Apple butter is the unofficial condiment of fall, and it’s good for so much more than simply spreading on toast (and biscuits, and muffins, and scones). The deeply concentrated fruit flavor of plain apple butter is both sweet and acidic, and even with a flourish of warm spices, it works wonderfully in both sweet and savory dishes. If you’re not quite sure how to use your apple butter, we have a whole bushel of delicious ideas.
Most apple butter is either plain (to really let the natural flavor shine), or seasoned with cinnamon and other warm spices, like cloves, nutmeg, and/or ginger (so basically, a pumpkin spice blend). It’s still versatile if it’s spiced, since these flavors all meld well with a plethora of hearty fall foods, from dinners to desserts.
If you’re making your own apple butter, you can go any way you want—keep it unadorned, stick with the classic autumn spice profile, or get a little more unconventional by using seasonings like Chinese five spice powder, or skipping spices in favor of a fresh fall herb like rosemary or sage to imbue it with another layer of nuance. Obviously, the resulting apple butter might not be quite so adaptable to every dish, but if you’re worried about that, just make a smaller batch. Aside from chopping the apples, the slow cooker does all the work for you anyway, so it’s no biggie to make a few different kinds.
Whether you DIY or pick up a jar (or several) from a farm stand or grocery store, once you have your apple butter in hand, here are some creative ways to get it into your mouth.
Spread it on a sandwich. Use just like you would mustard or mayonnaise—or try it instead of jelly with your peanut butter. In any case, it’s just as good on hot, toasty sandwiches as it is on cold ones.
Stir some into your morning oatmeal. Or stir into plain yogurt or cottage cheese if you prefer.
Use it in place of pizza sauce. Maybe not with mozzarella and pepperoni, but this works well with autumnal toppings like blue cheese, toasted pecans, bacon, and apples.
Dollop it on top of pancakes and waffles. You can do this in place of or in addition to your maple syrup. (And you can even double down and put apple butter in your pancakes too.)
Swap it out for pumpkin puree in your favorite pumpkin pie recipe. The thicker your apple butter, the better this works. See this apple butter pie recipe for more tips.
Stir a couple spoonfuls into mashed sweet potatoes or butternut squash soup. This simultaneously emphasizes their earthy sweetness and lends a little acidic lift. (Consider stirring a tiny bit of apple butter into chili for a flavor boost too.)
Add it to a cheese plate. It works with both nutty soft cheeses like brie and harder types like sharp cheddar or aged gouda. Set it out in a small bowl like you might membrillo or jam.
Slather some on chicken or turkey burgers. It’s a step up from plain old ketchup. It’s nice brushed onto roast chicken or a pork tenderloin in the last few minutes of cooking, just long enough for it to melt and lightly caramelize, but not long enough for it to burn.
Toss a bit into your next batch of roasted veggies. Think Brussels sprouts and squash; along with a little oil or butter, the concentrated apple goodness will make a glaze (and maple would work well along with it here too). But as above, be sure to add it when the veggies are almost done so it doesn’t burn.
Swirl a thick ribbon of it into the batter for pound cake or Bundt cake. Even better if there are actual apple chunks already in the cake (see our Apple Dapple Cake recipe, pictured above, for example; you can also stir a little apple butter into the brown sugar glaze to cut the sweetness and intensify that autumnal apple flavor.)
Or, try one of these specific recipes using apple butter in ingenious ways:
Apple butter is a great fall cocktail ingredient, as it lends fantastic flavor and rich body to seasonal drinks. It pairs well with tequila and apple cider, but also works beautifully with bourbon. (Skip the fizz if you’re not a fan, or for a ginger-snappy sip, swap the club soda for ginger beer.) Get the Apple Butter Old Fashioned recipe.
Seriously, try apple butter on all sorts of sandwiches (including breakfast sandwiches). This apple butter grilled cheese adds shaved turkey and sliced apples to the mix. Get the Apple Butter Turkey and Cheddar Grilled Cheese Sandwich recipe.
Pork and apples are a perfect pair, but if you want to go beyond simply serving a bit of apple butter on the side, spread it on pork chops so it caramelizes as they cook—and up the autumn ante with apple wedges and earthy sage. Get the Apple Butter Sage Pork Chops recipe.
If you don’t have a Bundt pan yet, this cake is gorgeous enough to make you fix that, stat. There’s apple butter in the batter and in the creamy cheesecake filling running through the middle—along with shredded apples and cozy spices. Get the Apple Butter Bundt Cake with Apple Butter Cheesecake Filling recipe.
If drop cookies are more your speed, apple butter snickerdoodles and apple butter oatmeal cookies are great too, but these exquisite apple butter pinwheels are as lovely to look at as they are to eat. Cream cheese keeps the dough tender, while pecans add crunch. Get the Apple Butter Rugelach recipe.
Cold weather ice cream benefits enormously from warm spices like cinnamon, which this has in spades (it’s in the vanilla bean ice cream, the roasted apple butter, and the buttery oat crisp you mix in). For something a bit less labor-intensive, try this apple butter gingersnap ice cream—or go no-churn with this three-ingredient apple butter ice cream. But if you want a lazy weekend kitchen project, you could do way worse than this frozen masterpiece (and you can also split the work up over a few days if need be). Get the Roasted Apple Butter Apple Crisp Ice Cream recipe.
Apple butter may not immediately make you think seafood, but it’s a great glaze for shrimp along with maple syrup and a bit of spice. If you’re strictly pescatarian, ditch the bacon and try grilling the shrimp with a citrus-apple butter glaze, but remember, apples and pork are a dynamite duo; adding shrimp elevates them to a terrific trio. Get the Bacon-Wrapped Apple Butter Shrimp recipe.
Speaking of pork and apples, and apple butter and bacon, they team up to equally fabulous effect in these scones. The apple butter helps keep the dough tender, but it’s also great slathered on top while they’re still warm from the oven. Get the Apple Butter Bacon Scones recipe.
Adding apple butter to your favorite wings glaze is a winning move, and perfect for fall tailgating shindigs. For a smoky kick, you can try a version with chipotle and apple butter, but this one uses Sriracha to spice things up instead. Get the Baked Apple Butter Brown Sugar Wings recipe.
In a similar vein, apple butter barbecue sauce is great on all sorts of things, from ribs to chicken to pulled pork. Try a fall slaw if you’re using this tangy-sweet shredded pork on sandwiches. Get the Apple Butter Pulled Pork recipe.
Apple butter adds great fall flavor to caramel popcorn. It’s a little sweet, a little sharp, and altogether impossible to stop snacking on. Get the Caramel Apple Butter Popcorn recipe.
If apple cider doughnuts are delicious (and they are), apple cider doughnuts that also contain apple butter must be even better. These look like all the proof you’ll ever need, but to be absolutely certain, you’ll just have to make them for yourself. Get the Apple Cider Doughnuts recipe.