Apple butter is a sweet apple spread made by cooking down apples into a thick, sweet paste. It has a rich, intense apple flavor and smooth, spreadable texture. The best apples to use for apple butter are those that hold their shape when cooked down and develop a rich, caramelized flavor. Certain apple varieties are better suited for making apple butter than others.
Key Factors in Choosing Apples for Apple Butter
There are a few key factors to consider when selecting apple varieties for apple butter:
- Flavor – Choose apples with a balanced sweet-tart flavor. Sweeter varieties like Fuji or Gala develop a richer caramelized flavor when cooked down.
- Texture – Firmer, dense apples hold their shape better during cooking. Mealy or soft apple varieties will turn mushy when cooked into apple butter.
- Moisture content – Drier apple varieties are ideal because they cook down into a thicker spread. Wetter apples may result in a runny apple butter.
- Acidity level – More acidic apples will cook down into a more balanced, well-rounded flavor. Low acid apples may taste flat and one-dimensional.
Taking these factors into account, below are some of the best apple varieties for making smooth, flavorful apple butter:
Best Apple Varieties for Apple Butter
Jonagold is an excellent all-purpose baking and cooking apple. It has a pleasant sweet-tart flavor that intensifies into rich caramel notes when cooked down. The dense, crunchy flesh cooks down into a smooth texture. Jonagolds contain enough acidity to create a well-balanced apple butter.
Honeycrisp apples are a great choice with their balanced sweet-tart flavor and firm, juicy flesh. They hold their shape beautifully when cooked while developing a rich, buttery flavor. The high sugar content caramelizes nicely, and the low moisture content results in a thick apple spread.
Fujis are very sweet, making them an excellent apple for apple butter. The white flesh slowly dissolves into a smooth, creamy texture. Fuji apples can sometimes be low in acidity, so adding a splash of lemon juice helps balance out the sweetness.
Golden Delicious apples have a mellow sweetness and firm texture. They are slower to brown when cut, which helps maintain their bright color through cooking. The soft flesh breaks down easily during cooking for a velvety apple butter.
This heirloom apple contains a pleasing balance of sweet and tart flavors that intensify during cooking. The dense, crisp apples maintain their shape in the early stages of cooking then gradually soften into a smooth apple butter with rich, complex flavor.
Gravensteins are an old-fashioned heirloom variety prized for baking and cooking. Their tender flesh becomes velvety smooth when cooked down. They have a nice balance of sweet-tart flavor and plenty of acidity, which makes for a flavorsome apple butter.
Other Good Apple Varieties
While the varieties listed above are prime choices, you can also use:
- Granny Smith
- Pink Lady
Avoid using Red Delicious, McIntosh, and Rome apples, which become mushy when cooked down for apple butter. Very soft, mealy varieties like Cortland and Empire also won’t hold their shape well.
Choosing a Mix of Apple Varieties
The best approach is to use a mix of apple varieties in your apple butter. This allows you to blend different flavors and textures. A typical mix might include:
- 2 parts sweet apples like Fuji, Gala, or Golden Delicious for rich flavor
- 1 part tart apples like Granny Smith or Gravenstein for acidity
- 1 part firm apples like Jonagold, Jonathan, or Braeburn for texture
Feel free to experiment with your own apple blend. Just aim for a balanced mix of sweet, tart, firm, and soft apples. Here is a table summarizing some of the best apple variety combinations for apple butter:
|Sweet Apples||Tart Apples||Firm Apples||Soft Apples|
|Fuji||Granny Smith||Jonagold||Golden Delicious|
|Golden Delicious||Jonathan||Jonathan||Pink Lady|
Choosing Apples Based on Ripeness
The ripeness and maturity of the apples you use will impact the flavor of your apple butter. More mature apples tend to be higher in sugar with more complex flavors. Here are some tips for selecting apples based on ripeness:
- Late season apples harvested at peak maturity make the most flavorful apple butter. These include Fuji, Braeburn, Jonagold, and Pink Lady.
- Early season apples like Honeycrisp, Gala, and Golden Delicious can be used before full maturity is reached.
- Fully ripe apples should be firm with intense color. Avoid apples that are shriveled, bruised, or appear mealy.
- Store purchased apples are typically picked early before ripening. Allow them to ripen fully at room temperature before using.
- If using store bought apples, ask when they were picked and choose the most freshly harvested batches.
Taste Testing Different Apple Varieties
If you want to experiment with apple varieties, conduct a taste test before making a large batch of apple butter:
- Select 6-8 different apple varieties.
- Peel, core, and chop the apples into 1-inch chunks.
- Place a small amount of each apple variety in a saucepan with a tablespoon of water.
- Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until apples are very soft.
- Let cool slightly then taste each apple sample. Evaluate the flavor, sweetness, tartness, and texture.
- Take notes on the varieties you like best. These will guide you in choosing apples for your apple butter.
Storing Apples for Apple Butter
Proper storage of apples is important to preserve freshness before making apple butter. Follow these tips:
- Store ripe apples in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks.
- Place apples in a perforated plastic bag to retain moisture but prevent rotting.
- Check apples frequently and remove any that are bruised or moldy.
- Apples can also be frozen for 4-6 months until ready to use.
- Freeze diced apples in freezer bags or on a baking sheet then transfer to bags.
- Thaw frozen apples in the fridge before using.
Prepping Apples for Apple Butter
Once you have your apples, follow these steps to prep them for apple butter:
- Wash apples thoroughly under cool water.
- Remove stems, blossom ends, and any bruised spots.
- Peel apples if desired. Leaving skins on results in a more rustic texture.
- Core apples and chop into 1-inch chunks.
- Place chopped apples in a large pot with a splash of water or lemon juice to prevent browning.
Your apples are now ready to cook down into sweet, delicious apple butter!
Making great apple butter starts with choosing the right apples. Look for varieties that are sweet, tart, firm, and soft – a balanced blend creates the best texture and flavor. Favorites include Jonagold, Honeycrisp, Fuji, Golden Delicious, Jonathan, and Gravenstein. Allow apples to fully ripen before using and store them properly to maintain freshness. With primed apples and the right preparation, you can create apple butter that showcases the beautiful flavors of autumn.