After heading to our local apple orchard each fall, I come home, strap on my apron, and excitedly bring out the biggest pot I have to start processing all the goods. Apple butter is a must-make in our house each year! It doesn’t feel like fall is really here until I enjoy a warm biscuit slathered with spicy, sweet apple butter.
The one hang-up with apple butter—it takes so darn long to make! The slow cooked nature of apple butter is one of the reasons it taste so good, but I was so curious to see if I could recreate the same flavors in a speedier version—and low-and-behold, the Instant Pot was the key to success! While Instant Pot apple butter isn’t quite the same as apple butter that’s slow cooked for days over an open fire, it’s awfully close, and it’s done in right around an hour! And maybe best of all: NO PEELING! In fact, the apple peels are what help thicken the apple butter into a silky, thick spread. Let’s get started!
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What is apple butter?
Apple butter is a fruit spread that is made from apples, sugar, and spices. Think of it in the same arena as fruit jams and jellies, except instead of the gel texture you get in jam, apple butter is smooth and silky like a pudding or custard.
Just like jams and jellies, apple butter works well on toast, biscuits, English muffins, and all your basic breakfast pastries. But apple butter is also super versatile because it doubles as a condiment for savory dishes—I’m looking at you, pork roast—and can be used to add flavor and moisture to all kinds of delicious recipes!
What is the difference between applesauce and apple butter?
In essence, apple butter is apple sauce cooked way, way down. What was lightly sweet in applesauce becomes caramelized and deeply flavored in apple butter as the butter cooks and the flavors become more concentrated. Here, the high pressure of cooking in an electric pressure cooker mimics the deep flavors traditionally created with slow cooking.
Apple butter is also typically more spiced than applesauce—you rarely see an apple butter recipe without the kinds of spices you’d see in an apple pie. Think some combination of cinnamon, ground cloves, and ground allspice.
As the apple butter cooks down, the spices will intensify. Go light on the spices to start—you can always add more later!
What’s the best way to make apple butter?
Traditionally, apple butter is made in a kettle over a bed of coals. The spiced apple mixture is slow cooked for hours and hours to cook it down into a thick, silky apple butter.
Modern cooks have adjusted this time-honored homemade apple butter recipe to make it either on the stovetop, in the oven, or in a slow cooker. All methods work well, but they do still take ages to get your final product—it can take 24-36 hours to finish off a batch in your crock-pot! So what do you do you if you want apple butter fast? Hello, Instant Pot! The electric pressure cooker can have you enjoying a batch of homemade apple butter in under an hour.
What apples are best for apple butter?
The best apples for apple butter are…the ones you have readily available! If you’re headed to the apple orchard or farmers’ market specifically for apples for this recipe though, then we recommend a mix of apple varieties for the best apple butter flavor. In general, we recommend a ratio of about half sweet apples (like Fuji or Golden Delicious) to half tart (like Granny Smith apples or McIntosh). But honestly: use whatever you have on hand!
Do I have to peel the apples first?
In traditional apple butter recipes, you do have to peel or otherwise deal with the peels (like using a food mill to remove them), but our recipe uses the peels! The peels are full of pectin, which helps thicken the recipe. And because of the high pressure of the Instant Pot, the peels are cooked so intensely that they turn soft enough to blend into the apple butter no problem.
How do you make apple butter?
You’re going to be blown away by just how easy (and fast) this recipe is!
- Core apples and then cut them into large chunks. Place them in the basin of the Instant Pot.
- Add the brown sugar, spices, salt, and apple cider into the basin of your Instant Pot.
- Close the lid and set to Manual High pressure for 60 minutes.
- When cooking time is up, allow the pressure to release naturally for 20 minutes, then remove the lid.
- Add in the vanilla extract, and then using an immersion blender, lend the mixture until very, very, smooth. The apple butter will seem very thin, but the pectin from the peels will make the mixture thicken dramatically once cooled.
- To test the thickness of the apple butter, place a spoonful of the apple butter on a small bowl or saucer, and then place in the freezer for 5-10 minutes until chilled. Run your finger through the chilled apple butter to test for thickness. If it’s thick enough for your liking, store the apple butter in an airtight container in the refrigerator. If you want to thicken the apple butter more, turn the Instant Pot to the Slow Cooker setting on High, cook for 2-3 hours with the lid off, and then repeat the freezer thickness test to ensure you’re happy with the thickness.
How thick should it be?
The consistency of your apple butter is left a bit up to personal preference—you can control your final result. We like our apple butter the thickness of…well…butter! Very soft butter to be exact. It should be thick enough to pile up on a spoon on its own, but thin enough to spread easily.
But apple butter is just as delicious when it’s a bit thinner (like a soft fruit spread) or when it’s thick and decadent. You can control your apple butter’s thickness by adjusting the cooking time.
Some apple butter recipes require you to peel your apples but ours doesn’t! In fact, you need the peels here to thicken the butter properly. The pectin in the peels helps the apple butter thicken as it cools.
Will apple butter thicken as it cools?
Sure will! Because we’re using pectin from the peels here, the apple butter will seem very liquidy straight out of the Instant Pot, but it will thicken dramatically as it cools.
How do you make apple butter smooth?
A defining feature of apple butter is its smooth, silky texture, and in our recipe, we recommend using an immersion blender to accomplish this task. Use the stick blender to puree the apples when they first start to break down, and then use it again at the very end of cooking to make sure the apple butter is as velvety as can be. You can even use it throughout the cooking process if you notice any lumps.
Does apple butter need to be refrigerated?
Sure does! This recipe hasn’t been tested for preserving, so this is a recipe you’ll need to stash in your fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Can I freeze this apple butter?
Absolutely, and since this recipe isn’t tested for safe canning, freezing is our favorite way to stash apple butter for use all year long. You can freeze apple butter in freezer safe canning jars (they are the ones with straight sides and no shoulders), and just pull out a new jar to defrost when you are running low!
What do you do with apple butter?
You’re going to be tempted to grab a spoon and dig right in, but if you’re looking for more to do with apple butter, we recommend you:
- Spread it on toast, biscuits, crackers, or English muffins
- Add it to a cheese board—the sweetness contrasts nicely with something like a sharp cheddar
- Use it as a pizza sauce
- Make apple cinnamon soft serve
- Cook a pork roast in apple butter for amazing pulled pork
- Serve it as the perfect condiment with pork chops
- Put it in a grilled cheese (trust me!)
- Slather it on waffles or pancakes
- Swirl it into a bowl of yogurt or oatmeal
- Bake it into muffins or donuts
- Use it as the filling for cinnamon rolls