Welcome to Fundamental Friday! It has been awhile, I know. As I was making apple butter for the second time in recent days, I wondered to myself, “What is the difference between applesauce and apple butter?” I figured if I was asking that question, maybe some of you were, too.
What Is the Difference Between Applesauce and Apple Butter?
After reading copious numbers of applesauce and apple butter recipes, I think it’s safe to say that applesauce and apple butter lie on a continuum of apple-ness, ranging from something like sliced apples floating in water on one end and apple pate de fruit on the other, where the appletensity cannot be topped.
Applesauce has plenty of flavor, but it lies more toward the watery end of the continuum and generally consists of peeled (or not) and cored apples, maybe some water, maybe a bit of lemon juice, and maybe some sweetener. Occasionally a bit of spice. The apples are cooked until soft at which point you either mash them up or puree them, depending on if you want a chunky or smooth sauce. The flavor is generally light and bright.
Apple butter is on the more intense end of the spectrum and is like applesauce’s sophisticated yet mysterious cousin who comes from the fabled land of Autumn. Apple butter generally contains the same ingredients as applesauce, although often you don’t even core the apples for apple butter. Along with the usual suspects, there is almost always a mixture of spices. Apple butter is applesauce intensified. You can probably even take commercially produced (or your own) applesauce and turn it into a really lovely apple butter by cooking it down over low heat so the water evaporates and the apple flavor is intensified. You also get some lovely caramelization which adds depth to the flavor and deepens the color.
For example, a standard recipe for slow cooker apple sauce is apples, peeled (or not) and cored, water, and sugar. You cook this mixture until the apples are very soft, and then you mash them. The end. Voila apple sauce.
A standard recipe for slow cooker apple butter, on the other hand, is apples, peeled (or not), apple juice or cider, sweetener and spices. Cook this for several hours in the crock pot, pass through a food mill and then continue to cook in the slow cooker with the lid off for a couple of hours until some of the water evaporates and the flavor intensifies.
It’s really hard to talk in absolutes about what is definitively applesauce and what is definitively apple butter, but I will go out on a limb and give you my opinions on absolutes.
Applesauce Always Contains apples. Applesauce may contain water, apple juice, lemon juice, sugar/sweetener and a spice or two. The apples can be peeled or unpeeled, but they are (almost) always cored. Applesauce can be chunky or smooth.
Apple Butter Always Contains apples. Apple butter usually contains spices. Apple butter may contain apple juice, cider vinegar, lemon, sugar/sweetener. Apple butter does not contain butter. Just because you mix butter into applesauce doesn’t make it apple butter. The “butter” refers to its spread-ability and smooth consistency, so I think it is safe to say that apple butter is always pureed.
Apple butter is much more intensely appley than applesauce. I think of applesauce as pastel apple and apple butter as primary apple. In Crayola terms, applesauce is the color Peach, and apple butter is the color Fuzzy Wuzzy. The caramelization does make apple butter more suitable for fall than apple sauce, both in flavor and in color, although there is no rule that says you can’t enjoy apple butter whenever you want.
You can add other fruit to your applesauce or to your apple butter. Cranberry applesauce, pear-apple butter, fig applesauce, pumpkin apple butter, etc. I am pretty sure the only rule is that, whatever fruit you add to your applesauce or apple butter mixture, you have to use predominantly apple, otherwise you will have apple pear butter instead of pear apple butter, if you see what I mean.
As far as dessert components, I think the intensity of the apple flavor in apple butter stands up better in desserts or baked goods such as my Yeasted Chai Spice Apple Butter Coffee Cake. Applesauce, on the other hand, can take the place of fat in baked goods since the mild apple flavor will take a back seat.
I think that pretty much covers the difference between applesauce and apple butter. As I said at the beginning, aside from using apples, there aren’t a lot of absolutes in either applesauce or apple butter. In short, I think it’s mainly a matter of degree of cooking. Since apples are naturally pectin-rich, apple butter will set up into a soft jam or spread upon refrigeration. Leaving the skins on, as well as the cores in, both help with that since that’s where most of the pectin lives. Applesauce isn’t cooked long enough to concentrate the pectin and will maintain its loose sauciness even after cooling.
Hibiscus Lavender Honey Apple Butter
And now, on to my apple butter. I recently received a very fun package of goodness from Ronnie Campbell of The Burrell Group who does PR for Wild Hibiscus Flower Company and Honey Ridge Farms, among other brands. Since she so generously sent me Fun Things (thank you, Ronnie), I decided to make something delicious with what she sent. What I came up with is a fairly unorthodox apple butter. One sweetened with honey and accented with hints of hibiscus and lavender. This butter is less sweet than some, and if you taste it at the beginning of cooking, you’ll think it’s sort of insipid. But five hours of slow cooking over low to medium-low heat concentrates the sweetness and the apple flavor, and you will be so very happy. I promise.
The delicate floral notes do tend to cook out over the long cooking time, so I added an extra dose of hibiscus at the very end of cooking. Since lavender can be overpowering and a bit soapy tasting if not used judiciously, I left that part alone. Feel free to alter this recipe to suit your own taste and ingredients, but if you want to make exactly what I made (and it really is pretty incredible stuff), here’s my recipe for hibiscus lavender honey apple butter.
- 3 pounds 12 oz mixed apples , both sweet and tart
- 8 oz (1 cup) apple cider vinegar
- 16 oz (2 cups) unfiltered apple cider (you can also use apple juice)
- 6 hibiscus flowers in syrup (I used Wild Hibiscus Flower Company brand)
- 2 Tablespoons syrup from the hibiscus flower jar
- 9 oz (3/4 cup) lavender Honey Creme Lavender (I used Honey Ridge Farm. You can also just use a mild honey if you don't have access to flavored honey)
- 1 whole lemon , with all the peel and pith cut away
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt (yes, 2 teaspoons. Trust me)
- 2 Tablespoons hibiscus syrup from the jar of hibiscus flowers
Scrub your apples well. Quarter them and put them in a large, heavy pot. No need to peel or core.
Add the cider vinegar, apple cider, hibiscus flowers and first amount of syrup (2 Tablespoons), honey, lemon (just plop that whole guy in, seeds and all) and salt.
Cover the pot and bring to a simmer. Cook the apples until completely soft, about 30 minutes. You may have to stir the pot a few times to make sure all the apples get some "bath time" in the vinegar/cider mixture so they soften up.
Once all the fruit is nice and soft and falling apart, run everything (including all the liquid) through a food mill using the medium die. Put this puree in a heavy bottomed pot that is wider than it is tall. You want a large surface area to encourage evaporation.
Bring the puree to a slow boil and then reduce the heat to low or medium low. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking and scorching (this becomes more likely the more concentrated the mixture becomes, so keep an eye on it, especially during the last couple of hours)
Keep the mixture at a very slow "burble," for 5 hours. The mixture will reduce by quite a lot and become a gorgeous dark reddish mahogany color.
Stir in the last 2 Tablespoons of hibiscus syrup.
Blend the apple butter in the blender for an extremely smooth texture. You certainly don't have to, but I went ahead and went for it. The texture is silky smooth and lovely. Since the blending will blend a bit of air in and make your butter look cloudy. Cook it over low heat for another couple of minutes until it clears up. Then cool and chill.
Enjoy over the next two or three weeks.
And there you have it. I hope you’ve learned a bit about the difference between applesauce and apple butter and that you’ve enjoyed spending some time here today. I appreciate it so much. What is your favorite kind of fruit sauce or spread?
Here are a few more lovely apple butter recipes for you to enjoy.
- Homemade Apple Butter from Tastes of Lizzy T: This one contains vanilla, cinnamon and 2 kinds of sugar
- Apple Butter from 101 Cookbooks: The liquid is all cider, and it’s flavored with both cinnamon and clove
- Crock Pot Apple Butter from Changing My Destiny: a very judicious amount of brown sugar, cinnamon and allspice
Take care, and have a lovely day.