency. Continue to cook and reduce the apple butter using the quick or slow cooking method (see directions below).
- For Quick Cooking: Press the “saute” function on the Instant Pot. Place the lid slightly ajar to allow steam to escape. Be careful, it will splatter. Stir every 10-minutes, cook until the apple butter thickens to 4 cups, about 30 to 60 minutes. Season to taste.
- For Slow Cooking: Press the “slow cook” function on the Instant Pot. Press the “adjust” button until “more” is selected for the highest heat. Stirring occasionally, cook until the apple butter is dark brown and thickens, about 4 to 6 hours. The apple butter should reduce to 4 cups in volume. Season to taste.
- Recipe Yield: About 4 cups apple butter
- Serving Size: 2 tablespoons
- For a finer consistency: Strain apple butter one last time after reducing to 4 cups.
- For thicker consistency: Skip the straining step and use a potato masher to breakdown the flesh in the pot. The skin will be pureed later.
- Omit sugar: For a less sweet taste, omit the granulated sugar and brown sugar. The color will not be as dark and the caramel-notes will be less intense.
- Cooling and storing: Allow the apple butter to cool completely at room temperature. Place into an airtight container or resealable jars, and refrigerate for up to 2-3 weeks or one month in sterilized jars. Canned apple butter can last in the refrigerator for up to 1 year.
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