This apple butter is simmered in bourbon then slow cooked to develop deep flavors and a thick buttery texture.
Apple season for 2015 has come to a close and if you are anything like me, you were starring at a box of apples thinking “I love you but I just can’t eat another one – or another crumble.” Yeah, I definitely got to that point and decided it was time to use them up and make room for the next season. My first thought was to make apple sauce. It’s a fairly simple process: simmer, sieve, season – viola! There is only one problem. I don’t really like apple sauce. Granted, most of my experience has been with the store bought stuff that tends to be over sugared, over seasoned, or just plain bland. So, I got to thinking and remembered my old friend apple butter.
Growing up, my family spent every Thanksgiving at my grandparent’s home in West Virginia. I’ll always remember the apple tree they had growing in the side yard that was taller than their two story house. Every fall my grandparent’s would gather the apples from that tree and turn it into apple butter – among other things. It was so thick, a little bit tart, with just the right amount of sugar and spice. Put it on some bread fresh from the oven and I was a happy girl. So, I decided to do some research and create my own recipe. Luckily for all of you, it turned out to be the best apple butter I’ve tasted yet!
I used 7 lbs of apples, a 5 quart slow cooker, and produced 8 cups of apple butter. If you want to increase this recipe, be aware that it will reduce by half as you cook it down in the slow cooker. My slow cooker was 3/4 full when I initially transferred the sauce to it, leaving me just enough room to incorporate the seasonings. If you want to scale down the recipe the initial simmer might take less time, but the time in the slow cooker should remain the same.
When making apple butter, it’s best to leave the skins, seeds, cores, and flesh all intact. The naturally occurring pectin will help the apple butter to thicken as it cooks out. That means no peeling!! Warning, don’t get too excited about that yet. Get started by giving your apples a good rinse and then chopping them into quarters, removing any stems and cutting away any bad spots. I used mostly granny smith apples and a couple of Fiji apples, but the apple type is up to you.
Place the apples, bourbon, and water into a large stockpot.
– Yes, I said bourbon. I know. That makes two bourbon recipes this month from the girl with a food and wine blog. Just trust me on this! I’m from Kentucky and I know that sometimes Bourbon is just necessary and wine will not cut it. In the extended cooking time, the alcohol will cook out completely, making this both kid and morning coffee friendly. –
I used my 9 quart pasta pot. The first thing you will notice is that the liquids don’t cover the apples. This is a good thing! You are going to be cooking out as much water as possible, so it’s best not to start with more than you need. Set the heat to high and bring it to a boil. The picture above is how mine looked after it came to a boil and I had stirred it. You can see that the apples are starting to get mushy and the skins are loosening. Drop the heat to medium low and continue to simmer for 30 – 40 minutes, stirring every 8 – 10 minutes. As you stir you will notice more mush and less definition between apples and liquid. You can tell it’s done when you are able to easily mash an apple against the side of the pot with the back of your spoon. You are looking for fall apart soft.
The next step is to mill the apples. Remember when I said that you shouldn’t get too excited about not having to peel and core the apples? Well, unless you own a food mill, or better yet the vegetable strainer attachment for your KitchenAid mixer, you get to do it by hand. As you can guess by the picture above, I do not own a food mill, so I get to do it by hand too. It’s not difficult, but it does take some time and patience to process the apples this way. If you aren’t sold on the idea of apple butter try it with the sieve. If you are just looking for the perfect recipe and don’t want to put in the work, buy a food mill or the attachment and you won’t be disappointed.
If you do have a food mill, follow the manufacturer’s directions to process the apples into apple sauce. Then sit back and sip on some of that bourbon while you wait for the rest of us to catch up.
For those of you doing it by hand, ladle some of the apple mush into the sieve and grab a large spoon. The apples will be hot so be careful not to burn yourself. Also, don’t overload the sieve. The process goes faster when you work on a small amount at a time. Using the back of the spoon work the apples into the sieve, until only the skins and seeds remain. Empty the skins and seeds into your compost or trash and move onto the next ladle full. Repeat the process until all of the apples have been processed and it looks like watery apple sauce, which is exactly what it is a this point.
Once all the apples are in the slow cooker and all the skins and seeds are gone, take a moment to taste it. If apple sauce in the store tasted this good, I’d be tempted to buy it! However, we aren’t going to stop here. It’s time to turn our apple sauce into apple butter. Add in your maple syrup, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, all spice, cloves, and salt. Mix to combine well. I used dark brown sugar. If you use light brown sugar yours may not be this dark. Place the lid over the slow cooker and set the timer for 4 hours on low.
For the next four hours you are off the hook. Just let it sit and simmer. When you come back to it, give it a good stir. The color should be darker and the flavors should have started to develop, but it should still be fairly watery. For the next step, you need to vent your lid to allow the excess moisture to escape. If you take the lid off completely, the temperature will drop too much and it ends up taking longer to cook down. I used two red chop sticks and placed them under the lid. I keep meaning to get something long enough to run crosswise so that it can rest in the little divots, but I never think of it in advance. Once you have rigged your venting system, set the timer for anther 3 hours on low.
This cook time will take between 3 and 4 hours total and depends on the moisture in the air and your venting skills. You can check it by taking a small spoonful out and placing it on a plate. Give it a minute and if liquid starts to seep away, you still have more moisture to cook out. Set the slow cooker back to low and check it again every 15 minutes until it’s done. The consistency to aim for is one that will cover toast like jam without leaving it soggy. The apple butter below is super thick and took it’s time dropping off the spoon.
Once it’s done, there are a few methods for storing. This apple butter will keep in the fridge for approximately two weeks, can be frozen for about 6 months, or if properly canned it is shelf stable much longer.
If you plan to refrigerate or freeze, remove the apple butter from the slow cooker and cool immediately. I used two large food storage containers and spread the apple butter out so that it was about 2″ thick across the bottom. I didn’t have enough ice to do an ice bath, so I placed it in the fridge uncovered and came back to stir it every 5 – 10 minutes. Once it was closer to room temperature (about 20 minutes), I left it in the fridge to cool completely over night. The next day I divided it up among a few canning jars, which I use for freezing. When using glass jars for freezing, make sure to leave at least a 1″ gap at the top so that the food can expand as it freezes. If you fill them completely, your jars will shatter. I used 2 – 1 quart jars and 2 pint sized jars. It would have fit into 2 – 1 quart jars and 1 pint jar, but I’m selfishly hiding a pint of this away in my freezer.
If you prefer canning to preserve this apple butter for long term storage, please refer to the experts at Ball. They can answer all your questions and direct you to the proper tools and steps for safely canning and preserving food. Even if you don’t want to can, their glass jars are great for kitchen storage. I use them in my pantry fridge and freezer to organize staples and keep leftovers sealed up.
If you are wondering what to do with quart jars full of apple butter, I have plenty of ideas coming. So far I have used it for a super simple spiced apple latte, mixed it with bourbon and sprite for an apple cocktail, and of course slathered it onto my favorite English Muffin toast. Coming up I plan to use it in things like apple butter ice cream, apple butter cinnamon rolls, apple butter pancakes, and I’m working on an apple butter bread.
How do you plan on using your apple butter? What apple butter recipes would you be most interested in learning? Let me know in the comments below!
Slow Cooker Bourbon Apple Butter
- 7 lbs apples
- 1 cup bourbon
- 3 cups water
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 TBSP cinnamon
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp all spice
- 1/2 tsp cloves
- 3/4 tsp salt
Clean apples and chop into quarters, removing the stems and cutting away any bad spots.
Place apples, bourbon, and water into a large stockpot.
Bring to a boil over high heat.
Once boiling, stir and drop heat to medium low and continue to simmer for 30 - 40 minutes. Apples should be fall apart soft when they are done.
Using either a food mill, or a sieve and spoon, process the apple mush in small batches to remove the skins and seeds.
Place the remaining apple sauce into a slow cooker.
Stir in the maple syrup, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, all spice, cloves, and salt.
Place the lid on the slow cooker and set on low for 4 hours.
After 4 hours, stir the apple butter. Replace the lid so that it is vented to allow steam to escape. It works well to rest it on chopsticks. Set the slow cooker on low for three hours.
Test the apple butter to see if it's done by spooning a small amount on to a plate. If liquid seeps away, it needs more time to cook. Allow it to continue cooking on low with a vented lid, stirring and testing every 15 minutes.
When it is done, prepare it for short term storage in the fridge or freezer by bringing the temperature down to room temperature and placing it in fridge or freezer safe containers. It will keep 2 weeks in the fridge and 6 months in the freezer.
For longer term storage, please refer to proper canning preservation methods.