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A professional chef’s recipe for Apple Butter that is silky smooth and tastes like caramelized apples! It only uses 3 ingredients, some spices and little bit of time!
Unlike any other you’ve seen, this homemade apple butter recipe starts by making a dry caramel with all the sugar. This gives it the flavor of spiced caramel apples and tempers the sweetness. Every time I make this recipe, I feel grateful to the chef who taught me how to make it.
Apple butter is essentially spiced and sweetened apple sauce that is cooked down to the thickness of jam. It contains no butter but gets the name because its smooth, silky texture could seem to have butter in it. Use on banana bread with crumb topping, rosemary sourdough rolls, buttermilk biscuits, in oatmeal or in place of apple sauce in any recipe.
Table of Contents
Why This is the Best Apple Butter
- The incredible depth of flavor starts in the caramel. Caramelizing all the sugar keeps it from getting too sweet and it also makes the flavor more complex, so that it can’t be confused with apple sauce.
- Deglazing the caramel at its peak with apple cider adds another layer of complexity. Using apple cider (not juice—that’s for babies) creates that next layer. Bonus points if you got your apple cider from an actual farmer!
- Choose a variety of apples. There are no wrong choices as long as you have an many varieties as possible. When I’m making it at the restaurant in large batches, I literally walk through my favorite farm stand and say, “I’ll take 4 of every variety except Macintosh.” It raises eyebrows, but it also makes the best apple butter.
Professional Tips for Making Apple Butter
- Take the caramel to a dark amber. If the caramel is too light, it will make it too sweet. Right when it turns a deep rich brown, add the apple cider. Don’t stress if it seizes, you are going to cook it for long enough for those to work themselves out.
- Puree & pass through a sieve. For the smoothest apple butter, you must puree and pass through a fine mesh sieve. I use a chinoise strainer both in the restaurant and at home.
- Continue cooking after pureeing. This is another part of the recipe that is different than others. Put the puree back in the pot and continue cooking until it runs off a spoon like cold honey or holds a line like jam.
- Apples: Use as many varieties as you can find! No matter the size batch I use no fewer than 5, but in larger batches I will pick and choose up to 15. There are no wrong choices here.
- Granulated Sugar
- Apple Cider: I use unfiltered apple cider for the taste. Find a brand or a farm that you enjoy and use that! Make hot apple cider with the rest.
- Cinnamon Sticks: Cinnamon sticks impart a different flavor than ground cinnamon. I let it infuse an hour and remove before pureeing. You could use just ground cinnamon if you prefer.
- Ground Cinnamon
- Ground Ginger
- Ground Cloves
See the recipe card for full information on ingredients and quantities.
Variations & Substitutions
- Skip the caramel & make it in a slow cooker: It hurts my heart, but you can skip the caramel, halve the sugar and make this in a slow cooker instead. You can also finish it in a slow cooker.
- Different spices: Experiment with the type and amount of spice that you enjoy. This would also be delightful with apple pie spice or pumpkin spice!
- Pear butter! No one speaks of it, but you can do the same thing with pears or quince!
How to Make Apple Butter
Use these instructions to make the perfect homemade apple butter every time! Further details and measurements can be found in the recipe card below.
Step 1: Peel, core and quarter the apples. There is no need to slice them any smaller. I do find it easier to strain if the apples are peeled, and if you don’t strain it, you must peel.
Step 2: In a large, high sided pot, add all the sugar and cook over medium high heat to make a dry caramel. Break up any clumps of sugar with your spoon. You can stir a dry caramel, but as soon as all the sugar melts, I usually stop stirring.
You can make the dry caramel like I do in this salted caramel sauce recipe by sprinkling the sugar on in layers, adding another layer as soon as the previous one melted; however, I don’t find it to be necessary here. A few chunks of sugar will work themselves out during the cooking process, or you will strain them at the end.
Step 3: When the caramel turns dark amber, turn off the heat and add the apple cider a little at a time. Dark amber is right after caramel begins to smoke profusely and smells like caramel. When you take it this far, you do not have time to gather things. Have everything ready. The step 3 photo was taken 30 seconds before I added the apple cider. The photos right before were too smoky!
Don’t worry if the caramel seizes when the cider is added, it will have plenty of time to melt.
Step 4: Add the apples, cinnamon stick and spices. Stir to mix.
Step 5: Cook 1 hour, remove cinnamon stick, and immersion blend with a hand blender in the pot or carefully use a standard blender, working in batches.
Step 6: Pass apple puree through a fine sieve. I use a 2 oz ladle to help force it through.
Step 7: Put the strained puree into a new pot or back into the original pot and reduce over low heat, stirring frequently, until it runs off a spoon like cold honey. Rather than pouring off a spatula or spoon it will come off in globs.
Towards the end of the cooking process I use a silicone spatula to stir.
Step 8: Cool to room temperature before putting into jars or can using the appropriate safety precautions.
How do you know when apple butter is done?
Apple butter is done when runs off a spoon like cold honey, so it will come off in clumps rather than running off. It will also hold a line on the back of a spoon. When in doubt, remove it from the heat, cool a spoonful or two, and test the consistency.
Chef Lindsey’s Recipe Tip
The best apple butter takes time and dirties a few dishes, but it is worth it. This recipe can be scaled as large as you want, so make a big batch to use all year long! Take care when making the caramel, choose a large enough pot or work in batches.
How to use apple butter?
- Use it as a spread. It is delicious on quick breads like pumpkin bread, old fashioned banana bread or healthy pumpkin muffins. Spread it on yeasted bread like pumpkin spice rolls or easy dinner rolls, or top of scones such as these apple scones or cinnamon scones.
- Bake with apple butter. It can be substituted for apple sauce in any recipe 1 for 1, or use it to bake a unique pie, fill cupcakes, or make an apple spice cake.
- An unexpected addition to party platters. Serve it on cheese boards, an autumn butter board or on a charcuterie tray.
- An easy topping for pork chops or chicken. Serve seared pork chops or this rosemary chicken recipe with a side of apple butter for a sweet savory dinner. It also is great on sandwiches.
- Swirled into desserts. Try swirling in to cheesecake or flavoring Swiss meringue buttercream.
- As a gift. Just like cranberry chutney or peach preserves, it makes a great gift! Package in a beautiful jar with a handmaid label for the perfect hostess gift or Christmas gift.
Frequently Asked Questions
Cool to room temperature, fill clean jars and store in the refrigerator for up a year. It will not spoil as long as the jar or apple butter are not contaminated. You can freeze it, but I have never found a need.
While both are made from cooked apples, apple sauce is generally not pureed and can be unsweetened and plain, while apple butter is always sweetened, is cooked to the consistency of jam, and is generally pureed until silky smooth. Professionally speaking, apple butter should not be chunky, is generously spiced, lightly sweetened and should not be made with the peels.
This recipe is great for canning. When cooled properly it will keep for more than 8 months in the refrigerator without canning, but you can also fill sterilized canning jars with hot apple butter, top with new, warm lids, seal, and cool completely.
In restaurants I have made batches that yielded 8 quarts (2 gallons). That is 32 pounds of apples! When scaling up please be aware of the fact that you are making a lot of caramel, which is dangerous. Choose a high sided pot or work in batches and make several smaller pots of caramel, add the cider and combine into one.
The short answer is you can use any apples for apple butter. Use as many varieties as possible. I use a minimum of 5 varieties no matter what size batch I’m making. Choose a mixture of tart and sweet. I love using gala, Braeburn, crips pink, Cortland, Jonagold, and ginger gold to name a few.
If you tried this recipe and loved it please leave a 🌟 star rating and let me know how it goes in the comments below. I love hearing from you; your comments make my day!
- In a large, high sided pot, add all the sugar and cook over medium high heat to make a dry caramel. You can stir a dry caramel. As soon as all the sugar melts, I usually stop stirring. You can break up any clumps of sugar with your spoon.
- When the caramel turns dark amber and begins to smoke add the apple cider, apples and all the spices. Don't worry about it seizing; it will have plenty of time to cook and loosen.
- Cook 1 hour, remove cinnamon stick.
- Immersion blend with a hand blender in the pot or carefully use a standard blender, working in batches. Pass through a fine sieve.
- Put it back in a high-sided pot and reduce over low heat, stirring frequently, until it runs off a spoon like cold honey.
- Cool to room temperature before putting into jars or can using the appropriate safety precautions.
Before You Go!
I hope you enjoyed this professional chef tested recipe. Check out our other delicious, chef-developed fall recipes!