Silky smooth and tart with a concentrated apple flavor, homemade apple cider molasses is an endangered food of New England dating back to Colonial America. Relatively unknown today, it's also known as boiled cider and apple cider syrup and is listed in the Slow Foods Ark of Taste. One taste will change how you think of cooking with cider. Today I'll show you how easy it is to make your own.
I was taught to make this by Chef Lenny Russo when I worked under him at Heartland Restaurant in St. Paul. It was a fall tradition when local cider came in and we'd use it on everything from desserts to savory dishes.
Apple molasses is fresh cider reduced until the water content has evaporated and it's become a thick syrup. Designed to preserve the apple harvest, It was an ingenious way to store cider without refrigeration or added sugar.
Similar methods of "ultra-pasteurization" are found around the world, my favorite being pekmez, a reduction of mulberry juice from Armenia and the Caucuses. I do similar things with wild grape juice and blueberry juice. Milk jam and cajeta are cousins.
Cider syrup is uniquely American, It was produced in quantity during the Civil War as molasses and sugar were imported through British plantations in the West Indies, but its use should date back even farther to the 1600s.
It was used as an all-purpose sweetener in baked goods, mincemeat pies, and wherever honey or maple syrup could be used. Commercial operations still make and sell apple molasses, but it's so easy and fun to make at home I think it's hardly worth buying. Fall is the perfect time to make it, and a small batch will cost you about $7.00.
Information online varies a bit as to how much the cider should be reduced. I prefer it reduced to right around 1 1/7th of its volume which will give you a product similar to maple syrup. With a small batch (half gallon) that'll give you a little more than a cup of syrup, perfect for a little experimentation at home.
Reducing the syrup further, down to 1/10th of it's volume, sometimes called apple jelly and the mixture is dark and thicker. I find heavily reduced cider trickier to cook with than to a looser syrup.
How to Make Apple Molasses
First you wrap a few spices in cheesecloth. I always add a little cinnamon and a few allspice berries. Spicebush can be a nice addition too.
The spice bouquet and sweet cider are brought to a brisk simmer in a wide pot. As the cider cooks, impurities will float to the top and should be skimmed off. Don't worry if you don't get it all as they can be skimmed off the finished product when it's done. At the half way point, or roughly 30 minutes for a half gallon of cider, I remove the spice bouquet.
After about 60-75 minutes, the syrup should be reduced to about 1/7th of its volume, or roughly 1.15 cups (9oz) for a half gallon. The hot cider syrup is poured into a canning jar and processed in a water bath. Known for an extremely long shelf life, it can be stored in a cool dark place for years.
How to Use Apple Molasses
This is an extremely versatile preserve with all kinds of uses. The malic acid makes it quite tart, so it can be used for sweet or savory dishes. Use apple cider molasses anywhere you'd use maple syrup or honey, or anywhere you'd like a tart, sweet apple flavor. Here's a few ideas.
- A very traditional use is as a sweetener or garnish for apple pie.
- A substitute for pomegranate molasses.
- Drizzled over vanilla ice cream or added to the base where it will resist freezing.
- It's great with creamy, rich cheeses, especially soft ones like chevre or blue cheese.
- It dissolves well into drinks.
- As a garnish for chicken, pork and game birds.
- I love it drizzled over yogurt with granola and fresh fruit.
- Pancakes, French toast and quickbreads.
- An all-purpose sweet and sour glaze for just about anything.
- Layer apple flavor by adding the syrup to apple butter.
Do you make apple cider molasses? If you do, please leave a comment and share how you like to use it, or if you have any tips to add.
Tips and Variations
- Reducing the cider isn't an exact science. If it gets reduced too far and is too thick to easily drizzle, just add a splash of boiling water and stir to adjust the consistency.
- I use the method to make loose, no-added sugar "jams" of different things as with my pine cone cider jam.
Apple Molasses (Cider Syrup)
- 1 wide 10 inch pan with high sides
- 1 8 oz canning jar
- ½ gallon high quality apple cider non-alcoholic, unfiltered apple juice, See note
Spice bouquet (optional)
- ½ inch piece of cinnamon
- 3 ea allspice berries
- 5 ea spicebush berries
- Tie the spices in cheesecloth and reserve.
- Pour the cider into a wide 10 inch pot, add the spice bouquet and bring to a brisk simmer.
- As the cider cooks, impurities will float to the top. Skim them off and discard. Put the pan on the burner off-center to make skimming impurities easier.
- After 30 minutes, discard the spice bouquet.
- After 60 minutes the reduction will be getting close to finished. You're looking for a little over 1 cup of finished molasses.
- When the molasses is done, pour the piping hot syrup into a room temperature mason jar and screw on the lid, label and date. For long term storage you can process jars in a waterbath, 10 minutes for half pints.
- Cool the syrup and store in a cool dark place.
- You can keep the syrup in the refrigerator. If you do it'll need to warm up for it to be usable.
- If you reduce the syrup too far and think it's too thick, just add a splash of boiling water and stir to adjust the consistency.
- Only freshly pressed, unfrozen apple juice should be used here. Frozen apple juice cannot be substituted.
- Feel free to switch up the spices with what you have on hand. You won't notice them much in the finished product so it's fine to experiment a little.