by Margaret Cabaniss
Last week on the SlowMama Facebook page, Ann posted a link to a recipe for apple butter made in a slow cooker.
(Side note: Have you liked SlowMama on Facebook yet? You totally should! It has links to the daily posts, plus whatever other recipes, articles, links, etc., we think readers would enjoy — without cluttering up your news feed, of course. Really, you should just go like us right now. I’ll wait.)
I’m usually a little suspicious of the crock pot; some recipes do really well in it, while others just seem to cook down into a homogenous mush. But, as it turns out, “homogenous mush” is exactly what you’re going for with apple butter, so it’s pretty much perfect for the job. The “low and slow” cooking method is ideal for concentrating the flavor in fruit butters, without requiring hours of stirring and constant attention (or wasted energy from your stove).
While the method Ann linked to has you cook everything together at once in the crock pot, I cooked down my apples on the stove first; that way, you can measure exactly how much apple puree you’re getting and adjust your sugar and spices accordingly. (Another bonus: If you have a food mill, you don’t even have to peel or deseed the apples first; just cut them into chunks, cook them down, and then strain out the peels and seeds when you’re done.)
Once you have your puree, you add the sugar and spices and throw everything in the crock pot on low, vent the lid, then walk away. Depending on the strength of your slow cooker, what kind of apples you use, and how much liquid you added to cook your puree down, it can take anywhere from 8-24 hours in the crock pot. You can check it every few hours and give it a stir, but my batch did fine overnight without any stirring at all.
The other secret weapon in this recipe, besides the slow cooker? An immersion blender. I was able to blend up an ultra-smooth puree on the stove before moving it to the crockpot, and then reincorporate everything again at the end just before canning. (A blender or food processor would work just fine, too, though I love not having to mess up another bowl.)
The result is a velvety smooth butter that’s rich, complex, and sweet without being cloying; it still has plenty of that apple-y bite to remind you just what you’re eating. Enjoy it with bread, oatmeal, yogurt, ice cream, spice cakes, or by the spoonful straight from the jar.
Slow-Cooker Apple Butter
adapted from Canning for a New Generation
Baking or saucing apples are best here, though you can use whatever you like, or try a mix. I used Red Gravensteins from my recent trip to the orchard; they worked beautifully, if you can get your hands on some! You can also adjust the amount of sugar to your liking; I found two tablespoons per cup of puree a good ratio. Finally, you can split this recipe into two steps, if you don’t have time to cook everything at once: Make your puree first and keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to start the slow cooker.
- 6 pounds apples, cored and peeled (if you don’t have a food mill), cut into chunks
- 2 cups apple cider or water
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Add the apples and cider (or water) to a pot; set over high heat on the stove and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and boil, stirring occasionally, until the apples are completely broken down — anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes, depending on what kind of apples you’re using.
If you didn’t peel your apples first: Pass the mixture through a food mill to remove the peels and seeds. Otherwise, use an immersion blender (or food processor, or regular blender) to puree your apples. Measure your puree.
Add the puree, sugar, and spices to a crock pot and set to low heat. Use chopsticks or wooden spoons laid across the opening of the pot to prop up the lid, which will keep the mixture warm but allow the moisture to escape. Check the mixture occasionally, if you can, and stir to make sure it’s cooking evenly. Cook until thick and dark brown. (I test it by scooping a small amount onto a regular spoon, then letting it cool slightly on the counter. If it clings to the spoon when you hold it upright, it’s done.)
Give the mixture one final spin with your immersion blender, then transfer the butter to clean jars and store in the fridge (for a few weeks) or freezer (for several months), or follow the standard instructions for water-bath canning (pint and half-pint jars should be processed for 10 minutes).
Images: Margaret Cabaniss