Brown sugar applesauce with bourbon and vanilla
Every once in a while I realize that something is easy. Unfortunately, I am particularly good at making things difficult – both in and out of the kitchen – but sometimes before I even begin to figure out how something actually works I just imagine it to be so difficult that I move no further.
Case in point: applesauce. What could be so difficult about applesauce? Answer: nothing, it turns out. I don’t know what I was so afraid of. Well, I suppose there is some peeling and chopping of apples, which can be kind of a pain, but not when there’s some good music on, or a good TV show playing in the background, or maybe a podcast, or just some good conversation. Let’s all hang out in our kitchens and drink whiskey with friends and make applesauce!
And if some of that whiskey manages to end up in the applesauce, then, OH WELL let’s go with it.
I’d never made applesauce up until Brett’s birthday a few weeks ago, when the apple tart recipe he put in front of me called for a pastry crust filled with applesauce and topped with thin slices of apples all laid out in concentric circles. It was a simple applesauce, just apples cooked down with sugar and butter and a bit of cognac until soft and silky and mashable. I made a few tweaks here and there, of course, and it turned out so well that I couldn’t stop sneaking spoonfuls here and there, as it cooled and was poured into the tart shell. So I made another batch – a bigger batch, this time, with no plans for it other than a spoon and my mouth.
It should be said that this isn’t your grandma’s applesauce. It all cooks together slowly, the apples and the brown sugar and the smoky sweet flavors of bourbon and the creamy, floral flavors of a healthy dose of vanilla. It’s everything good about homemade applesauce, but better, no more complicated and no less healthy for it. The vanilla and hints of bourbon make me think I’m eating something far more decadent than what it is, and I’ve started eating it with everything. Warmed up and scooped on top of plain yogurt, added to oatmeal or granola, spread on a scone, spooned over ice cream. And you can always go with the original inspiration – spread it in a partially baked pie crust or tart shell, maybe add some fresh cranberries or top with whole apple slices, and bake until everything is good and golden brown and warm.
Brown sugar applesauce with vanilla and bourbon
Makes about 10 cups of applesauce, and can easily be scaled
- 10 medium to large baking apples (I used a combination of mutzu and melrose)
- 2/3 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup bourbon
- 2 Tbsp. vanilla bean paste (like this, see note below for other options)
- 3 Tbsp. butter
- Large pinch of salt
Note: Vanilla bean paste is a sugar solution made from scraped out vanilla beans, and is a much easier alternative to using a vanilla bean. If you don’t have paste you can use two actual vanilla beans, cut lengthwise and insides scraped into the pot. Include the beans themselves as well, making sure avoid them while eating the applesauce. They will continue to add flavor as the applesauce sits in the refrigerator. Or, use one vanilla bean and 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract. Or, use 2 Tbsp. vanilla extract, but the flavor will not be as strong.
– Prepare the apples. Peel, core, and slice the apples into 1/4″ slices. No need to be exact here, but know that the smaller you cut them, the more quickly they will cook.
– Cook the applesauce. Heat a large, heavy pot with a cover (like a dutch oven) over medium heat. Add the apple slices, then all other ingredients. Stir together. Now you’ll just cook everything, covered and stirring occasionally, until everything is soft and silky. Feel free to use your stirring implement to help mash and break up some of the apple slices. You want the mixture to bubble softly as it cooks, and if it looks like things are drying out too much, feel free to add some water (you can always cook it off later if you end up adding unnecessarily). It should take about an hour for everything to come together, but it’s mainly a matter of taste and how soft you want your apple pieces. If you want everything really smooth you can run it through a food mill or blender, but I like leaving some larger chunks and bits of apple slice.