Friday, December 12, 2008

apple butter... mmmm.....

This was a two-day affair. A delicious, aromatic, two-day affair that had my housemates and I drooling every time we went into the kitchen. Apple butter. Oh man. It is fantastically simple to make, especially if you have a crock pot. I used this recipe and intend to give out small jars of the stuff as Christmas gifts. 

I started Thursday morning peeling apples. I forgot to take a picture of the apples before I started but I think you all know what apples look like. So here they are naked. 

How many apples do you need? As many as is necessary to fill your crock pot. The recipe calls for about 4 pounds. I just had a big bag of 'em from the Allins' orchard (thanks!) and I used them all. Remember that when cooking them they will reduce down a lot

You need to peel, core and chop the apples up and throw them into the crock pot with sugar and spices. Regular sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, and a little salt. You can really put in any spices that go well with apples - I've seen a number of recipes and they all have something different in them. I went with this for simplicity. 

I kept part of the chopped apples back until I had put in the sugar and spices so that I would have an easier time mixing everything. This way I didn't have sugar and apples and the like flying all over the place. I stirred everything together and then gradually added and stirred in more apples with the crock pot on low.

Once it's all in there, pop the lid on and cook on high for three hours. At first it will look kinda like apple pie filling.

But eventually it turns into applesauce, and it makes the whole house smell fantastic. After three hours on high, turn it down to low for another 6-8 hours. Give it a stir every now and then. Make sure you leave the lid open a crack so that the steam can escape and the apples will reduce. 

I, unfortunately, forgot about this part and so by the time I went to bed they were still quite soupy. So I left the lid open a bit and put it on 'keep warm' overnight, and this is what I got on Friday morning. 

The apples have reduced by half. Before it gets too thick, you need to blend it. If you have a hand blender, rock on, you can do it right in the crock pot. I don't so I had to scoop everything into the blender and then put it back.

 I think I probably should have blended it before I went to bed because the blender seemed a little perturbed at me, but all was well. Then I put it back in the crock pot on low to let more liquid come off it while I studied and went to my (last!) exam.

You'll know it's done when you put a little bit on a plate and no liquid separates from the butter part. If you wanted, you could throw it in jars and put it in the fridge right from this point. But since I'm giving this away, I wanted to properly can it.

Canning is pretty easy but you need to do it properly unless you want to give someone botulism. The important part is to make sure everything is clean and that you boil everything for long enough. First, wash the jars and lids with hot soapy water. Then boil them for at least ten minutes to sterilize. Or you can just run them through a very hot dishwasher cycle. I did the jars and lids in separate pots so I could leave the lids in hot water while I filled the jars, which I turned upside down on a towel after taking them out of the boiling water. Use tongs for everything because it's HOT. You want to fill the jars with the butter while both are still hot, leaving about 1/4 inch of room at the top. Carefully place the lids on top and screw the rings on almost all the way, then put them back in the boiling water for at least five minutes. 

Carefully remove them from the water. I put a towel on a tray and put them all on that. I got ten jars of apple butter from that one crock pot.

Then you need to leave them to cool somewhere without drafts for 24 hours. So tomorrow evening I will check the seals by pressing on the tops - if they don't pop, they're good. If they do pop, they aren't sealed right and need to be kept in the fridge and used within about a month. I guess this is really a three-day affair that I'm in the midst of, then.

A really good guide, if you're new to canning and food preservation like I am, is the US Department of Agriculture's National Centre for Home Food Preservation. Their Complete Guide to Home Canning was really helpful.

Ta-da! Add a label and a ribbon once it's cool and you've got a great gift. Even though it takes a long time, it's really simple and most of it is just waiting for the stuff to cook. So good! I saved a jar for myself, now I need to make bread to put it on!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


I am a bad, bad food blogger. Since I posted about that delicious roasted acorn squash I have made - and forgotten to photograph - cheesecake brownies, a few loaves of bread, and carrot muffins. For shame, as all were delicious.

Anyway, I did remember to take pictures of the piparkoogid that I made. This recipe for Estonian gingersnaps was in the Toronto Star last week and looked mighty tasty. 

Something I must complain about, though: I really fucking hate  it when recipes assume that you have a stand mixer. I would love a stand mixer, I really would. But there's no way in hell I can afford one right now, and neither can a lot of other people who love to bake. So when I see a recipe that states "In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment..." or something similar, I want to smack the writer of that recipe upside the head. HELLO, YOUR PRIVILEGE IS SHOWING. Geez. This is one such recipe. I made it without a stand mixer and it turned out just fine, thankyouverymuch, so I don't know why recipe writers insist on explicitly referencing stand mixers. Sure they're useful, but not entirely necessary. End rant.

So here are your ingredients: 
3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room  temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
2/3 cup fancy grade molasses

First you mix together the flour, baking powder, and all the spices in a bowl. Set that bowl aside.

In a different bowl (or a stand mixer if you have one), beat together the sugar and butter. Add the egg and beat that in too. 

Then you add the molasses. I just thought the molasses looked really cool so I took this next picture. 

Slowly pour it into the sugar/egg/butter mixture and beat it together. 

Once that's all mixed together, slowly add the flour mixture to it. Be careful not to overshoot the bowl and make a mess like I did. 

See that! A hand mixer! Hah! 


Anyway. Then you will have dough. 

Separate the dough into four portions and wrap them up in plastic wrap.

Then put them in the fridge for at least two hours before you begin the next part.

After that agonizing wait, take the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Preheat the oven to 350F and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Roll it out to about 1 cm thick. The original recipe says to do like, 1/8 of an inch, but I felt that was rather thin. Then cut shapes out of it! The classic is rounds, but the only cookie cutter I own is a heart, so that is what I did.

Also, thank goodness that there were four portions of dough because I forgot to take pictures three times! Gah! But here we are anyway.

Carefully transfer the cookies to the baking sheet with a spatula. Bake for 10 minutes, switching racks halfway through. Again, I deviated from the recipe here - it said 14 minutes but I felt that was too long - especially with how thin it said to roll the dough. And I like chewier rather than crispier cookies anyway. So there you go.

And then they will be done! 

Remove to a rack and let cool. Yummyness. 

This recipe makes a lot of cookies, so unless you plan on giving lots away, halve the recipe or freeze some of the dough. I have no idea what I'm going to do with all of these - I already gave half of what I made to my mom and there are still so many left!