Monday 3 December 2012

I like it hot 'n spicy...

'Tis the season that we start thinking about spicing and heating our cider, so after various nudges, requests and the overwhelming guilt of unfulfilled promises etc, I want to post my thoughts on mulling cider with suggestions for various ways forward.

Seemingly, we have an array of ready made spice packs, teabags and spiced syrups etc available to buy from cider farms or supermarkets. Wine spices are often more widely available than cider specific mixes, but they don't tend to vary too much. Its become a winter tradition in cider producing areas- everyman and his dog (on the high street or behind the hedgerow here in Somerset) has their own 'special' twist. Its pretty easy to prepare, its fun if a little sticky and offers your guests a warm comforting and less nauseating alternative to mulled wine. It hits the spot best when shared with friends outdoors around a massive blazing fire (search WASSAIL for massive blazing fire events.)

I suspect people have been mulling cider for as long as they have been mulling wine, I assume the Romans embraced the idea of mulling wine as they plundered colder climes where apples predominated and the tradition probably stems from there. Indeed, they probably improved it too with their love of flavour and access to the exotic spices that we take for granted today.

There are mulling spices and there are mulling spices. We all have different tastes and the diversity of cider available after those tastes have been taken into consideration force me to encourage you all to figure out what works for you- both in terms of available ingredients and the flavours you prefer. Don't loose the plot though, bad mulled anything is terrible!

This recipe is something I've tried to hone over the last few years, it may not suit everyone or every style of cider but I like to think its a strong starting point. I'm sure it has a few too many ingredients for some people and usually I'm a big fan of keeping things simple but I must admit to being a sucker to a plethora of spices when used sparingly. All of these should compliment a decent, well made traditional//farmhouse medium cider if used without excess. I've tried to balance them so you can taste a bit of everything without anything taking over and it not tasting like cidery anymore.

I prefer to use a medium cider as it means I have to add less sugar and medium is a less likely to put guests people off!

Wild Dollar's Mulled Cider

(makes approx 8 pints/20 wine glasses)

  • 2 Star Anise
  • 3 All -Spice berries 
  • 3 Cardamon pods
  • 4 teaspoons Ginger powder
  • a half teaspoon Mace
  • a ‘pinch’ Nutmeg
  • 5 teaspoons Cinnamon powder
  • 2 Cloves (whole)
  • 6 black Peppercorns (whole)
  • 2 Bay leaves (ripped in half)
  • 8 dessertspoons Muscovado sugar     *(could use honey))
  • 2 Oranges (1 zested & both juiced)     *(could use 7 Clementines)
  • 1 Lemon (juiced)
  • approx 1 imperial gallon/4.5 litres medium traditional farmhouse Cider
  • 80ml Cider Brandy*  (Brandy if you have to, or Rum if you’re really desperate)                 *which works out at 10ml per pint or 4ml per wine glass)
  • Pestle & Mortar
  • Large saucepan with a lid
  • small Jug/ladle
  • tea strainer
  • glasses to serve
To make:

Firstly, coarsely crush the Star Anise, Cardomon and All-Spice berries then along with the powdered spices (Ginger, Cinnamon, Mace & Nutmeg) place into a warm saucepan (on a medium heat) and mix in with the whole spices (Bay leaves, Peppercorns & Cloves) and sugar. After a two minutes of heating together, add a pint of cider to dissolve the sugar and infuse, increase temperature until simmering.

When simmering, add the orange zest & juice, lemon and the rest of the cider, allow it all to heat up then turn down the heat to low. Heating the cider will remove some of the alcohol (if you boil it most of it will go) so I get it all up to about 70C/150f then turn it down really low to sit and mull for at least 30 minutes (that should retain most of the booze if you keep the lid on!)

Serving it is generally a sticky, messy business so be sure to have a small, clean jug (or a ladle) to hand that you can scoop out from the saucepan to minimise the mess. Just before serving is a good time to add the Cider Brandy to the saucepan or, as I tend to prefer, proportionally into each glass ahead of the brew.

Pour into the serving vessels via a tea strainer and place any collected spices back into the saucepan as you go. I favour thick glass or ceramic mugs with a handles as they tend to preserve the temperature and protect my sensitive, arty hands.

There are premixed sachets available from various sources - here are some others I've tried and would recommend if you're feeling lazy:

Somerset Cider Brandy Co (aka Burrow Hill & Glastonbury Cider Bus) sell great little tea-bag like sachets that are very quick, easy and cheap (and giftable!)

There are also a mulled cider syrups, a more modern approach to the problem of cooking for yourself. You just pour and go with this bad boy (although you still have to heat it unfortunetly.)

If you make this recipe (or anything related) and tweak it, can you please post your recipes, results, improvements, suggestions etc here to - I'd like to try them all!