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Easy “Real Butter” Apple Butter Recipe

An apple butter that has actual butter in it? That’s what you’ll get with this incredibly simple, but very delicious, stovetop recipe.  Once you’ve discovered how easy it is to make, you’ll want to make homemade apple butter a regular part of your fall cooking lineup.

Apple butter on bread.

Apple Butter — A Taste of Childhood

I loved apple butter as a child.  The hint of tartness of the apples, the sweetness of the brown sugar, and the apple pie spice flavors transformed ordinary toast into a morning treat.  It’s one of those childhood-memory foods I’ve continued eating as an adult.

I eat it on toasted bread and English muffins as a breakfast condiment.  I also make apple butter sandwiches for a quick lunch (not so weird since I’m also a fan of jelly/jam sandwiches).  I’ve even used apple butter to baste roasted chicken and grilled pork chops.

If you like apples but you haven’t yet tasted apple butter, you’ve been missing out and now is your opportunity to discover it for yourself.

From Store Bought to Homemade

For years I ate whatever commercially-made brand of apple butter I could find in my local grocery store, because that’s what I grew up eating.  But one day as I was browsing Pinterest, I came across a pin for a homemade apple butter recipe.  It was literally one of those “WHAAAAAT?” moments for me.

I’ve made fried apples countless times and I’ve even made applesauce.  But the idea of making apple butter had never crossed my mind.  The Pinterest recipe promised an easy apple butter made in the Crock-Pot, so I knew I had to see if it delivered.  It did and I’ve never bought apple butter in a store since.

You Can Have It Your Way

Here’s what I love the most about making food from scratch — it turns out just the way I like it.  I can’t always say that about foods I buy in the store.  Wanting what I want, the way I want it, has often been my motivation for making foods I could otherwise buy pre-made.

Once I started making apple butter at home, I realized something about the brands I’d been buying in the store: they didn’t taste exactly the way I wanted them to.  I had always put butter on my toast or English muffins before I spread them with store bought apple butter because otherwise it was a lot like eating spiced applesauce.  Then I figured out why that was.

When I made that Pinterest recipe and then compared it to other recipes, I was surprised to learn that while it’s called apple butter, I couldn’t seem to find a single recipe that included butter anywhere in the list of ingredients.  That just didn’t seem right to me since I believe there should be truth in advertising!

Part of my love of cooking is being able to throw rules out the window and let my creative spirit have free reign to come up with new things.  So I decided to make my apple butter with ACTUAL butter cooked into it.  No more pre-buttering toast needed.

I’ve made many “free-style” apple butters where I did a lot of sampling as it cooked to determine what and how much to add.  I adjusted my spice and sugar amounts based on what tasted good to me that day or what I was using the apple butter for.  Some batches highlighted the flavor of ginger or cinnamon or molasses.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever made the exact same batch twice!  (I probably will now since I finally created a recipe.)

So Many Apples, So Many Choices

The other opportunity for variety in apple butter comes from all the different apples it can be made from.  You can use one kind of apple or a combination of apples to create your own signature flavor.  A recipe like this is a chance to experiment and play around, if you like doing that sort of thing.

The only apples I would tell you to avoid for making apple butter are Red Delicious.  The flavor is too mild and the apple butter could end up tasting bland (like butter, spices, and sugar with little to no apple flavor).  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Red Delicious apples for snacking or using in fresh salads.  They just aren’t a candidate for this recipe.

The great news is that it’s easy to find apples that are excellent choices to use.  Knowing the level of tart/sweet you want in your finished apple butter will help you decide what to buy.  I consulted a lot of tart-to-sweet apple ranking charts to arrive at the following three groups of common apples you can find in the grocery store or at your local fruit stand.

Tart flavor– Granny Smith, McIntosh, Braeburn

Middle tart/sweet flavor —  Rome, Honeycrisp, Golden Delicious

Sweet flavor — Fuji, Gala, Jonagold

If you’re lucky enough to live near any apple orchards, I would definitely urge you to visit them for your apples.  You’ll likely get better quality produce, you may discover varieties not found in large grocery chains, and you’ll be supporting a local business.

I actually have no idea what kind off apples I’m using for this recipe.  A neighbor gave me the apples and there’s nothing to identify the variety anywhere on the bag.  So I cut one up, tasted a piece, and I was quite pleased with the flavor. They were right in the middle of the tart-sweet spectrum, so I think they’ll make a very nice apple butter.

Apples.

The Texture Is Up to You

I’m a huge fan of recipes that leave a lot of room for personal preference and this recipe certainly does that.  I’ve already talked about the options for your choice of apples and the proportion of butter/spices/sugar, but you can also choose how chunky or smooth your apple butter will be.

If you want a smooth apple butter, a stick blender or an electric hand mixer will do the trick.

If you want a really chunky apple butter, breaking up the apples with a wooden spoon is probably sufficient.

I like my apple butter about halfway between smooth and chunky — spreads well, but with enough texture so it’s obvious that it’s homemade.  A potato masher is my tool of choice.

Potato masher.

This Isn’t Crock-Pot Apple Butter

I love my Crock-Pot apple butter, but I can’t use my Crock-Pot right now.  So I’ll be making this apple butter on the stove.  For months I’ve been modifying Crock-Pot and oven recipes to make them in my cast-iron dutch oven and apple butter has done very well in it.

If you don’t own a dutch oven, you can use a 5 quart pot with a lid — most cookware sets have a pot around that size.  (I just looked up my T-fal set online and was amused to learn the big pot is actually called a “dutch oven.”  So I guess that means I’ve had two all this time.)

So Easy Peasy, You’ll Wonder Why You Waited This Long

Seriously, once you see how easy it is to make your own apple butter, you’ll want to make it again and again.  Not only is the apple butter super good, but it makes your house smell absolutely amazing.  Fall doesn’t officially begin for me until I’ve filled my kitchen with the heavenly aroma of apples and spices simmering on the stove.

So now that I’ve talked the talk, I’ll show you how to walk the walk of making your own apple butter.

Apple butter ingredients.

Step one is to rinse, peel, core, and chop your apples.  Guess who doesn’t own an apple corer?  This girl.  But guess what else?  It doesn’t matter, because I saw a chef on a Food Network show demonstrate using a chef’s knife to cut the core off apples that had been quartered.  So I don’t suffer from apple corer FOMO!

Apples with cores cut off.

Put the apples, butter, brown sugar, spices, and a small amount of water in your dutch oven or large pot (make sure it has a lid).

Apple butter ingredients in pot.

Here’s where I have to share something I DON’T like about my cast-iron dutch oven — the lid.  And it’s not that I don’t like the lid itself, because it’s a great, heavy-duty lid that makes a dutch oven work for all kinds of indoor and outdoor cooking.  But when you cover food with a cast-iron lid, the steam created by the food cooking causes condensation on the bottom of the lid, and this water will drip, which means rust is getting into your food.

I did a lot of online research to see if there was some way to treat the lid to keep this from happening.  Nope.  Steam and the resulting condensation are going to happen and unless the lid has an enamel coating on it (mine does not), there’s always a risk of rust forming and getting into your food.  Even “venting” the lid by not completely covering the pot doesn’t help.

Finally, I found what I thought was a brilliant workaround — someone suggested wrapping heavy-duty aluminum foil around the lid to act as a barrier between the steam and the lid surface.  It actually worked great and I do this any time I need to use the lid of my dutch oven.

This is the underside of the lid that the steam condensation forms on.

Underside of foil-wrapped lid.

This is how I fold the foil up and over the edges of the lid.  Rust does still form on the bottom of the lid underneath the foil, so I remove the foil and “re-season” the lid after each use. But at least the condensation happens on the foil, which means rust isn’t getting into the food I’m cooking!  Until the day I own enameled cast-iron cookware, I’ll continue to use this cooking hack.

Top of foil-wrapped lid.

Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, for 2-3 hours.  The apples should cook down so they are easily-break-apart soft.

Then use whatever tool you need in order to get the apple butter to the desired consistency.

Mashed cooked apple butter.

And that, literally, is all it takes to create your own mouth watering apple butter.  I told you it was easy.

Finished apple butter.

Storing/Canning Homemade Apple Butter

I haven’t owned a canning set in a long time and when I did, I never canned any of my apple butter.  Whenever I made a batch, I put the apple butter in pint-sized mason jars, kept a jar or two for my family, and then gave away the rest to friends and neighbors.  I told them “You probably want to use this up within a week because there aren’t any preservatives in it.”  The apple butter I kept never stayed around long enough to go bad!  With three boys, it was usually gone within a weekend.

Because there is butter in this apple butter, it will separate when it’s refrigerated.  All you need to do is pop your jar in the microwave to warm it (30 seconds to a minute, depending on the size of the jar).  Stir to mix the butter in and enjoy!

If homemade apple butter is canned and properly stored, it will taste its best for up to a year, just as canned fruit and pie fillings.  It’s still safe to keep it for longer than that so long as you inspect the jars from time to time to make sure that there isn’t any mold growing or some other yucky thing going on in the the apple butter.  But canning experts say the longer you keep canned foods after a year, the lower the taste quality of the food.  Seriously, though.  Why would you still have any homemade apple butter after a year, anyway?

Uses for Apple Butter

A spread on toast made with all kinds of sandwich bread, any crusty loaf bread/baguette/roll, or English muffins.  (In case you were wondering, that’s Dave’s Killer Bread shown in the photos.)

Here’s a recipe for an Oatmeal Wheat Bread that’s a favorite of mine to make.

A baste for roasted/grilled chicken or pork.

I’m sure there are many other ways to use it — I just haven’t been introduced to them yet!

Other Kinds of Fruit Butter

Since discovering homemade apple butter, I’ve also learned of other fruit butters.  Peach butter,  apricot butter, and pear butter just to name a few.  I haven’t made them yet, but I’m hoping to try a couple later this year.

Real Butter Apple Butter

Real Butter Apple Butter

Yield: 3-4 cups
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 25 minutes

This is not your typical apple butter.  This is an incredibly easy recipe with actual butter cooked into it for a scrumptious spread you’ll want to put on all sorts of toasted baked goods.  Welcome fall into your home by making a batch of your very own apple butter -- you’ll be glad you did!

Ingredients

  • 8 apples
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
  • ½ c. packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 (heaping) tablespoon apple pie (or pumpkin pie) spice blend
  • ½ cup water

Instructions

  1. Wash, peel, core, and chop the apples.
  2. Place apples in a dutch oven or large pot with a lid.
  3. Add the butter, brown sugar, pie spices, and water.  Stir to coat the apples.
  4. Cover and cook over low heat for up to three hours, stirring occasionally to keep the apples from scorching.
  5. Put in airtight jars with lids and refrigerate for up to a week.
  6. If canning, follow instructions for fruit canning and store properly.
Apple butter Pinterest image.
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