Slow Cooker Spiced Apple Butter

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The heavenly aroma of sweet apples and warm spices fills your kitchen with this versatile fall favorite that can be sweetened to taste. The generous batch freezes well, and you can even bake with it! 

The heavenly aroma of sweet apples and warm spices fills your kitchen with this versatile fall favorite that can be sweetened to taste. The generous batch freezes well, and you can even bake with it! 

 

 

 

 

Maybe you’ve shied away from apple butter because it seems limited to toast and plain yogurt. If those items aren’t in your regular meal rotation, why bother? What else would you do with it?

Or perhaps you have purchased apple butter and been underwhelmed. 

For starters, the fresh flavor of homemade apple butter is a step above the typical grocery store jar. And though it tastes great on toast, there are many more ways to enjoy the smooth, lightly spiced spread.

Among other good uses, I discovered a while back that apple butter offers an excellent substitute for applesauce in baking because it plays up the warm spicy notes in the likes of zucchini and banana bread. 

Adding to its appeal, you can control the sweetness in this recipe. So, if you’re looking for something that will sweeten plain yogurt or stovetop oatmeal, you can accomplish this. Alternatively, if you gravitate towards tart flavors, you may scale down.

Though we often think of apple butter in relation to sweet applications, it works beautifully as a condiment on savory foods, too. For instance, try a dollop on pork chops or pork tenderloin, or mash a spoonful into a baked sweet potato, adding a sprinkle of sharp cheddar cheese, if desired. Believe it or not, I have a friend who enjoys adding apple butter to her grilled cheese sandwiches, two slices of ham optional. 

 

Ways to enjoy apple butter:

  • Stir into oatmeal or yogurt
  • Spread over toast, pancakes, and waffles…
  • Or cornbead
  • Use as a condiment for pork or ham
  • Use in baked goods instead of applesauce when you’d like to play up the warm spicy notes, like in baked oatmeal, zucchini, pumpkin, or banana bread-even carrot cake
  • Spread on a turkey and cheddar sandwich (or a grilled cheese as one of my friends does!)
  • Spoon over vanilla ice cream
  • Mash a spoonful into a baked sweet potato (a sprinkle of sharp cheddar, optional)
  • Eat it straight, like applesauce

 

How to adjust the flavor to your liking:

For the most complex flavor, I like to use a mix of sweet and tart apples. As a result, the precise starting point of natural sweetness varies somewhat with every batch.

Given the mix of apples I often use, the initial amount of brown sugar stated in the recipe produces a slightly tart outcome. I usually end up adding more sweetener to taste at the end. In my last batch, I added a quarter cup more maple syrup.

As I mention in the recipe, you may use brown sugar and maple syrup interchangeably. For their caramel-like notes, I do like to start with one of these two sweeteners. On occasion, I’ve added granulated sugar in my final adjustment. A mix can add a little extra something.

If you prefer to keep the added sugar low, opt for a variety of sweeter apples to start (see recommendations below). 

Similarly, the level of spices may be adjusted if desired. As written, the apple butter supplies a moderate level of warm spice notes. I think of it as Goldilocks’ “just right” apple butter. If you’d enjoy a more assertive, Papa Bear flavor in your apple butter, feel free to lightly round your spoons when measuring the spices. 

As another option, you could use cinnamon sticks in place of ground cinnamon or one vanilla bean, sliced down the middle, instead of the vanilla extract. For cinnamon, the general rule of thumb is 1 cinnamon stick = ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon. Simply remove the sticks or bean before blending-and be sure to scrape the inside of the vanilla bean to extract all the good flavor.  

On the blending subject, a handheld immersion blender allows for easy blending right in the slow cooker. Don’t have one? You may transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor?

Perhaps you prefer a chunky apple butter or don’t want to bother with that step? After hours of slow cooking, the apples break down enough that you could actually skip this step entirely. 

 

The heavenly aroma of sweet apples and warm spices fills your kitchen in this versatile fall favorite that can be sweetened to taste. The generous batch freezes well, and you can even bake with it! 

Of course, there are so many varieties of apples. So, which are the best?

Rest assured, there isn’t a right or wrong answer, especially when using a mix. Some apples are better suited for pies or applesauce, for example, but apple butter is highly forgiving.

If a certain type of apple doesn’t fully break down, it’s okay because the mixture will be pureed at the end. As mentioned, if you’d like to keep the added sweetener to a minimum, opting for sweeter apples will help.

My grandmother always said that best flavor came from the tartest apples and sugar to taste, which meant a lot of sugar. (Her applesauce and apple butter always did taste terrific!) I lean towards a happy medium, incorporating a variety of tart and sweet apples and a moderate amount of sweetener. 

 

The following apple chart may help you choose a range of flavors and can be referenced for other baking needs as well:

Guide to apples

I’ve also enjoyed McIntosh and Empire apples (sweeter with a hint of tartness) and tart Stayman and Mutsu (also known as Crispin) apples in applesauce and apple butter. 

Looking for a variety not included on this chart? You will likely find the details you are looking for in this at-a-glance guide

The heavenly aroma of sweet apples and warm spices fills your kitchen with this versatile fall favorite that can be sweetened to taste. The generous batch freezes well, and you can even bake with it! 

Cooking apple butter in the slow cooker is easy, mostly hands-off, and avoids the scorching that often occurs with stovetop methods.

The heavenly aroma of sweet apples and warm spices fills your kitchen with this versatile fall favorite that can be sweetened to taste. The generous batch freezes well, and you can even bake with it! 

Apple butter is traditionally cooked down to a deep, brown color to concentrate the flavors.

The heavenly aroma of sweet apples and warm spices fills your kitchen with this versatile fall favorite that can be sweetened to taste. The generous batch freezes well, and you can even bake with it! 

If you’d like a milder flavor apple butter, you may simply reduce the initial slow cooking time, stopping when the apples are very soft. The end result will be a lightly spiced applesauce that is a paler shade of brown. For the jar pictured in the front, I cooked the apples on low for about half the stated time, keeping all else the same, to show you the difference in colors. Though slightly different, both ways are delicious!

How to store apple butter:

  • Apple butter will taste even better the next day after it has rested in the refrigerator and the flavors have melded. Store in a jar or other airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or freeze to keep for many months. When frozen, thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
  • If you like the idea of baking with apple butter, you may wish to freeze it in portion-appropriate containers. For example, if you often use a half cup in a baked oatmeal recipe, you may wish to freeze in four-ounce containers. 
The heavenly aroma of sweet apples and warm spices fills your kitchen with this versatile fall favorite that can be sweetened to taste. The generous batch freezes well, and you can even bake with it! 

Homemade apple butter makes a thoughtful gift, too!

Slow Cooker Spiced Apple Butter
Yield: ~6 cups (freezes well)
The heavenly aroma of sweet apples and warm spices will fill your kitchen in this easy recipe that can be sweetened to taste and enjoyed in so many ways. You can even bake with it! 
Ingredients
  • 5 pounds apples*
  • ½ cup packed (100g) brown sugar (plus more to taste at the end; may substitute pure maple syrup or use a combination)
  • 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon EACH ground cloves, allspice, and kosher or sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
Instructions
  1. Peel, core, and chop the apples into cubes about ¾- to 1-inch thick, and place in a 6–quart slow cooker. Sprinkle the brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, salt, and vanilla overtop, and stir to incorporate. (No need to grease the slow cooker.)
  2. Cover and cook on high for 3 to 4 hours, or on low for 6 to 8 hours, stirring once halfway through, or until the apples are very tender and brown.
  3. Puree the apples with an immersion blender until the apple butter reaches your desired consistency (I like smooth but a little chunky is fine, too). If you don’t have an immersion blender, transfer the apples to a blender or food processor, in batches if necessary, and blend until smooth, then return to the slow cooker.
  4. Continue to cook the apple butter on high, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has reached your desired thickness, about 2 hours more. Taste and add additional brown sugar to taste. This will totally depend on natural sweetness/tartness of apples used and personal preference. For variety, you could adjust with granulated sugar or pure maple syrup, if desired. (I added ¼ cup of maple syrup to my last batch.)
  5. Spoon the apple butter into jars or another airtight container and let cool before refrigerating.
  6. Flavor improves over time and the apple butter freezes well!
Notes

*5 pounds is about 9-10 large apples, but apple size varies so much that you may wish to weigh at the store or market where you buy to get close. A little variance up or down, however, is fine. I like a mix of tart and sweet apples, and I don’t worry if there’s a little skin left on the apples after peeling. It will get pureed at the end and doesn’t change the flavor.

A few more things:
If you enjoy a more assertive flavor in your apple butter, feel free to lightly round your spoons when measuring the spices.
My slow cooker is wide, so when using the immersion blender in it, I tilt the cooker to one side. This creates a deeper “pool” to blend into, and then I use the lid as a shield against any splatters. If you have a rounder, deeper cooker, you likely won’t need to do this.
The apples break down to the point that you could forego the pureeing step if you enjoy a less smooth final product.

The Fountain Avenue Kitchen https://fountainavenuekitchen.com/

 

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