What Is Apple Butter and How Do I Use It?

Slow Cooker Apple Butter (enlarged)

I recently found myself purchasing a jar of apple butter because I was inspired by a chicken recipe that called for it. I was pretty unfamiliar with this condiment, and it led me to ask myself, how is this any different from applesauce? Is there butter in it? What else can I use this for now that I have a huge jar of it? SO. MANY. APPLE. BUTTER. QUESTIONS. Don’t worry, this story has a great ending, because I now have answers to all of these questions, and so much more.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way here. Just because it has the word “butter” in its name does not mean that there is actual butter in this product (in the same way that there’s no butter in peanut butter, you feel me?). What this product basically boils down to (pun extremely intended) is a more concentrated version of applesauce. The latter consists of apples that are cooked—typically with cider, sugar, and warming spices—and then pureed or milled. The flavors of applesauce and apple butter are quite similar, the only difference is that it’s much more concentrated in apple butter. 

Easy never tasted so awesome.

What distinguishes apple butter is that the apple mixture is cooked much longer than apple sauce, which helps to cook off some extra moisture and create caramelization throughout. Caramelization means it will take on a much darker color and possess a rich, almost nutty flavor. Usually, the apples are cooked in cider, sugar, and spices (just like applesauce), then puréed, then put back over heat for an extended amount of time to cook out all of the water. The texture of apple butter is much firmer and more spreadable than the more watery, (loose) pudding-like consistency of applesauce.

So when can you use it? Well, it’s a fall flavor bomb. So any time you’re looking to impart a strong, fruity, fall flavor into a dish, apple butter is a great condiment to grab. Plus, it’s delicious in both sweet and savory applications. Add a layer to your next apple pie or apple crumble bars and it’s potent, apple-forward flavor will not disappoint. Incorporate it in all of your fall baking—muffins, scones, cookies, breads, cinnamon rolls, you name it! Apple butter is a worthy addition. Smear it on a piece of buttered toast or add a spoonful to a bowl of yogurt or oatmeal. Since it’s quite similar to a jam or preserves, it’d be a lovely addition to your next autumn charcuterie board. 

If you’re going the savory route, layer it into marinades, braises, reductions, and soups for a contrasting sweet note with a heavy hand of warm, cozy spices. Apples pair nicely with chicken and pork (throw in some fresh sage and thyme for the ultimate fall palate), so spoon a few dollops into your next braise. Since you’re probably dying to know what I did with my apple butter, I layered it into some prosciutto-wrapped, blue cheese-stuffed chicken breasts. Yeah. If that doesn’t make you want to throw on your favorite cable knit sweater and knee-high boots while sipping a pumpkin spice latte, I don’t know what will.

If you’re feeling ambitious, you can always make your own apple butter at home rather than opting for store-bought. Plan accordingly—the apples need to cook for a long time in order for them to expel all that liquid. Every apple butter recipe is a little different and the cook time will depend on if you cook it on the stove in a Dutch oven or in a slow cooker. This could be anywhere from 1 hour to 10. (Worry not, this would be a great time to binge the entire Halloweentown franchise.) Trust me, the extra effort is worth it. This stuff is in another league from applesauce. Any more questions? I don’t think so. The only thing left to do here is to grab a jar and get cooking.

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