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Simple Cooking: Maple/Bourbon Apple Butter

By Anthony Todd in Food on Sep 23, 2013 4:10PM

Photo credit: 75tiks/

Fruit butters were a strange enigma until we started cooking and canning. Were they filled with fat? Did they actually contain butter or cream? Or were they magically made smooth by the addition of some stabilizing ingredient like Xanthan gum? Turns out, the answer is no to all of those questions.

Fruit butters, including today's apple butters, are nothing more than another sort of jam. In the case of apple butter, imagine what would happen if you took applesauce, added spices and cooked it down till there was about 75 percent less of it. You end up with fat-free (yet creamy) spread that tasted intensely of fruit. The best part? It's even easier than making jam.

The number one fear for jam cooks is, of course, that their jam won't set. In order to avoid a runny disaster, they sometimes add pectin. Pectin comes from, among other places, apple skins. Therefore, there's just no way that your apple butter won't set - assuming you follow some simple instructions.

Apple butter is also a great testbed for adding flavors. Ours is a riff on a hot apple cider, combining some common mulling spices, booze and maple to make it a bit more complex than the average stuff you get in a jar. If you really wanted to bring it full circle, you could add the finished product to a cocktail.

A note on preparation. For most jams, you don't really need much equipment aside from a big pot and a spoon. For anything made with apples (or tomatoes, for that matter), it's really nice to have a food mill and a splatter guard. A food mill makes processing a snap, but if you don't have one, you can always use a sieve or colander to achieve the same effect. A splatter guard is a cheap screen that you set over a pot of bubbling liquid that stops it from, well, splattering. This is especially good for high-viscosity products like apple butter, simmering can get a bit messy. Cover that sucker up!

Maple/Bourbon Apple Butter
Makes approximately four cups

2.5 pounds apples
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 Tablespoons maple syrup
3 Tablespoons bourbon
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves

Quarter the apples and remove the stems (and stickers, if necessary). That's it. Don't peel them, core them or remove the seeds. Put the apple quarters in a pot with the cider vinegar and add water to cover. Bring the pot to a simmer and cook the apples, covered, for about 40 minutes.

Take the resulting apple goo and put it through your food mill or sieve. Discard seeds, peels and any tough bits. Return the pulp to the pot. Add sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, bourbon and spices. Cook for approximately 1 hour over medium heat, stirring regularly to prevent scorching.

Keep checking the mixture with a spoon. Once it gets nice and thick (to your personal taste) it's done. You can either can it (use a boiling water bath for 10 minutes) or keep it in the refrigerator. It'll stay fresh for at least a month.