First, let me say that you won’t really taste the coconut here, so maybe this is a misnomer. Second, this is more like applesauce than apple butter, so maybe it’s an outright lie. But I think you’ll agree that if you try it you’ll be addicted for life and you won’t really care what anyone calls it.
Motivated by two very old apple trees on my property that suddenly decided this was the year they would produce an unprecedented number of apples, I began to brainstorm about what to do with all of them. They are not conventionally pretty apples, but I’ll say no more about that lest I offend them. An attractive face doesn’t mean that much to me. Character is what I’m after, and these guys have character to spare. They’re tart and crisp and fully loaded with flavor.
Inspiration came my way with this lovely post from Carey Nershi on Food52. I needed to change it to make it vegan friendly, so I decided on coconut oil as a replacement for the butter. Just a couple of words on vegan butter substitutes: I tend to steer clear of “substitute” anything. It rarely fills the bill (rarely tastes enough like the real thing to satisfy) and it’s usually a product (not what I’d call a “food”) with a long list of ingredients. Often with things like palm oil (in one of its many disguises), which I avoid like the plague. As you probably know, the vast overuse of palm oil is doing great damage to our rainforests and the animals who live in them, like orangutans. Not something I want to support. But I don’t mean to suggest that all vegan butter substitutes are robbing orangutans of their habitat or are unhealthy; just something to consider.
So with Carey Nershi’s recipe in mind, I dragged a stepstool out to one of the apple trees the other day and began picking, leaving the lower apples for the deer to eat. It was a wobbly business, but I scored about 4 pounds of apples. The recipe calls for 3 pounds, but I wanted a few to keep in the kitchen for eating fresh and knew I would need to do more trimming than I would with commercial apples, so I started the recipe with about 3½ pounds.
From there it was easy and fun, and the end result—tasted while still warm after going through the food mill—was celestial. So celestial, in fact, that I decided to skip the last step of adding in the typical apple butter spices (cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg). I just couldn’t stand to mess with that deeply wonderful flavor.
Now to figure out how to get at the rest of those apples….
Roasted Apple Coconut Butter – Vegan
(adapted from a recipe on Food52.com by Carey Nershi)
Makes 2 – 3 cups
1 C. unsweetened apple cider
7 Tbs. Muscovado or other rich, dark brown sugar
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 pinch kosher salt
6 – 7 Tbs. coconut oil
3 lbs. apples
Preheat oven to 400°F. This recipe works well with tart apples, but any apples you like will do. Just be careful with the sweetening; the amount given is just right for tart apples but might be too much for sweeter apples. Cut apples into large pieces and arrange on a rimmed metal baking pan which has been coated with coconut oil.
Pour over the lemon juice and ¼ cup of the cider, then sprinkle on the brown sugar and salt and drop the coconut oil by pieces, scattered around the apples (or if it is a hot day and the oil is liquid, pour it around the apples).
Roast for about 35 minutes (or longer if you want a deeper roasted flavor). Remove from oven and let rest for a minute. Pour the remaining ¾ cup of cider over the apples. Careful of sputtering.
Mash the apples a bit with a fork or potato masher, then transfer to a food mill and run the mixture through until you have extracted all the apple goodness and are left with just the seeds and skins, etc.
Give it a taste. At this point it will still be warm from the oven and it will be heavenly. I like it just like this, but if you like, add spices to give it a true apple butter flavor. The mixture will be a bit looser than traditional apple butter; if you want it thicker, just transfer to a heavy pot and cook on the stovetop until your favorite consistency is reached. Keep in mind, though, that with the addition of the coconut oil, it will continue to thicken slightly once it is refrigerated.
Store in refrigerator or freeze some for longer storage.