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biscuits and apple butter

there’s something about a chilly saturday afternoon that just makes you want to stay inside and bake all day. last november i tackled cooking and canning apple butter for the first time and i’m proud to say the butter i made last year actually preserved correctly and is just as delicious this year. but since i’m running low, i decided it was time to make a fresh batch. i’ll run through the steps as we go through the pictures and i’ve included the fully detailed recipe at the end of the post. there’s nothing like warm biscuits and apple butter on a lazy sunday morning.

you’re going to get yourself a whole bunch of good cooking apples. i happened to have a ton left over from apple picking [1], but otherwise i would go with a good bunch of granny smith (my favorite). the best part of this recipe is that you don’t have to peel or core these apples (unless you don’t have a way to strain them out later). you’re just going to cut them up into quarters and empty them into a wide shallow pan filled with a bit of water and apple cider vinegar.

pile the apples in your pan (i used my dutch oven) and bring the liquid to a boil. cook for another 20 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, and you’ll break down the apples completely.

this is what you end up with. it may look ugly but it smells incredible.

from there, the apples take a trip into your food mill, which is an amazingly simple hand powered strainer. i just got mine for my birthday a few weeks ago (thanks mom!) and i’m already on the lookout for more recipes that use it. give yourself a workout straining out the cores, seeds and peels, add a bit of sugar and cinnamon to the apple puree, and you’ve got…

…applesauce! if all you wanted was applesauce, stop now. eat! if you dare to make apple butter, press on, putting the applesauce back on high heat for a few hours. keep a close eye on the apple butter and stir it constantly so it doesn’t burn on the bottom and develop a crust.

the apple butter goes a little crazy on high heat. like, bubbly, deadly crazy. i burned myself several times and covered the kitchen in hot apple puree. of course, i was cooking without a shirt on (it got REALLY hot in the kitchen) so i only have myself to blame for singed chest hair. your inclination might be to cover the pot, but leaving the pot uncovered actually helps the apple butter thicken more quickly because you can promote evaporation by stirring constantly, and at the same time moisture isn’t building up on the pot lid and dripping right back in.

canning apple butter is not as scary as it sounds, but i didn’t capture any pictures of it because i was concentrating on not burning myself (any more) while sterilizing the jars and then sealing the filled jars in boiling water. there are full directions for canning below.

after the apple butter is all finished, the biscuits are a breeze. the recipe comes from alton brown, who, for whatever reason, was the first person that came to mind when i thought of biscuits. rest assured, it uses plenty of buttermilk.

you can store and reheat the biscuits over the following week if for whatever reason you can’t devour a dozen at a time (you wimp). slather the apple butter on anything and everything. it’s good hot and cold, and a big ‘ole jar makes a really good gift for the holidays.

apple butter (makes about 3 pints)
4 lbs of good cooking apples (granny smith are great!)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cups water
sugar (about 4 cups, see cooking instructions)
pinch salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp allspice
zest and juice of 1 lemon

biscuits (makes about a dozen)
2 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp shortening
1 cup buttermilk, chilled

make the apple butter
1. cut the apples into quarters. there’s no need to peel or core them, as we want all the good stuff that’s in there (natural pectin in the cores!). however, if you do not have a food mill or another way to sieve the apples after they are cooked to extract the seeds and peels, you’ll want to peel and core them.

2. put them into a large pot or dutch oven, add the apple cider vinegar and water and heat on medium-high heat until you reach a boil. reduce to a simmer and cook until the apples are soft, stirring so all apples are cooked through. remove the pot from the heat.

3. grab your food mill, place it over another large pot or container, and spoon your cooked apple mixture into it, milling away to extract the seeds and peels. if you don’t have a food mill, you can use a potato masher to break down the apples. once you are all done, measure the puree and pour it back into your original cooking pot. add 1/2 cup of sugar for each cup of apple puree. add the salt, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, lemon zest and juice. since apples are naturally sweet, you can go easy on the sugar and still get a great taste (some people use no sugar at all).

4. at this point, you have applesauce. you can stop cooking and either eat what you have or can your applesauce according to the directions below. if you want apple butter, put your pot full of spiced apple puree back on the stove and heat at medium-high heat. you’ll want to keep a close eye on your apple butter over the next few hours, stirring pretty constantly to make sure you don’t develop a crust on the bottom of the pot. you can turn the heat down lower and stir less constantly, but it will take longer to thicken.

5. caution while heating the apple butter: a shallower and wider plan works best because it makes the surface area larger. however, the apple butter will get extremely hot and often sputter and spit hot apple puree all over the kitchen and you. i burned myself several times, so it may pay to wear long sleeves while stirring (or goggles if you’re really paranoid). also note that you will most likely have hot apple puree stuck to your oven, fridge, counter tops, cabinets and refrigerator that will require hours of scrubbing afterward. but seriously, this recipe is so good it’s worth it.

canning your apple butter
i found ball brand canning jars [2] at target last year and they’ve worked reliably for me. however, if you look around amazon you can find tons of alternatives. you can also purchase a whole canning kit which may include jars, tongs and a funnel, but i’ve been fine without.

1. while the apple butter is still warm, remove the lids on your jars and sterilize them (we want to pour hot apple butter into hot jars). if you have a dishwasher, you can put them through a short cycle. you can also place them in a large pot of water and bring to a boil for about 10 minutes. if you use the pot of water method, make sure the jars are sitting on something inside the pot (like a small steaming rack) so they don’t touch the bottom of the pot. to sterilize the lids, put them in a bowl and fill the bowl with very hot water (not quite boiling – if it’s too hot it will damage the seals).

2. after your jars have sterilized, remove them from the pot of water carefully with a pair of tongs, and spoon in the hot apple butter, leaving about 1/4″ space from the top. you can use a small funnel if you have one. with a damp, clean paper towel, wipe around the rim of the jars to remove any spilled apple butter. remove the lids from the hot water and screw them on finger tight.

3. carefully place your filled and sealed jars of apple butter back into the large pot of hot water you used to sterilize the jars. heat the water to a rolling boil for about 5-10 minutes. since apple butter is a high-acid food, it takes less time to preserve.

4. after you remove the sealed jars from boiling water, wrap them in a towel and set aside. it is possible (but not likely) that your jar could explode as a result of the temperature change, so it’s better to be safe than covered in hot glass and apple butter. it’s important to let the jars sit for 24 hours without touching them. if after 24 hours the “button” on the jar lid has not sucked in (that is, if you press on the middle of the lid and it pops up and down), your seal did not work. if this happens, you can usually put the jar in the fridge and still use it. if the seal did work, you can store the apple butter in a cool, dry, dark place for up to a year.

make the biscuits
1. in a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. mix in the butter and shortening with your fingers or with a pastry cutter quickly, until you get a coarse crumb mixture. make a well in the center and pour in the buttermilk. stir together just until the ingredients are moistened (don’t overmix!).

2. turn the dough onto a floured surface, dust the top with flour and gently fold the dough over itself several times. press into a 1″ thick round and cut biscuits out with a 2″ cutter (i used a 1/2 cup measuring cup) until all dough is used up. place the biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet and bake at 450 F for 15-20 minutes.