Sweet and tangy with a hint of fall spices, this slow cooker apple butter is simple to make and is very versatile. It can be used as a delicious spread, a dip, or even a cake filling.
Growing up, we lived near an apple orchard that had its own restaurant. To be honest, I wasn’t that impressed by their food (mostly sandwiches), but I still loved going there. The restaurant was decorated with old pictures, newspaper clippings, and fun antiques. They served apple everything. The meals were served with apple cider with unlimited free refills. For dessert, as you can imagine, they offered apple treats like apple crisp, hot caramel apple sundaes, and apple dumplings.
Once our meal was done, we usually bought something home from their shop. Sometimes it was fresh apples, sometimes it was apple cider doughnuts, and sometimes it was my favorite, apple butter.
Apple butter is easy to find in Michigan, the state of the apple blossom. Here in Spain, though, most people aren’t familiar with apple butter. So, I decided to start making it.
What is apple butter?
Apple butter is a smooth, thick spread made from apples. It’s somewhat like applesauce but is cooked longer and slower. During the cooking process, the mixture thickens and the apples caramelize into a dark, rich condiment.
While it sounds like it would be a type of apple-flavored butter (a compound butter made by combining apples with butter and spices), it actually doesn’t include butter at all.
Instead, it is made with apples, sugar, and cinnamon. Those are the main 3 ingredients common to pretty much every apple butter recipe I’ve ever seen.
To add additional flavor, you can incorporate other spices and extracts. I normally add some ground cloves to my apple butter. I also like to add a dash of salt and a touch of my homemade vanilla extract. If using sweet apples, I usually add some lemon juice to add tanginess, but that’s totally optional. Depending on your likes, feel free to customize the recipe using other spices or extracts. Nutmeg and allspice are other common additions.
Which apples are best?
Apple butter is most commonly made with soft red apples like Red Delicious or McIntosh. Those varieties are sweet and break down quite easily. That said, you can use pretty much any apples you have on hand or use a variety of sweet apples with more tart ones like Granny Smith.
This year, I decided to make a batch of apple butter with some of the green, tart apples from our apple tree. (We aren’t sure of the variety.) I also added some lemon juice, as I normally had in the past, and found the result to be a bit too tangy. So, when using tart apples, you may want to leave the lemon juice out.
Making apple butter couldn’t be simpler. The hardest part is preparing the apples by rinsing them, peeling them, and removing the cores. Some people prefer to leave the peels on the apples. Once you process the finished butter, you shouldn’t be able to notice them anyway. The pectin in the skin may also help thicken the apple butter.
Once you’ve peeled them (or not), cut the apples into large chunks. Remove the apple cores. I like to save the peels and cores for making homemade apple cider vinegar!
Fill the crock of a slow cooker with the apple chunks, sugar, vanilla extract, and other spices. Then, cook on high heat for the first hour or so, until the apples begin to soften. Once they are soft, turn down the temperature to low heat for several hours more. If the apple pieces appear to be getting too dark, without releasing enough of their juices to prevent burning, either add a tiny bit of water or turn the temperature down. I haven’t found either necessary with my slow cooker, but different models may vary.
Once the apples have softened, use an immersion blender to purée the apples into a smooth paste.
Even after peeling the apples, I find that the resulting apple butter is quite thick. If you’d like to further thicken your apple butter, though, you can cook it for longer with the lid off.
I imagine that if you make your apple butter with the skins on and cook long enough, you’d probably end up with a sliceable paste similar to membrillo (Quince paste).
Once you’ve processed it until smooth, taste-test it and adjust the flavor as needed. When you are happy with the flavor and texture, pour the finished apple butter into jars for storing.
Customizing the recipe
Feel free to adjust the recipe to suit your taste. I reduced the amount of sugar used (compared to many recipes) and only used unrefined sugar. You can, however, add more sugar if you want a sweeter apple butter. Also, feel free to use white sugar (or a combination of white and brown sugar) if you prefer.
Some people love autumn (aka. pumpkin) spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves. Feel free to add more spices to your finished apple butter. You can also make it tangier by adding some lemon juice.
Your finished apple butter should be stored in the refrigerator and generally keeps well for around 3-4 weeks. Apple butter with a high sugar content, low water content, and low ph (tangier, more acidic) will keep longer than one that is less sweet, runnier, and/or less tart. If you see that your apple butter changes in flavor or appearance, it’s time to toss it.
For longer storage, it can also be frozen or canned. I’ve never personally canned it, but have read that when canned properly, it should preserve well for around 2 years or so. (Maybe more?)
Freezing Apple butter
Freeze apple butter in freezer-safe containers, leaving a bit of air space for expansion. I also like to freeze it in my cube-shaped freezer trays to save space in the freezer. When frozen, it should keep well for at least 6 months.
To thaw, place the apple butter back in the refrigerator overnight.
Canning Apple butter
Prepare jars for processing by fully cleaning in a dishwasher and/or cleansing with boiling water. (Also clean the lids.)
Prepare a large pot with enough water to completely cover the jars when placed inside. Fill the jars with warm apple butter, leaving around a centimeter of empty space. Remove empty spaces (bubbles) with a knife, if needed. Clean the rim and add the lid.
Bring the water to a rolling boil over high heat. Then, reduce the heat so that water simmers steadily. Place the jars inside the pot, ensuring they are fully covered by several centimeters of water. Process the jars for 15 minutes. After processing, remove jars immediately from water using tongs and place them upright on a towel-lined countertop. Let stand overnight, or at least 12 hours before touching them. Check to make sure they are vacuum sealed
Once opened, apple Butter should be stored in the refrigerator.
Apple butter is a delicious spread that can be served alone or over butter on slices of bread, rolls, or bagels. It’s also delicious as a spread or dip for crackers and cookies. It pairs especially well with other fruit and just about anything sweet, but also cleanses the palate when served with something salty like hard cheeses.
Some people use it as a cake filling, others just eat it directly off the spoon. 🙂
Spiced pumpkin and Apple Butter
- Clean the apples and optionally peel them.
- Cut the apples into large chunks, removing the cores.
- Place the apple pieces into your slow cooker along with the sugar, vanilla extract, and other ingredients. Cook on high for 1-2 hours, until the apples begin to soften. If they appear to get too dark, without getting soft enough or without releasing enough of their juices to prevent burning, either add a little water or turn the temperature down.
- Once the apples have softened a bit, lower the heat to the low setting. Continue to cook for several hours, stirring and checking on the mixture occasionally.
- The mixture will darken as the apples caramelize. When you are happy with the color and flavor, use an immersion blender to purée the apples into a smooth paste.
- Taste the apple butter and adjust it to taste by adding more sugar, spices, and/or vanilla extract. Adding some lemon juice will make a tangier apple butter.
- To thicken the apple butter, take the cover off the slow cooker, and continue to cook it with the lid off, stirring occasionally.
- Once it has reached the desired consistency, pour into jars for storing.
StorageApple butter should be stored in the refrigerator and generally keeps well for around 3-4 weeks. When made with a high sugar content, low water content and low ph (tangier, more acidic), it will keep longer than one that is less sweet, runnier, and/or less tart. If you see that it changes in flavor or appearance, toss it. For longer storage, it can also be frozen or canned. When frozen, it should keep well for at least 6 months. I’ve never personally canned it, but have read that when canned properly, it should preserve well for around 2 years or so. (Maybe more?)
Serving ideasApple butter is a delicious spread that can be served alone or over butter on slices of bread, rolls, or bagels. It’s also delicious as a spread or dip for crackers and cookies. It pairs especially well with other fruit and just about anything sweet, but also cleanses the palate when served with something salty like hard cheeses. Some people use it as a cake filling, others just eat it directly off the spoon.
This post was originally published on October 27, 2014. It was updated in August of 2021, adding video, new photos, and clearer instructions.