The most complimentary adjective I can dredge up for store-bought applesauce is “edible.” Homemade, however, is a whole ‘nother ball game. All you need are some apples, a little acid to help break them down, a little sugar to sweeten the deal, and a little time to let it cook. But since you’re going to all the trouble to put sugar in a pot and cook it, you might as well take a few extra minutes and caramelize it first.
I wish I could say this was my idea, but I stole it from Martha Stewart. I first made this applesauce last fall, as the first step in an apple spice cake from the MS Baking Handbook. I was at the very beginning of a caramel odyssey then. I was fresh off my first tarte tatin and still had brown sugar caramel frosting in my future. Like browning butter, caramelization is a short step that takes a basic ingredient and makes something amazing out of it. And like browning butter, I now nudge it into every recipe that I can.
I don’t know if it’s the chemist in me or just the kid, but I love watching sugar caramelize and butter brown. The amber shades rise up from the heart of the liquid and blossom out across the surface like flowers. It’s hypnotic, like a very fragrant lava lamp.