What Exactly Is Apple Butter?

Celebrate and preserve autumn with this lush, spiced fruit spread.

September 07, 2022
Homemade Apple Butter with Cast Iron Skillet Biscuits

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Homemade Apple Butter with Cast Iron Skillet Biscuits

Photo by: rudisill/Getty Images

rudisill/Getty Images

By Layla Khoury-Hanold for Food Network Kitchen

Layla Khoury-Hanold is a contributor at Food Network.

Apple season gives us all the autumn feels, but once you’ve had your fill of apple cider and snacking apples, you might find yourself wondering what to do with all those Fujis and Golden Delicious apples. If you’ve got time, there’s no easier way to preserve the fall season than with homemade apple butter – and here’s a step-by-step guide. Or if you’ve simply snagged a jar at the farmstand and are curious about its contents inside, read on.

What Is Apple Butter?

Apple butter is a spreadable preserve made by slow-cooking apples with warming spices such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice. The apples are cooked for a long time over low heat, caramelizing them, concentrating their flavor and turning them into a spreadable consistency. The cooked apples are then milled, pureed or blended to create apple butter’s signature smooth texture. Although it’s in the name, there is no butter in apple butter, meaning apple butter is generally vegan (but be sure to check the label if you’re buying it).

Apple Butter vs. Apple Jam: What’s the Difference?

In a world full of different apple products, understandably there might be some confusion about the differences between each. Apple jam is like apple butter in that it features apples cooked down over a long period of time. However, apple jam is thinner in consistency, lighter in color, and often includes bits of fruit, whereas apple butter is thicker, darker in color (thanks to caramelization) and blended until smooth. Apple jam sometimes includes seasonings, but apple butter always includes warming spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg. Apple jam is, well, simply jam made from apples. Much like strawberry jam is made from strawberries and blueberry jam is made from blueberries.

Apple Butter vs. Applesauce: What’s the Difference?

Applesauce is also similar to apple butter in that it features slow-cooked apples. The difference is that applesauce isn’t cooked for as long as apple butter, giving it a runnier consistency and less concentrated apple flavor. Unless it is pureed, the texture of applesauce tends to be more rustic than apple butter, with chunks of cooked apple. While you typically spread apple butter, applesauce is commonly enjoyed all on its own with a spoon.

Biscuits on a rustic baking sheet with apple butter, parchment paper and spatula.

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Biscuits on a rustic baking sheet with apple butter, parchment paper and spatula.

Photo by: © Michael Grayson/Getty Images

© Michael Grayson/Getty Images

How to Make Apple Butter

Apple butter is one of the easiest preserves to make, especially when you use your slow cooker. You don’t even have to peel or core the apples first!

Step 1: Wash and Prep the Apples

Thoroughly wash about 5 pounds of apples. If they seem waxy, scrub them with a produce brush. Since you will be cooking the apples with the skin on, organic apples are recommended. Slice the apples through their cores into eight slices.

Step 2: Cook the Apples

Add 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar and 1 cup apple cider or juice to the slow cooker. Cook on low, covered, until the apples are soft, about 8 hours. Or on high, covered, until the apples are soft, about 4 hours.

Step 3: Process the Cooked Apples

Using a potato masher, mash the apples until they are thoroughly pulped. Run the pulp through a food mill to catch the skins and seeds, passing a puree back into the bowl of the slow cooker. If you do not have a food mill, press the pulp through a sieve.

Step 4: Sweeten the Apple Butter

Add 1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon each ground nutmeg and allspice and a pinch of salt to the puree in the slow cooker. Cook uncovered over high, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, until the apple butter darkens and it mounds on a spoon, about 1 hour. Adjust sweetness and seasonings to taste.

Step 5: Store the Apple Butter

Store the apple butter in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. Or water-bath can for 15 minutes to make stable for shelving; store in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.

How to Store and Freeze Apple Butter

If you aren’t canning your apple butter to make it shelf stable, you can store apple butter in the refrigerator or freezer. Allow apple butter to cool, then store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. To freeze apple butter, spoon cooled apple butter into freezer-safe, air-tight containers, leaving 1/2- to 1-inch head space. Apple butter will keep in the freezer for up to 1 year.

How do you know if apple butter has gone bad?

If your apple butter develops an off-putting smell, appearance, or taste, or grows mold, toss it.

Apple Butter Recipes

In addition to ground cloves and cinnamon, this apple butter is brightened up with fresh lemon juice. Vanilla extract adds a touch of indulgence. Try it at breakfast to top pancakes, waffles, yogurt or oatmeal; swap it in for jam in a PB&J or take things savory with grilled cheese or pork chops.

Employing your slow cooker to make apple butter lets you set it and leave it, plus it fills your kitchen with the aroma of warming spices and apple-y goodness.

Homemade Apple Butter as seen on Valerie's Home Cooking My Delaware Days episode, season 7.

Homemade Apple Butter as seen on Valerie's Home Cooking My Delaware Days episode, season 7.

Photo by: Rob Pryce

Rob Pryce

For her apple butter recipe, Valerie Bertinelli simmers a mix of peeled, cored and chopped apples in a mixture of apple cider (she prefers unfiltered), sugar, lemon juice and a medley of spices: cinnamon, allspice, ginger and cloves. The cooked apples are pureed with an immersion blender, then baked low-and-slow and stirred every 20 minutes to prevent scorching until they’re thick and rich caramel brown.

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