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It's that time of year again when there's a crispness in the air and the leaves are beginning to change. One of the great things about this time of year is that one of my favourites come on sale: apples. You can get so many different varieties now and there are always new ones to try.
We had the family visit a short while ago and we are lucky enough to have an orchard just a short drive away. This orchard offers to the public the chance to pick your own apples. They have signs showing which varieties are ripe and ready to be picked. We picked about ten pounds of apples, and even had time to snack while we were picking.
If you know me, you will realize that if there's a better, easier, or faster way of doing something I will find a way to utilize it. That's what I like about making apple butter. It seems like you slaved over a hot stove for hours, stirring and reducing, but the workhorse for this recipe is your tried and true slow cooker.
This appliance gets lots of use from me, especially during the colder months. I love the "set it and forget it" way you can make something and hours later, you have a delicious meal or, in this case, condiment.
If you haven't had the pleasure of experiencing apple butter, then you have to make this recipe. You get the intense flavour of apples with a slight sweetness from the caramelization of the apples. There's no actual butter added to the recipe, it's just creamy and spreads like its dairy counterpart.
While I said that there isn't a lot of work, here is where you have to do the lion's share: prepping the apples. You're going to need enough apples to fill a five quart slow cooker. I reckon about 4-5 pounds will do it. You want to have the cooker filled to the brim. It will cook down considerably, so don't worry. So, let's get to it.
Once the apples are peeled, cut them into about one inch pieces. Don't worry about them getting brown while you're cutting the rest. They are all going to be that colour eventually.
These will save you so much time!
Pro tip: Invest in some slow cooker liners. These amazing plastic liners save you the trouble of cleaning all the burnt-on sides of your crock pot. I love them. I picked mine up at Bed, Bath and Beyond, but I believe any kitchen specialty store would have them. They are also available through their website.
If you don't have the liner, then liberally spray the inside of the crock pot with cooking spray to cut down on the cleaning later.
Place all your cut apples into your lined slow cooker and add a couple of sticks of cinnamon. I think the cinnamon adds another depth of flavour to the butter and complements the apples wonderfully. Turn your cooker on the longest setting it can go. Mine cooks for ten hours before it shuts off so that's what I used.
Now walk away. I like to do this in the evening, so the slow cooker does all its work overnight. That way I wake up to a house filled with the amazing scent of cinnamon and apples cooking. It's like waking to fresh apple pie. When the cooking is done you'll notice that the apples should have reduced by about half. We're not done yet. Give the apples a quick stir and reset your cooker to cook for another ten hours. This time you want the moisture to escape. I just turn the lid a bit so there's a little crack to let the steam out. If you don't feel comfortable doing this, then use a wooden spoon to keep the lid open. When you go back to check on it the second time it should have reduced to about 1/4 of what you started with. See all that lovely caramelization? That's flavour and it will taste amazing.
Here's one step which you may skip. I like my butter to have a more rustic look so I don't do this. If you want your butter to look more smooth and have that creamy texture, then you can place the mixture in your food processor and blend until smooth. You can also use a hand held mixing wand to smooth out the butter. If you like the more rustic, homemade look, then move on!
Now, you can put the apple butter in plastic containers and keep them in your fridge. They will keep for at least a week or longer. If you want things to last a little longer, then I suggest canning. This batch made just over four 250ml jars with a little left over for my morning toast. Throw your apple butter in the jars, heat seal in boiling water, and you're set.
There you have it. Amazingly easy apple butter. Your friends will think you've slaved for hours, but you and I know better. And it's great on so many things. Spread it on your cinnamon raisin bagel. Mix it into your oatmeal. Use it as a topping for pork or chicken. Even put a dollop on top of caramel ice cream for your own caramel apple flavoured ice cream. The possibilities are endless.
See, now I have to go and make another batch.