alice waters' apple jellies (or apple butter)
I first read about these apple jellies back in 2008 on one of my favorite food blogs, Tim Mazurek’s Lottie and Doof. I’ve wanted to make them nearly every October since then, but always got distracted by other things to make with apples: pies, cakes, galettes. This year, I finally got around to them, and now I’m mad. Just knowing that these jellies could have been in my life for the last decade fills me with rage. Fortunately, I also get to be filled with jellies.
The recipe comes from Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food. A recipe for candy might seem out of place in this seminal cookbook on local, seasonal dishes. But with only four ingredients—including three pounds of apples—these jellies certainly belong. The apples are cooked in water until soft, passed through a food mill (or sieve), and then cooked down again with sugar and lemon until the puree becomes leather-thick. The high amount of natural pectin in the apples means you don’t need any other thickening agent. And the red apple skins yield a jelly so impossibly pink that it makes your heart skip.
But that’s not all. When I cooked the apples for less time and reduced the sugar by a third, I ended up with a beautiful pink apple butter. I had been inspired by Erin McDowell’s recent Food52 recipe for a lovely ginger cake with apple butter ‘frosting.’ Erin’s apple butter recipe is essentially the same, but includes ground ginger, apple cider, and apple cider vinegar. I’m sure it’s delicious, but I see myself sticking to this Alice Waters version. I want my apples to taste as much like apples as possible.
alice waters’ Apple jellies (or apple butter)
One of the reasons I waited so long to try these was because Tim’s readers seemed to have trouble getting the jellies to set. But I had no problem with this, and I think the key is patience—you need to cook the apples for a long time, until they really become as thick as leather. I’ve included the option to make the apple butter instead, which requires less time. And, like Erin, you can use that to ingeniously ‘frost’ a cake or just use it like you would any jam. Or you can cook it for even less time and make an applesauce. It’s all the same—just a matter of preference, timing, and consistency.
3 pounds of apples (about 8), washed, quartered, and cored
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar (use 1 cup if making apple butter)
Juice of 1 lemon
If making jellies, lightly oil an 8-by-8-inch square baking pan with a flavorless vegetable oil (canola or safflower). Line the pan with parchment and lightly oil the parchment.
In a large pot, combine the apples and water and cook over medium heat until soft, about 20 minutes.
Pass the mixture through a food mill or sieve. (I don’t have a food mill and the first time I put it through the sieve, it took a lot of elbow grease. The second time, I pureed it first in a food processor before sieving, and it worked just fine.) Return the puree to the pot, and stir in the sugar and lemon juice.
Simmer over low heat, stirring often, for about 1 hour (if making jellies) or until it fully coats the back of a spoon without dripping off (if making apple butter). As the mixture cooks and reduces, it will start to thicken and bubble. Scrape the bottom of the pan while stirring to prevent burning. For the jellies, the puree is done when it holds a mounded shape. To be sure, you can chill a small amount on a plate in the freezer. It should look and feel jellied.
If making apple butter, refrigerate for at least two hours until ready to use. For jellies, spread the mixture evenly in the prepared pan. Cool for several hours or overnight. When cooled completely, invert onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Remove the top layer of parchment paper. Leave to dry, uncovered, overnight. The paste should be firm enough to cut. If for some reason it is not, put the paste in a 150° F oven for an hour or more until firm. Let cool completely before cutting. The paste can be stored whole, wrapped tightly in plastic. Or trim the edges and cut into 1-inch pieces before wrapping. Store at room temperature or refrigerated for up to a year. Toss the pieces in granulated sugar just before serving.