Mulled cider – spicy and warming for cold evenings

Mulled cider recipes abound. Part of the pleasure lies in concocting your own warming combination and ratio of cider, spirit and spices.

Perfect for mulled cider on a cold evening: pots hang over an outdoor fire

Cider can be mulled indoors or out

Just to be clear: we’re talking about alcoholic mulled cider. If you want to make a version for the kids or you’re on the wagon, you can substitute apple juice for the cider and leave out the hard stuff. That slightly misses the point, but it’s still a way to introduce young taste buds to exotic and warming spices such as cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, coriander and star anise.

Choose a medium-dry cider

The quality of your ingredients is always the key. A dry or medium-dry, strong-flavoured cloudy cider with good body – preferably organic – is the best starting point. A bit of acidity is a good thing. You can balance out any tartness with honey or sugar but it will add to the intensity of flavour that you need for our base. Ciders that are made from apple concentrate instead of proper apples will give you a thin brew but adding pure apple juice to boost its fruitiness is a perfectly legitimate tactic.

Table honey and warmed spices to balance your mulled cider

A light amber clover honey is less likely to overwhelm the flavour than, say, eucalyptus or thyme. You can buy bags of spices but they are meant for mulled wine, not cider, so you’re better off using your own and experimenting. Dry frying your spices will release their essential oils, adding depth and layers of flavour.

Cider brandy is in the right spirit 

Recipes vary but particularly in the choice of liquor needed to give your mulled cider a bit of whoomph. Cider brandy/Calvados is an obvious choice but dark or light rum is widely used and other variants include sloe gin, brandy, bourbon and Cointreau. But not all at the same time. One spirit will give it a kick; more will give you a punch.

You’ll need a preserving pan or stockpot, a strainer and mugs. Most recipes call for the liquor to be in the mulled cider but you can also make it without and pour the mulled cider into a warm mug with some of the spirit in the bottom and use a piece of cinnamon as a swizzle stick.

Simmer down. Boiling’s not good

Either way, don’t let it boil; you will drive off flavour as well as alcohol and you won’t improve your mulled wine at all. This is a bit like the old adage: ‘boiled coffee is spoiled coffee’. Be gentle and patient. One way to ensure that you don’t, is to use a slow cooker but you will miss out on the tantalising smells of it all coming together.

If you’re putting your mulled cider in a bowl before serving it up, rinse it out first with hot water to warm it and pour the mulled wine into the bowl through a strainer. Ladle it into warm mugs and take a good sniff before drinking.

Mulled cider

Ingredients
1 litre of dry or medium-dry, still cider
1 glass of apple juice
150 ml cider brandy
6 cloves
4 cinnamon sticks
1/2 tsp ground allspice
2 star anise
Apple or orange slices for garnish

Method
Dissolve the honey in the apple juice. Pour the cider and apple juice into a large pan and add the spices. Gently heat it until it nearly but not actually boiling. Lower the heat so that it simmers very gently for 10 minutes. Take it off the heat and add the cider brandy, stir it and add your garnishes. Then serve it. (Or put the cider brandy into warm mugs and add the mulled cider). If you prefer to use a slow cooker, put all the ingredients in together, set it to high, and cook for 90 minutes before stirring, straining and serving.

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