From where I stand at my kitchen workbench I can see an apple tree overhanging my neighbour’s garden.
Until recently, it was heavy with large red fruit. Like a Christmas tree weighed down with baubles. I’ve been lusting after that fruit, wondering if the neighbours were hoovering up the windfall as I would be doing were I lucky enough to have this tree overhanging my fence.
So I mentioned to my neighbour that if, by any chance, he didn’t use all the apples that fell into his garden, I would happily take some off his hands. He gave me a curious look, as if to say, what would you want with a bunch of rotten apples? So when the doorbell rang the other day, and there he was with a big bag of apples, I was so delighted I could have kissed him.
Because I am a little obsessed with caramel and apples at the moment I made some delicious caramel apple butter, based on a recipe from Saveur magazine. It took quite a while to wash, peel and chop all the apples, cutting away all the bruised and battered bits. The dog sat at my feet and ate lots of the peel, while my son watched, astonished, and asked if I really intended to use apples that were “so disgusting”. Having now devoured his own bodyweight in caramel apple butter on toast, I doubt he will ever ask that question again.
Caramel Apple Butter
The Saveur recipe suggests roasting apple chunks in the oven for 90 minutes! I’ve no idea what variety my apples were, but this wouldn’t have worked at all. After 20 minutes they had collapsed down into a lovely pulp – perhaps a different variety would hold their shape and caramelize nicely. Regardless of the variety you use, I would still plump for roasting rather than stewing for this recipe – it makes for a more intense apple flavour. By all means add more spice if it makes you happy – cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, star anise et al – but for me the pure apple and caramel marriage is a winner.
1.Set the oven to 180°C/350°F. Chop the apples into chunks, toss with a little oil and spread out in a single layer in baking trays – you’ll need more than one if using this quantity of apples. Roast until very soft.
2. Meanwhile, place the caster sugar in a heavy pan with a splash of water. Off the heat, stir to combine well, then set over a medium high heat. Cook without stirring – swirl the pan if you like – until the mixture turns pale amber (I lost my nerve at about 160°C/325°F on the confectionary thermometer but I probably could have taken it further).
3. Slowly whisk in the cream and then the muscovado and let the mixture bubble over a medium heat until thick. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla, salt and lemon juice. When the caramel is cool enough to do so without a trip to A & E , have a little taste and add more lemon and/or salt if it’s headachy-sweet.
4. Transfer the apples and caramel to a food processor, add the nutmeg and cinnamon, and blitz until creamy and smooth. Transfer to sterilised lidded jars and keep in the fridge until gobbled up on toast, ice cream, pancakes and waffles or straight from the jar.