Whaaaa? That’s what I said when I first heard of apple cider jelly, which is what I was intending to make. It sounded amazeballs. What I ended up with was apple cider syrup, delicious in its own right – sweet and tart with undertones of caramel, it’s the essence of a glass of apple cider condensed down to a teaspoon. I haven’t tried it in too many things yet but so far it’s been a champ on toast, in oatmeal, and warmed up on top of vanilla ice cream….OMG delicious. If you sprinkle it with a little granola you have what I’m calling an apple crisp sundae.
How did I end up with syrup and not jelly? Well, we had heard on the radio that you could basically just cook cider down to jelly, taking advantage of the pectin that’s naturally in the juice. So we bought a gallon, poured it into a large pot with a cinnamon stick, and simmered away. The recipe we followed said to cook the cider down for 3 hours and it would start to gel. WRONG! In fact it started to caramelize once the volume had gone down enough. I freaked out and removed the pot from the heat, poured the contents in a mason jar, and let it sit overnight. I was saddened to see the next morning that the liquid never firmed up, but at least it was still pretty tasty. I decided to look on the bright side and declare this a new culinary feat! Apple cider syrup!
I did a little research into the matter and discovered a few things about making apple cider jelly:
1) Almost every recipes calls for additional pectin. Apparently others have had the same issues getting it to gel up!
2) If you don’t add pectin and rely on what’s in the juice, you really need to use the freshest cider available because pectin loses potency over time. This means you need freshly bottled cider that’s been refrigerated and is preferably unpasteurized. Not the dust covered, unrefrigerated, pasteurized stuff we bought!
3) If you don’t use added pectin, you need to reduce the cider down really quickly because heat also degrades pectin. So the recipe we followed that calls for 3 hours of simmering is dead wrong! Ideally you want everything to concentrate down in 30 min, which means high heat. I don’t really know how you’re supposed to condense a gallon of cider down to a pint in 30 min without burning everything, but there you go. Maybe divide it into a few pots to increase surface area?
If you want to try this out yourself, just grab a gallon of decent quality cider from the store and start simmerin’! In my research I found some people say there is a difference between apple cider and apple juice (cider apples are picked earlier so they are more tart), but there is really no true difference these days. These days cider refers more to the homemade stuff that sits around longer and tends to ferment a bit. What’s called cider in the stores is glorified juice or may have some spice in it. So buy whichever you want but I would suggest testing them first and buying a juice that is not super sweet. I think unfiltered has more apple essence, too. Pour it in a pot with some spices (I used a cinnamon stick and 4 whole cloves), reduce it down for 2 hours, remove the spices, and simmer/reduce for another 45 min or so. Check on it often at the end stages so the sugar doesn’t end up caramelizing! I ended up with about 3/4 quart of syrup from 1 gallon of cider. Here it is in the pot after about 2.5 hrs:
We’re still going to try to make some jelly…I think it will make great Christmas gifts! In the meantime, we’re enjoying our syrup.