Anyone else find themselves after an afternoon of apple picking with like wayyyy too many apples? The truth is that I intentionally went apple picking to end up with wayyyy too many apples just so I can make applesauce! I very much look forward to apple picking every season because I love picking an array of apples to use in applesauce. I am a firm believer that the best applesauce recipe — actually the best apple anything — is comprised of a variety of apples. By way of example, check out my Apple Squares and my Apple Oatmeal Crumb Tart recipes.
Last week, we went for our annual picking. I picked the biggest, most beautiful Mutzu apples I had ever seen. I also picked Cortland, Jonagold, and Empire. We had a bunch of Honeycrisp already, so a couple of those also made their way into this applesauce. So, so good!!! For some more apple variety ideas, check out this article from the Spruce Eats.
This applesauce recipe is seriously easy to make. No one will believe that there is no sugar added because it is so flavorful from vanilla and cinnamon. With minimal ingredients, this applesauce recipe can be made in under an hour.
How to Make the Best Applesauce
1. To Peel or Not to Peel?
That is the question.
Peeling the apples is probably the least fun part of making any applesauce recipe. I actually find it therapeutic. I recommend peeling all of the apples, then halving them.
However, you do not need to peel them if you do not want to. The skin adds more fiber and flavor to any applesauce recipe. You can leave them on, but still cut the apples in half.
Before working with the apples, whether or not you peel them, wash them off to remove any residue, etc.
2. Core and Cut the Apples
To remove the core, use a melon baller to take out the centers. Then, use a paring knife to cut the tops and bottoms and any remaining skins if you are peeling the apples. Unlike with other apple desserts when people get concerned about the exposed interior of apples oxidizing and turning light brown, don’t sweat it here. Because we are cooking them down, any light browning from oxidization will not be noticeable. Some recipes include lemon juice to help prevent oxidization and also because lemons, like apples, are high in pectin, which helps to thicken up the applesauce. I see no reason to taint the apple flavor here with lemon, and the apples themselves have plenty of pectin. (No offense, lemon, but there is a time and a place for you. This just isn’t it!) If you are really concerned, place a lid over the pot while you are cutting the apples in between each addition of cut apples to the pot.
I recommend chopping the apples up into approximately ½-inch squares. That said, we do not care about precision here. If there are larger chunks, great. If there are smaller chunks, great. They will all cook down together. Cutting them up though will help them cook faster.
This applesauce recipe is for 6 pounds of apples. See the FAQ below for scaling. The cut apples filled the top of my 4.5 quart pot. Don’t panic if your apples take up so much room. Within a few minutes of cooking, they will start to dehydrate and there will be more than enough room in the pot to stir as they continue to cook.
3. Add Vanilla, Cinnamon and Water
I highly recommend using a real vanilla bean. The flavor cannot be beat, and the tiny seeds make the applesauce all that more visually exciting. Hold the vanilla bean against a cutting board and, with a paring knife, slice down the center lengthwise to expose all the seeds inside. Use the back of the paring knife to scrape the seeds out of the bean. Add the seeds and the vanilla pod into the pot with the apples. Toss in 3 cinnamon sticks and 1 cup of water.
4. Cook the Applesauce
Put the flame up to high to bring the liquid on the bottom of the pot to a boil. Once it starts to boil, reduce the heat to medium-low. Within a few minutes, the apples will start to cook down, and there will be more room in the pot. Start to stir the apples. I like to push the vanilla pod and the cinnamon sticks down into the liquid so more of their flavors get released into the applesauce. No need to cover the pot. Let it cook, checking on it every 5 minutes. Depending on the type of apples you use, it should not take more than 30 minutes of cooking, and likely less. If you find that many of the apples have not broken down and the mixture seems dry (or sticking/burning to the bottom of the pot), just add a little more water, no more than a quarter of a cup.
You’ll know it’s done because it will look like applesauce! There should be a little bit of liquid in pockets on top of the sauce, but there should not be a pool of liquid on the bottom. Remove and discard the cinnamon sticks and the vanilla pod.
If you like some chunks in your applesauce, just let it cool to room temperature. If you like less chunks, use a potato masher to mash it down, For super smooth or if you cooked it with the skins, run it through the blender or food processor after it has cooled.
5. Storing Applesauce
Store the applesauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.
Frequently Asked Questions About Making Applesauce
Do I need to peel the apples to make applesauce?
No! You can core the apples out and cut them, keeping the peels on. Cook as directed. Once cooled, run the applesauce in a blender or food processor. The apple skins add more fiber and flavor to the applesauce.
What can I substitute for the vanilla bean in the applesauce?
In a pinch, you can use 1 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste or 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.
Can I make half of this applesauce recipe?
Absolutely. Here are a couple different ways of scaling this recipe:
- 3 pounds of apples, ½ cup water, 1-2 cinnamon sticks, ½ a vanilla bean (measure it lengthwise and slice it in half, wrapping the unused half in plastic wrap and storing it in the refrigerator to use in another recipe)
- 4 pounds of apples, ⅔ cup water, 2 cinnamon sticks, ½ a vanilla bean
- 6 pounds apples (any variety (except for red delicious) such as Mutzu, Jonagold, Honeycrisp, Empire Cortland, Golden Delicious, Pink Lady, Envy, McIntosh...use a combination of these or any other apples)
- 1 vanilla bean
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 1 cup water (235 grams)
- Peel, half, and core the apples. Slice them into approximately ½ inch squares. No need for precision here. Just get them chopped up. Add them to a pot that is at least 4½ quarts. (I use a Le Creuset #24. The apples filled the pot all the way to the top.)
- Use a paring knife to slice the vanilla bean lengthwise down the middle to open it up and expose the seeds inside. Use the back of the paring knife to scrape the seeds out. Add the seeds and the vanilla pod to the apples in the pot. Also add the cinnamon sticks and the water.
- With the heat on high, bring the mixture to a boil, pushing the apples around a bit every couple of minutes. Try to push the cinnamon sticks and vanilla pod toward the bottom in the water. Once the water boils, reduce the flame to medium-low. Cook for 20-30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. It is done with the water is reduced, most of the apples have lost their shape, and it looks, well, like applesauce! If you like chunks of apples, enjoy as is. Or you can use a potato masher to mash the chucks down. Discard the cinnamon sticks and vanilla pod.
- Allow to cool to room temperature, then transfer to an air proof container and refrigerate for up to seven days.
- I highly recommend using a real vanilla bean. In a pinch, you could use 1 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste, or, as a last resort, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.
- For a slight variation, substitute in 1 or 2 pears for a couple of apples.
- If you are cooking with the skins on the apples, run the applesauce through a blender or food processor once it is cooled.