Recipe for Naturally Sweetened Apple Butter

So get out the butter and put away the sugar, we're going to make apple butter, real apple butter, the "slow food" approach to homemade apple butter. In this recipe, the apple butter is naturally sweetened with apple cider, dotted with a little butter for richness and spends a long (loooong!) time in the oven or in a slow cooker.

So yes, this apple cider is "sugar free" – or better put, has "no added sugar" and "no sugar substitutes" like Splenda and the like. It's just gorgeous, very apple-y, what apple butter is "supposed to taste like" – I hope you love it!

Naturally Sweetened Apple Butter, just apples, a touch of butter, no added sugar, no Splenda. Oven or slow cooker.

My two burning questions about apple butter.

First, why doesn’t apple butter call for – um, well, you know – butter? My recipe does, just a touch, which gives this lovely butterscotch-colored apple sauce, an unctuous mouth feel. After several hours in the oven at low temperature, it’s so smooth, so creamy, it’s on the verge of something akin to custard, albeit it egg-free, cream-free and sugar-free.

Second, why do apple butter recipes include, without fail, cups and cups and cups of sugar, which turns already-sweet apples into, well, just a sugar-sweet apple mess?

So get out the butter and put away the sugar. We’re making apple butter, real old-fashioned apple butter, apple butter so delicious you’ll sit up straight to ask, "Why is it that there’s no butter in apple butter? And why does apple butter need sugar?"

Spread the word. This is apple butter the way it’s meant to be.

UPDATE: APPLE BUTTER in the SLOW COOKER When I first posted this recipe, readers asked whether it could be made in a Crockpot. It can, with some caveats. Start by cooking the apples in the apple cider on high in the slow cooker for four hours, then blend til very smooth with an immersion blender or in a blender. After that, cook on high for nine to twelve hours, stirring every hour or so. Yes, even the Crockpot will require hourly attention to make sure that the mixture doesn't darken too much along the edges and not enough in the center. Unfortunately, the 'low' setting just isn't hot enough to create the dark caramelization that makes this Naturally Sweetened Apple Butter special.
Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. In 2009, Kitchen Parade celebrates its 50th anniversary with a special collection of my mother's recipes. Do you have a favorite apple recipe that other Kitchen Parade readers might like? Just send me a quick e-mail via How to print a Kitchen Parade recipe. If you like Kitchen Parade, you're sure to like my food blog about vegetable recipes, too, A Veggie Venture. Follow Kitchen Parade on Facebook!


Hands-on time: 30 minutes plus occasional attention for 6 – 9 hours
Time to table: 7 - 10 hours
Makes 3-1/2 cups
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 pounds Jonathan apples (or another baking apple), peeled and cored, cut into quarters
  • 3 cups apple cider
  • Zest and juice of a small lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

In a large oven-proof pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter on medium. Add the apples as they’re prepped, stirring occasionally to coat with fat. Add cider, cover and let gently simmer for 30 minutes or until soft but still intact. Process until smooth with an immersion blender or a food processor. Stir in remaining ingredients.

Set oven to 250F and place the pot, uncovered, inside. Stirring every 30 minutes, let cook for 5 - 6 hours for a butterscotch-smooth apple custard and another 2 - 3 hours for a cinnamon-dark apple butter.

Refrigerate and use within two weeks.

ALANNA's TIPS Be careful to keep stirring the apple butter (try setting a timer as a reminder), especially toward the end of the slow-slow-slow oven time. If it's left unstirred, it will turn, fast, from golden apple butter into a gooey apple gunk, just like that. If that sounds like the voice of experience? It is.
SERVING IDEAS Drizzle with cream or kefir, top with toasted walnuts (pictured). Stir into Greek yogurt or spoon over vanilla ice cream. Make an apple butter smoothie, just a few spoonfuls mixed in the blender with milk and an ice cube or two. Spread on muffins, toast or bagels. Stir into your morning oatmeal. Substitute for Crème Anglaise in the lovely Estonian Apple Cake. Just see if you can keep your spoon out of this apple butter! What would you do with it?
NUTRITION ESTIMATE Per Tablespoon/Half Cup: 25/204 Calories; 0/3g Tot Fat; 0/2g Sat Fat; 1/8mg Cholesterol; 0/3mg Sodium; 6/46g Carb; 0/4g Fiber; 5/38g Sugar; 0/1g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS POINTS WW Old Points .5/3.5 & WW PointsPlus 1/6
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living.

An Apple a Day ...

(hover for a description, click a photo for a recipe)
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Apple Pudding Cake with Cinnamon Butter Sauce Extra-Crispy Apple Crisp Baked Apples

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© Copyright 2009, 2014 Kitchen Parade

Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.


  1. I make oven roasted apple butter with a little maple syrup, but now I have to try yours. Making it today. Will let you know how it turns out!

  2. I was looking for an apple butter recipe just two days ago, and eventually decided to make simple apple jam instead.
    Mmm. Need to go and get another batch of apples from my mum :)

  3. Can this be made in the crockpot?

  4. Andrea ~ Your oven-roasted apple butter sounds much similar!

    Pille ~ I bought more apples to make another batch just yesterday and yes, must 'fetch' them.

    Marie ~ I would think so but didn't actually test the recipe in a slow cooker. In part it depends on the temperature, of "low" and "warm". There's just a lot more control in an oven. If you try it this way, let me know!

  5. That has always been my problem with apple butter too, it's too sweet. I think the sugar was originally added to increase the shelf life. Your recipe sounds much more appealing without it.

    I have made apple butter in my crock pot much as you describe it in the oven. The time may vary but it is a certain color and consistency you are looking for anyway.

    Oh, and I love your photo!

  6. Carole9/30/2009

    This looks good Alanna! I’ve made the sugary apple butter for years. My grandmother added a touch of anise, so I always do too! Have you ever tried that? And I will do this one with butter!

  7. My sister-in-law in Duluth used to make it in her Crock Pot. In Delaware, Pumpkin Butter is very popular.

  8. Can this be modified for crock pot cooking? suggestions?

  9. Lisa ~ Thanks for the crockpot confidence. PS re photo, thanks!

    Carole ~ Love your idea of anise, I just bought another big bag of apples, one will be flavored with anise!

    moo ~ Thanks to you too for the crockpot confirmation. I've been working on pumpkin butter too, really want something that is less sweet and still really tastes like pumpkin. Tisn't easy!

    Pat ~ I haven't tested the recipe in a Crockpot (when I was testing a year ago, mine was on the fritz) but from what others are saying, it would look likely. I would watch the timing / stirring very carefully however.

  10. Anonymous11/02/2009

    Can this recipe be put into jars as preserves if I use a boiling water canner & process? Wondering if it is still safe for canning since there is no sugar. But I love the idea of apple butter that is all about the apples, not the sweetness!

  11. You know, I'm just not expert enough in the science of canning to answer your question. But this is definitely a recipe that's about the apples, I've got two bags of apples set aside right now, to try the slow cooker version.

  12. Hello all ~ Some of you asked whether the Naturally Sweetened Apple Butter could be made in a slow cooker. It can! I've updated the post to show the details.

  13. Try apple butter on a toasted whole wheat English muffin with peanut butter.

  14. We picked 30 pounds of apples last weekend, and last night we turned them into your apple butter! I made a mistake, though. I have a convection oven, which usually means that I lower the temperature by 25 degrees, but no... after 5 hours there was almost no color change. So I raised the temperature to 250 degrees, and voilà -- it began to caramelize. I wanted a much darker butter, but after 10 hour had achieved the beautiful, creamy butterscotch-colored butter you describe, so called it good. I think the pot was just too big and too deep -- it was a large batch. You didn't mention canning, but we did. We got 13 pints, processed for 10 minutes in a hot water bath. Thank you! We had been searching for a recipe with no added sugar.

  15. We picked 30 pounds of apples last weekend, and last night we turned them into your apple butter! I made a mistake, though. I have a convection oven, which means I lower the temperature by 25 degrees, but after 5 hours there was no color change, so I raised the temp. to 250 degrees, and voilà - it began to caramelize. After 10 hours we had the beautiful, creamy butterscotch-color butter you describe. I wanted darker butter, but am wondering if my batch was just too large? You didn't mention canning, but we did, and ended up with 13 pints, processed for 10 minutes in a hot water bath. Beautiful! We had been searching for a recipe with no added sugar, and yours turned out perfectly! Thank you!

  16. Mary ~ Wow, thirty pounds! You really did make apple butter! And I’m so glad to know that the apple butter can be canned, I just don’t enough about the science of it to set off on my own. I’m thrilled (and frankly, relieved!) to know that you love the apple butter, I do so adore this stuff!


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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. But I also love hearing your reactions, your curiosity, even your concerns! When you've made a recipe, I especially love to know how it turned out, what variations you made, what you'll do differently the next time. ~ Alanna