~ You’ll be amazed! This easy applesauce uses only a tiny amount of added sugar! Super-nutritious dates stealthily add plenty of rich sweetness, and also pair perfectly with the cinnamon and vanilla to create loads of delicious fall flavor! ~
This Recipe Is: • Freezable • Make Ahead • Vegan (and Vegetarian) • Gluten Free •
I love dates!
A romantic night out with my hubby always makes me remember all over again how gosh-darn fun he is. We can chat and chat and giggle forever when left to our own devices (as in, when we’re able to complete a sentence with no other little voices interrupting with questions, or reminders that their homework needs signed)!
But you knew that wasn’t really the kind of date I meant, didn’t you?
I really meant that other kind … the goofy-looking, wrinkly-dried-fruit kind!
And you’re right – I love that kind, too!
My torrid love affair with that kind started last fall, when I made batch after batch of date “caramel” while testing our Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Muffins with Caramel Swirl.
Dates are loaded with natural sugars, but also with tons of great nutrients! One cup of dates offers up about 12 grams of fiber and over 900mg of potassium … plus a healthy dose of magnesium and iron, and loads of antioxidants. All sorts of studies suggest that the nutritional goodies in dates may help prevent or moderate a whole host of health problems.
So, suffice it to say, they are sa-weet! And not just sweet in a sugary way! These guys pack a big, super-sa-weeeeet nutritional punch!
A handful of dates even amped up the rich, sweet background flavors of our Kentucky Derby Chocolate-Pecan Cookie Bars, which (you may recall) my son dubbed “Best dessert. EVER.” Alrighty then. Score one for the dates … adding sweetness and depth of flavor while stealthily amping up the nutrient profile, too! Can’t beat that!
How to Make Date Caramel
So let’s talk for just a moment about date “caramel.” No, really – it’s a thing! A seriously delicious, face-palm-why-didn’t-I-discover-this-sooner thing!
Just blend dried dates with some water, spices and flavorings (like the vanilla and cinnamon I use in this applesauce recipe) … and you have a nutrient-rich yet caramel-y, finger-lickingly decadent treat. I sometimes also add just a teeny bit of brown sugar, to help ever-so-slightly round out the flavor profile.
You can do all sorts of magical things with your date caramel – including, but not limited to, licking it right off the spoon! And (hint … hint …) swirling it through those pumpkin muffins.
But last fall, after I’d nestled my newest love affair into muffins, I moved on to stirring it into applesauce.
Some applesauce recipes are pretty straight up – basically just apples, some juice, and almost nothing else – the kind you often find spooned next to pork chops or served on school lunch trays. But I knew I wanted to create a rich, sweet applesauce bursting with the flavors of fall … with a warm hint of cinnamon, notes of fragrant vanilla, and the complexity of flavor that comes from mixing some tart apples in with the others.
Sadly, those types of sweetened, spiced applesauce recipes sometimes also contain sizable amounts of sugar to balance it all out, often even a cup or more. (One “healthy” recipe I found called for 2 cups of brown sugar for 4 pounds of apples. Wow, right?!?)
My date-sweetened applesauce recipe is wonderfully sweet and flavorful. But with about 5 pounds of apples, it needs only 3 tablespoons of brown sugar! The date caramel (in all its nutrient-rich glory) supplies sweetness aplenty!
And it’s wow-I-did-NOT-see-that-coming delicious!
Epiphany! Again! (This happens to me a lot!)
Tips on Making Your Best Applesauce Ever
Haven’t made a lot of applesauce? Or maybe you’re just looking to up your applesauce game (‘cuz everyone needs an applesauce A-game, right?). I’ve got a few tips that Gretchen and I’ve learned over our years of stirring together different apple-y concoctions after trips to the orchards and farm stands.
- The best applesauce comes from using a variety of apples. This is something that I didn’t realize at first, but using just one type of apple leads to a rather one-note applesauce. To develop deeper, broader flavors, start with at least two or three different apple varieties, and try to blend some that are sweet, some that are tart, and so forth. Your applesauce will have a much more complex apple flavor.
- So, what apples are best for applesauce? Different people have different favorite applesauce apples, and you’ll see all sorts of lists and rankings of which apples are best for this purpose, but common varieties that make great applesauce include Gala, Fuji, Jonathan, McIntosh, Pink Lady, Granny Smith and Golden Delicious. And, with all the wonderful (ever-more-numerous) apple hybrids to choose from, the varieties and combinations for your applesauce pot are practically limitless! Don’t be afraid to play around … who knows what your favorite combination might be!?!
- The trick to working with different apples is that you should aways cut firmer apples (such as Granny Smith) a little smaller than softer apple varieties, so they all cook down at approximately the same rate. Firmer apples are sometimes dismissed as less ideal for making applesauce, but many firmer varieties (again, like Granny Smith) add phenomenal flavor – you just have to know how to work with them (and it’s well worth it!).
- How long does applesauce take to cook? Exactly how long you’ll need to cook your applesauce will depend on how small you cut up your apples, how firm the apples are, and how smooth you like your applesauce. It’s entirely up to you! If you like your applesauce super-smooth, you can even dump your cooked apple mixture into a blender or food processor. There’s no wrong answer here – do what you like!
- For faster applesauce … If you need your applesauce to cook quickly, simply cut your apples a bit smaller, so they cook faster. It’s nice for applesauce to simmer for a while so the flavors meld and develop as the apples break down, but sometimes you just need to move things along a little faster. (I totally get that!)
- Taste your applesauce before you serve it up. Every batch of applesauce is a bit different … because it’s based primarily on a natural food item that varies in flavor due to all sorts of different factors. You may make an applesauce recipe one week, then make it again using the exact same types of apples the next week, and find that it tastes a bit different. It varies … so taste and then adjust your seasonings and sweeteners as needed. You may even want to hold a little bit of your spices and sugar back, in case you find that you don’t need them all for a particular batch.
So now … let’s get to the good stuff! To applesauce that’s brimming with great nutrition, but is also deliciously, satisfyingly sweet! Mmmmmm … with warm cinnamon and just a hint of vanilla, it tastes perfectly like fall!
Who’s up for “date night”? 😀
Are Your Counters Overflowing with Gorgeous Fall Apples? We Can Help!
- Healthy Apple Cobbler Muffins (With Easy, Make-Ahead Tips!)
- 10-Minute, No-Cook Overnight Oats with Apples, Cranberries and Cinnamon
- Easy, Healthy Applesauce Granola (Great way to use your homemade applesauce!)
- Hearty Fruit and Nut Salad with Greek Yogurt Dressing
- Healthy Yogurt Parfait Party Snacks (Why not use apples for a fall take on this yummy treat?)
- 20 dates
- 1/2 cup water
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 5 pounds of apples (about 11 apples), peeled, cored and chopped to equal about 15 cups (see note for suggestions of varieties)
- 1 cup apple juice (100% juice)
- To make the date "caramel," put dates, water, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt in a mini food processor and process until silky-smooth, scraping the sides as needed (about 2 minutes).
- Meanwhile, in a large pot, cook apples and apple juice over medium heat (at a low simmer), stirring occasionally, until the apples are soft enough to mash, about 35-45 minutes.
- Remove the apple mixture from the heat and mash to the desired consistency.
- While the apple mixture is still piping hot, stir in the date "caramel" (see note).
- Eat immediately or refrigerate (or freeze) until serving.
Apples: Remember that it's important to use a variety of apples – at least two or three different kinds – to get the most complex, delicious flavor in your applesauce. For a gorgeously balanced, sweet-tart flavor, we like the combination of 4 Gala, 3 Granny Smith, 3 Fuji, and one Yellow Delicious. For a sweeter, almost apple-cobbler flavor, try cutting back the Granny Smiths to maybe only one of the apples, and select a couple of the sweeter varieties in their place. Feel free to change up the types of apples you use based on what you have.
Cook time: How long you'll need to cook this will depend on how small you cut your apples, how firm your apples are, and how chunky or smooth you like your applesauce.
Adding the date "caramel" and seasoning your applesauce: As we mentioned in the post, depending on the types of apples you chose and their particular flavor profile, you may want to reserve some of the date mixture until you've tasted the applesauce and decided if you need the full amount of "caramel" for this batch. Feel free to adjust the amount of vanilla, cinnamon and "caramel" as needed with each batch you make, as apple flavors and sweetness can vary, even if you use the same types of apples every time.
Make-ahead tips: First off, you can absolutely make your date caramel ahead, even a day or two in advance. Store it, covered, in the refrigerator until using.
In addition, this applesauce keeps beautifully in the refrigerator for several days, and also freezes great (so you may want to make a couple extra batches when fall's beautiful apples are at their delicious best).