I believe it’s a basic fact of human nature that we need these celebrations too keep us from going off the deep end during the late fall and winter, especially in places with excruciatingly short days and cold temperatures and snowy roads. I really think, however, that we put too much pressure on ourselves (as well as our friends and families) when it comes to these year-end celebrations. Sure, we set out to give honor and thanks to and for what is important to us, and generously wish to find the perfect gifts for loved ones or make the season brighter for those who may not have enough. But, let’s face it: we all too often make ourselves crazy in the process.
Because we need to calm down a bit to stay sane, to sit back and relax and contemplate what is meaningful to us, or what we are thankful for, or why exactly it is that we can’t stand to be in the same room with Aunt Mildred, I offer you a warm and flavorful apple cider drink for your sipping pleasure. Because we also need to spice up these darkening days, this cider is steeped with a handful of sassy spices as well as a few strips of orange peel. Because a spiked drink may be just what the nerves seem to need, there is also an optional plug of apple brandy.
This cider is quite spicy, and I really went through the cabinet in hopes of creating an especially complex flavor. I recognize that the average kitchen, even during the holidays, might not be stocked with quite so many whole spices, and I think you could leave out what you don’t have and still make something pretty good. Heck, I forgot to put the cardamom in last time I made this and, while I, tasting critically, could tell it wasn’t there, the cider was still delicious and comforting. Really, the cinnamon is the most important part and you could probably make a delightful cider without anything else added. Don’t put the added pressure on yourself of going out to gather spices in the cold.
The apple brandy (I used Apple Jack) brightens the flavors of the final beverage, and it might also serve to brighten the conversation at your next gathering. You can leave it out, and if you do, this becomes a nice drink for breakfast or an afternoon break. I tend to split the batch and spike half of it for evening relaxation and leave the rest untainted for morning or daytime sipping.
Whatever you celebrate or use as an excuse to gather over the next six weeks or so, I hope you have a pleasant and peaceful time. Spiked or just spiced, you make the call, but perhaps also take the time to sit back and sip rather than gulp in the whole holiday season while giving thanks, enjoying your loved ones and taking in some really great food.
Mulled Apple CiderThe amount of alcohol in this drink is modest. Adjust it to your liking or leave it out entirely.
8 cups (2 liters) fresh apple cider
6 cardamom pods, crushed
3-4 small chunks crystallized ginger (about 1 heaping tablespoon or 15 ml)
6 whole cloves
6 whole allspice berries
2 whole star anise
3 4-inch (about 10 cm) cinnamon sticks
1/4 inch (about 0.5 cm) chunk whole nutmeg or ¼ teaspoon (1 ml) grated nutmeg
4 1-inch (2.5 cm) wide strips orange peel
½ cup (125 ml) apple brandy, such as Calvados or Apple Jack (optional)
1. Pour the cider into a large pot. Add all of the remaining ingredients except the brandy. Cover and bring to a boil.
2. Reduce the heat and simmer gently, covered, for 30 min. Turn off the heat and let stand 30 minutes more.
3. Strain out the spices or remove them with a slotted spoon. To serve, return the cider to the heat and warm until hot. Stir in the brandy if using. Serve hot or refrigerate and rewarm as needed.
Makes 10-11 6-ounce (175 ml) servings.
Another recipe like this one: Ginger Spice Ice Cream
One year ago: Cranberry Sauce