Apple Butter and the Beginning of Holiday Baking

After school and my home, the majority of my childhood was spent at the house of my best friend from those early, yet not too distant, years of my life, Grace. Grace’s family loved food just as much as mine. I remember indulging in the most delicious tacos topped with queso fresco, a cheese foreign to me up to that point in time. I remember eating steak on an average weekday night and digging into a mound of homemade crepes the morning after sleepovers. And I remember being introduced to apple butter. To the elementary school aged Jessica, apple butter seemed elegant and elusive. I associated it with teatime in the South of France and imagined myself eating it straight from the jar in an ironically lady-like manner. But I was a lowly American living in the suburbs of Chicago, which instead of cobblestone streets and scenic nature views, boasted towering, gray skyscrapers and pollution. Apple butter was clearly out of everyday reach…

…until I realized sometime in high school that apple butter was quite easily concocted in the comfort of my home in those same Chicago suburbs where I’d been born and raised. My apple butter kitchen experiments began with a recipe found online that called for a disastrous cup of sugar to every pound of apples. That sounded like apple butter induced diabetes waiting to happen. Regardless, I tried it and realized, yes, it was far too sweet. After tweaking the recipe for several years, I developed my apple butter. This is the apple butter I would package up in mason jars with a red bow and a hand decorated holiday tag for my aunts and uncles one Christmas. (A jar of which I found this summer still sitting in my Aunt Alison’s fridge. Apparently, not everyone loves apple butter as much as I do.) This is the apple butter I make each winter and slather onto thick, toasted slices of the hoska my Grandma brings us from the Czech bakery. And this is the apple butter you should make. Right now. Unless, like me, you’re busily filling your kitchen with mountains of cookies. Then you can wait I suppose.

Today my list of things to cook over winter break reached thirty. Thirty recipes! How in the world am I going to cook, and then eat, thirty different dishes? Of those thirty, ten are for cookies and of those ten I have already tried three: World Peace Cookies, Ginger Sandwich Cookies, and Gooey Buttercake Cookies. If you’re observant, unlike me, you may have notice I’ve only included recipes for the first two in this post. There’s sadly a quite unfortunate reason for that. When whipping up the Gooey Buttercake cookies, a seemingly simple recipe, I made an amateur mistake. I used baking soda instead of baking powder. Me? Make a mistake in the kitchen? Yup. It happens more regularly than I care to admit. And this time it resulted in flat, baking soda flavored cookies. Fail.

While I continue on my cookie-baking quest, perhaps you can take a step back and give them a try for me. If you do, let me know how they are. And maybe even save one for me.

Apple Butter

I usually use a combination of apples. Braeburn, Pink Lady, Fuji, and Gala all work well but there are certainly many more viable options. In general, I’d say go with what’s on sale. Additionally, the sugar and spice quantities can be adjusted to taste. Keep in mind though, I’ve been adjusting this recipe for a while now and this is the best combination of flavors I’ve come up with thus far. Just saying. I also like my apple butter lightly spiced and not too sweet though. If you prefer a different flavor some adapting may be in order.

Makes about 8 cups

5 to 6 pounds apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped

1/4 cup white sugar

1/4 cup light brown sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon salt

Place the finely chopped apples in a slow cooker. In a medium bowl, mix the sugars, cinnamon, cloves, allspice and salt. Pour the mixture over the apples and mix well.

Cover and cook on high 1 hour stirring occasionally.

Reduce heat to low and cook 9 to 11 hours until the mixture is thickened and dark brown. Stir occasionally. 

Uncover, turn off the heat, and let cool for about 30 minutes. Pour the mixture into a food processor and blend until smooth. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to one month. 

World Peace Cookies

from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

I added a tablespoon of orange zest to the original recipe to give these cookies a little bit of a holiday flare. The results were highly approved by my family. I’ve made these cookies without the orange zest before though too and they were equally as delicious!

Makes about 36 cookies

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1/3 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

11 tablespoons (1 stick plus 3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature

2/3 cup (packed) golden brown sugar

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

5 ounces extra-bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 85% cacao), chopped (no pieces bigger than 1/3 inch)

1 tablespoon orange zest (optional)

Sift flour, cocoa, and baking soda into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until smooth but not fluffy. Add both sugars, vanilla, and sea salt; beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add flour mixture; beat just until blended (mixture may be crumbly). Add chopped chocolate; mix just to distribute (if dough doesn’t come together, knead lightly in bowl to form ball). Divide dough in half. Place each half on sheet of plastic wrap. Form each into 1 1/2-inch-diameter log. Wrap each in plastic; chill until firm, about 3 hours. (Dough can be made 3 days ahead of time if kept chilled.)

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Using thin sharp knife, cut logs crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. Space 1 inch apart on prepared sheets. Bake 1 sheet at a time until cookies appear dry (cookies will not be firm or golden at edges), 11 to 12 minutes. Transfer to rack; cool.

Ginger Sandwich Cookies

from Food and Wine

Makes about 20 cookies 

For the Cookie

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1 large egg, at room temperature

1/4 cup unsulfured molasses

For the Filling

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350° and position racks in the upper and lower thirds. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon and salt. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter and sugar at medium speed until fluffy, 3 minutes. Beat in the egg and molasses. Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed until incorporated, scraping down the bowl.

Working in 2 batches, drop scant tablespoons of the dough onto the baking sheets, 3 inches apart. Bake the cookies for 20 minutes, until risen and fallen and slightly firm; shift the sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through for even baking. Let cool slightly, then transfer the parchment paper to racks and let the cookies cool completely. Bake the remaining cookies.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter with the confectioners’ sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the lemon juice.

Arrange the cookies in pairs on a large work surface. Spoon or pipe 1 rounded tablespoon of the lemon filling onto the flat side of half of the cookies. Sandwich with the remaining cookies, pressing them together so the filling spreads to the edge.

These can be stored in an airtight container between sheets of wax paper for up to one week.


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2 Comments

Filed under Appetizers and Snacks, Breakfast and Brunch, Cookies, Desserts, Fruit

2 responses to “Apple Butter and the Beginning of Holiday Baking

  1. Brian

    Great post Jess! Those world peace cookies made me feel very peaceful, and your excitement for food in general is infectious. See you around!

  2. Pingback: Houska and/or Vanocka | the Apartment Baker

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