Once or twice a year, I go to the trouble of making applesauce in the slow-cooker. It’s not hard, but peeling all those apples takes forever. (You can skip the peeling and coring if you have a food mill. Sadly, I do not.) So homemade applesauce is a treat at our house, not a standby. Until now.
You see, last weekend, I ran into one of our recipe developers, the lovely Laura Marzen, at Wills Family Orchard in Adel, Iowa. I asked how she planned to use her haul, and she said she’d be making applesauce.
“Have fun peeling!” I joked.
“Oh, I don’t peel them,” she replied, a bit taken aback. “I just throw them in the food processor.”
An apple revelation! I tried Laura’s technique last night and can’t believe I never did it this way before. You do still have to core the apples, but skipping peeling saves a ton of time, not to mention you retain the skin’s fiber and nutrients. And, frankly, I’m frugal enough to be glad that every last bit of those expensive orchard apples is getting used. Here’s how to do it.
Throw a bunch of large, unpeeled (!) apple chunks in a slow-cooker, filling the crock at least half-way. Pour some water over the apples. (I used a generous half-cup of water for 17 small apples.) Squeeze in a tablespoon or two of lemon juice to prevent browning. As for sugar, it’s totally your call. For health and personal taste reasons, I prefer minimal sugar. These were fairly tart apples, and I used a scant quarter-cup of white sugar.
Toss the apples to coat, then set the slow-cooker to high and cook until the apples are very, very soft. Mine were ready after 4 hours. They will hold their shape, but if you poke them with a spoon, they'll turn to mush. In fact, just stirring the cooked apples vigorously with a wooden spoon broke up a lot of the skins, so if you like a chunky applesauce, you can stop here. (I love the way this looks like a steaming witch's cauldron. Very almost-Halloween.)
I suspected my daughter would prefer a really smooth applesauce, so after stirring, I used an immersion blender to puree the apples completely. End result: You hardly know the skins are there, except for the lovely reddish color they give the sauce.
This “recipe” is very flexible. You can add spices like cinnamon and ginger, or make applesauce blends with other fruits. (Pears work great, and I'm curious to throw in a handful of cranberries.) I’ve sometimes traded the white sugar for brown or even maple syrup. If you prefer a saucier sauce, just add more water. Cup for cup, homemade applesauce costs more than the purchased kind, but since you add less water, the taste and texture are much better. My pureed, skin-on sauce has a custard-like consistency, with an intense, sweet-tart flavor. And now that I’m leaving the skins on, I suspect it’s healthier, too. Thanks, Laura!