Why It Works
- The mellow sweetness of toasted sugar adds complexity.
- Apple cider vinegar helps brighten cooked fruit.
- Using skin-on fruit improves both flavor and color in the finished product.
- Aromatics like cinnamon, orange peel, and rose water intensify the flavor of the apples.
Turning a trip to the orchard into a batch of applesauce is one of my favorite autumn rituals. The cozy aroma perfumes the entire house, drawing folks to the kitchen for stolen spoonfuls while the applesauce is still warm. It's simple, wholesome, and delicious—sweet enough to feel like dessert, but neither sugary nor cloying.
Picking the Apples
Perhaps because of my background as a pastry chef, my applesauce isn't quite as simple as purists would have it, but neither is it obnoxiously complex. What matters most is gathering a selection of the best apples you can—preferably a blend.
I let the offerings at the farmers market be my guide, and grab the best of what's in season. In this case, it turned out to be a blend of Granny Smiths, Cortlands, and Gravensteins, plus a few Braeburns I had on hand. My previous batch was a combination of Arkansas Blacks, Stayman-Winesaps, and Macouns.
For applesauce, the specifics of the blend aren't as important as the overarching concept, which is to have a mix of tart, sweet, and aromatic apples for a naturally balanced flavor. Without that balance, applesauce can seem astringent, dull, or just plain blah.
Seasoning the Apples
The color of the applesauce will vary according to the apples—Cortlands are great for adding color, as they turn pink over time—and whether or not you choose to peel them. Since the peels add beautiful flavor and color, I keep them on. Plus, they can be blended into oblivion with a top-notch immersion blender—more on that in a bit.
After coring and chopping the apples, I combine them in an enameled Dutch oven (I used the five-and-a-half-quart Staub cocotte) and toss them with lightly toasted sugar, which adds a super-mellow sweetness, with just a hint of caramel.
I season the apples with a generous pinch of salt, plus a splash of good-quality apple cider vinegar. (Check out the recommendations in Michael Harlan Turkell's guide to different vinegar varieties; his advice on how to round out your vinegar collection has made a huge difference in my cooking.)
Aside from that subtle hit of acidity, I also like to doctor my applesauce with a few simple aromatics. In this case, that means a cinnamon stick and a nice strip of orange peel, though a used vanilla bean that's given up most of its flavor is pleasant, too.
Think of these ingredients as the sweet equivalent of a bay leaf in a pot of chicken stock—able to boost the overall fragrance and depth of the dish, without getting in the way.
Cooking the Apples
Covered and placed over medium heat, the apples will start to wilt and give up their own juices in just 15 minutes, so there's no need for any added water.
The mixture will have a highly vinegary aroma at first, but that intensity will burn off as the apples continue to simmer for another 10 minutes. During that time, the apples will remain covered, except when you pause to stir.
The exact timing will vary with the size and output of any given burner, and the specific dimensions, material, and gauge of the cooking vessel will have a huge impact, too. So, regardless of the timeline, what matters is that the apples, and their skins, are perfectly tender—just take a bite to see!
Puréeing the Apples
At that stage, simply remove the aromatics and purée the mixture with an immersion blender. I was lucky enough to work on this recipe while Sohla El-Waylly was testing immersion blenders, and the winning All-Clad immersion blender put the one I have at home to shame, making a purée just as smooth and creamy as if I'd peeled the fruit.
You can certainly make do with a food processor or blender; just bear in mind that the results may not be as silky-smooth.
Since I often spoon it over oatmeal for breakfast, I love my applesauce as is, wonderfully thick and intense. That said, its texture is easily adjusted with water or apple cider to taste. (Full disclosure: I've been known to thin my applesauce with Applejack for an extra layer of flavor.) Just take it slow, and work in an ounce at a time to avoid overdoing it.
As a final touch, I like to stir a few drops of rose water into my applesauce. Not so much that anything perfume-y comes through—only enough to restore a sense of freshness to the cooked fruit. Apples and roses are in the same botanical family, so their fragrances play well off each other. (For more information on what rose water and other extracts, waters, and essential oils can do for your desserts, check out my guide to aromatics beyond vanilla.)
With a well-rounded blend of fruit, the complexity of toasted sugar, apple cider vinegar for brightness, and the subtle use of aromatics, applesauce can be so much more than a plain purée. Yet for all the character it brings to the table, and all the unexpected ingredients I add, the flavor remains focused on apples above all else.
4 pounds mixed apples (about 12 medium apples; 1.8kg)
3 1/2 ounces plain or toasted sugar (about 1/2 cup; 100g)
1/2 teaspoon (2g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight
1 ounce apple cider vinegar (about 2 tablespoons; 30g)
1 (3-inch) strip orange peel
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
Apple cider, to adjust consistency
1/4 teaspoon rose water (optional)
Core apples without peeling, then slice and roughly chop into 1/2- to 1/4-inch pieces. This will yield approximately 3 1/2 pounds prepared fruit (16 cups; 1.5kg). Transfer to a 5-quart Dutch oven, along with sugar, salt, apple cider vinegar, orange peel, and cinnamon stick. Stir to combine, then cover and place over medium heat until apples have wilted and begun to bubble in their own juices, about 15 minutes. If this process seems to be moving slowly, simply turn up the heat.
Continue cooking, stirring from time to time, until apples are fall-apart tender, about 10 minutes more. Remove orange peel and cinnamon stick, then purée to your desired consistency with an immersion blender or food processor (see notes). If desired, thin as needed with apple cider to adjust consistency. For a more intense apple flavor, season with 1/4 teaspoon rose water.
Transfer applesauce to glass jars and refrigerate up to 3 weeks. If freezing, make certain not to overfill the containers, as the applesauce will expand once frozen.
The texture of the finished applesauce depends entirely on how it's blended; for best results, use a high-powered immersion blender. I've had excellent results using the All-Clad stainless steel immersion blender.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 0g||0%|
|Saturated Fat 0g||0%|
|Total Carbohydrate 30g||11%|
|Dietary Fiber 4g||14%|
|Total Sugars 25g|
|Vitamin C 7mg||37%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|