As I mentioned in the previous apple butter post, I was looking to try a “no-stir” oven version of apple butter. I’ve heard good things about Crock Pot (sorry, “slow cooker” would be the PC terminology of the day, but I prefer the old-fashioned Crock Pot) apple butter, but as I do not own one, I had to try it out in the oven.
There are a few recipes out there on the Interwebs for apple butter reduced in the oven; oven temps range from 200 – 300 degrees and stirring ranges from every 15 minutes, to once an hour, to not at all. The time to an end product varies widely as well, from 1 to 1 and 1/2 hours, to 2 to 3 hours, to all day. I like a pretty thick apple butter, more butter than sauce in texture, so my batch took 5 hours at 300 degrees, and did require stirring at least every half hour.
So which technique is better? Well, like so much else in life, it depends. The endless stirring of the stovetop method is effort-intensive, but I also don’t always have 5 hours to hang around the house “not stirring” apple butter in the oven. Also the butter did tend to develop a skin in the oven, requiring stirring at increasingly short intervals as the butter cooked, and the edges caramelized and stuck to the pan, decreasing yield. I think a combination of methods could work well; the initial reduce in the oven, when you do not have to stir as often because the water is being baked off and the edges do not yet begin to stick, then a transition to the stovetop to finish it off. However, like many recipes, I will probably keep both methods in my arsenal; some days (like today) it is cold, damp and raw and you welcome the oven on all day, and the lazy, movie-watching process of stirring every now and then; some days, you need to just get on with it and move on to the next project, or you had a stressful day at work and nothing beats stress like beating the crap out of a stockpot full of apple butter. Either way, the end product is delicious, so you decide which method suits your kitchen best.
Adapted from Apple Butter in Putting Food By, 4th Ed., J. Greene, R. Hertzberg, B., Vaughan
(Virtually) No Stir Apple Butter
- food mill, chinois, or blender
- canning supplies
- 5 lbs apples (I used organically grown Stayman Winesap from Fishkills Farms), scrubbed well
- 1 cup unsweetened apple juice (or water)
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/2 cup local honey
- pinch of salt
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp cloves
- 1/2 tsp allspice
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- Add the apple and lemon juices to a large stockpot. Quarter the apples, but do not peel or core them; the peels and cores contain a lot of the natural pectin and will help to firm up the consistency of the butter. Add the apples to the stockpot as you chop, tossing occasionally to prevent browning.
- Bring the pot, covered, to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, until the apples are soft, mushy and just beginning to disintegrate, about 45 -60 minutes. Remove from heat, allow to cool slightly, then, working in batches, push the cooked apples, with juice, through a food mill (medium grate) or chinois. If you don’t have a food mill or chinois, Putting By suggests blending the pulp on the highest speed in a blender, with the skins, then straining the pulp to remove the minced skin. You would need to core the apples first if using this method. Or, of course, you can peel, core and dice the apples prior to cooking, hence eliminating the need for any blending or sieving.
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
- Add the honey, spices, and salt to the apple pulp. Mix well, or if you want a really smooth butter, now is a good time to give it a blend with an immersion blender. Transfer the seasoned apple pulp to a 9″ X 13″ baking pan or small roasting pan. Cook, at 300 degrees F, for 4-6 hours, stirring once every 30 minutes or so to prevent a skin of carmelized apple from forming on the top. You may need to decrease the time between stirring to 15 minutes as the apple butter continues to reduce. You can test the texture for doneness by putting a small dollop on a chilled plate, (the butter should hold it’s shape on the plate and no liquid should seep off of the dollop), or simply pull it out when it looks and tastes good to you.
- If canning, prepare canner, jars and lids.
- Pack hot apple butter into hot, sterilized jars to 1/4-inch headspace. It’s especially important with this viscous butter that you stir to eliminate any air pockets trapped in the middle of the jar or along the sides. Wipe rim well, affix lid and band, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Yields about 3 and 1/2 cups.
- This butter is not overly sweet. Because the apple peels and cores are cooked in with the pulp, the apple flavor comes through quite beautifully, so be sure to choose apples that are flavorful and that you like. If you prefer a sweeter butter, increase the honey by up to 1 cup, or substitute up to 4 cups of sugar (which will increase yield and somewhat decrease cooking/stirring time).
- The same basic recipe would work well with pears.
- You can make this apple butter 100% local by eliminating the spices and lemon. You should add some local apple cider vinegar for a little acid; it helps to firm up the set of the butter. For local spice, you could try ground, dried spicebush berries or wild ginger. Or simply apples and honey for a taste that is pure New England.
Canned, in a cool dark spot for up to 1 year. Refrigerated, up to 3 months.
Fall through winter.