Thursday, August 17, 2006

What to do with crab apples? Apple butter

One of the problems with making homemade applesauce is that you end up with a lot of it. In my case, I already had a lot of it, so when I made more, well, I think you get the idea. I had to do something else with my new applesauce. What would one do? Apple butter, of course. For those of you who have never had the pleasure, apple butter is a really smooth, thick, spreadable applesauce that ends up getting caramelized by the long and slow cooking process used to make it smooth and thick. It doesn't actually have butter as an ingredient, but you can use it in a lot of the same ways.

So, as it turns out, making apple butter is pretty easy. I looked up several recipes online and found pretty much the same thing in all of them. You take a lot of applesauce, a good bit of apple juice, a bit of acid (such as lemon juice or cider vinegar) and a good bit of sugar, you mix it all together in a wide pot or pan, and you let it cook on low heat for a few hours.

I probably had about 4 1/2 cups of crab applesauce left over from the previous day's cooking. I added about 1 1/2 cups of apple juice, about 1/4 cup sugar (since there was already plenty of sugar in there), and a splash of cider vinegar. Now, you could technically use water for this. I'm guessing that the reason you add all the liquid is to give the apple and sugar mixture more time to caramelize without burning. But water adds nothing in terms of flavor. When apple juice evaporates, it leaves just that much more apple flavor to intensify the taste. This is also why I used cider vinegar instead of a lemon.

Now, I set this over medium low heat and let it sit for a good few hours. Every 15 minutes or so, I would give it a good stir with a rubber spatula, making sure to scrap the sides and the bottom, to make sure nothing burned. About halfway through, I got smart and pulled out my stick blender and ran that through the mixture a bit to smooth it out. After all, apple butter is supposed to be smooth, right? After about 3 hours, the apple mixture had reduced down to less than half its volume. By this point, I had been scraping every few minutes. The color had gone from that bright red to kind of a brownish red, and it was starting to really hold its shape when stirred. In the baking world, we call this a ribbon.

When it was clear it wasn't going to evaporate much more, I pulled it from the heat and let it cool. Now, when I say it holds its shape, I'm not kidding. I was able to pipe it out with a star tip the same way I could with a softened butter. And the taste? Yes, it's very intense. Not as smooth as I'm used to, I suppose I should have spent more time with the stick blender, but good nonetheless.

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