Mulled Cider

Looking for a recipe for a delicious warming festive drink that the whole family can enjoy? Then look no further than the joys of mulled cider! And before you panic that I’m suggesting junior gets stuck into a bottle of Buckthorn, rest assured that this can be made as an alcohol free drink too!

I’m using apple juice for this recipe and choosing to add dark rum at the end for a proper winter warmer, but you can serve it without if you so desire. It’s actually just as good without the booze as the sweet apple and the kick of spices are a real treat in themselves!

I usually make mulled wine over Christmas but I find it quite expensive as you need fairly decent wine to make it palatable and it tends to come with slices of orange in it which I hate. Mister North and I tried mulling some with lemon instead last year and it was undrinkably vile, like spiced vinegar, so I was very much in the market for something new this year. I came across a traditional wassailing drink called Lamb’s Wool when I was making the crabapple jelly and researching what else to do with these little fruit. Intrigued by the recipes I found, I decided to make it when some friends came round for a pre Christmas craft get together.

I spent ages trying to find some decent cider on the high street that didn’t have artificial sweeteners in it but came in something larger than a 350ml bottle with a hefty price tag. I’m fairly unbothered by artificial sweeteners usually (some of you will remember I used to have a near legendary Diet Coke habit) but they taste repulsive when heated up, so I was keen to avoid them if I could. I ended up with a bottle of Olde English which didn’t say if had any artifical additives and hoped the spicing would hide it if it did. I then followed the second recipe on the above link to make the Lamb’s Wool and it was truly egregious.

Lamb's Wool without egg white

With egg whites (I know...)

Two litres of cider were transformed to weirdly eggy abomination that haunts me when I think I actually served it to people. Despite adding egg yolks and cream to the cider, it did not thicken at all, just looking murky. I also took it off the heat five minutes before whisking the egg whites in but was still left with a vile eggy topping that was a cross between Italian meringue and scrambled egg rather anything resembling light fluffiness. It got in the way of drinking the cider beneath and was a pain to scoop off. This was an expensive failure that had to be loaded with sugar to make it palatable.

I did enjoy the fact that the cooked apples had been added to the cider and this inspired me to try making my own more straightforward and cheaper mulled cider. Below is a recipe which can be expanded or reduced depending how many people you are mulling for:

1 litre apple juice (you could use fancy cloudy stuff, but the from concentrate is just fine)
2-3 cinnamon sticks
5-6 allspice berries, bruised
2-3 star anise
1 halved apple, studded with cloves
Orange or lemon zest
Whole apples, baked for puree
Dark rum

Start by coring and halving your apples, preferably Bramleys. Place on a tray and bake in the oven at 160° for around an hour or until soft and exploded. Set to one side to cool slightly and then scrape the apple puree out from the skins until needed.

Pour your apple juice into a large heavy bottomed pan, add the spices and clove studded apples, leaving the rum aside. Heat until boiling, then simmer for around 30 minutes to infuse everything. Strain the heated cider, leaving the spices to one side (or use a tea infuser or muslin) and then add in the pureed apple, whisking with a hand blender until no bits remain but the cider is slightly thickened.

Pour into a heatproof punch bowl or ladle into mugs or glass cups. If people wish to add the rum, about a shot glass worth adds a charming kick without leaving anyone reeling after just the one. Drink to your heart’s content!

I love this. I find apple juice quite sweet enough so I haven’t added sugar, but if you like it less sharp, add a few teaspoonfuls of brown sugar and make sure it has dissolved before you simmer it. This is warming and refreshing, very appley and feels incredibly festive. I’ve been drinking it while putting up the decorations and writing cards and it definitely makes Christmas prep much more enjoyable!

Serve it anytime you fancy a little treat this Christmas or if you’re doing a mulled drinks and mince pie soiree and don’t want to have to do several drinks to accomodate drinkers, kids and drivers. I have a feeling people will be asking for the recipe in no time while you keep the art of wassailing alive and well!

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