Friday, 7 January 2011

Mulled cider (and juice)

While I remember, the cider I made from my friend's apples turned out to be utterly delicious - with a little help.

I didn't add anything to the juice - no sugar, honey, stabilisers - except, of course, yeast (I didn't trust "wild yeasts" to do the job). This meant the resulting cider was as pure an expression of the apples as I could make it, but it was tooth-meltingly sour once the fermentation was done. Not a pleasant drink at all - until I mulled it (I'd expected to have to do this anyway, in case the cider wasn't very nice; it *was* clean and clear, but unsweetened). Simply adding sugar to the cider returned the balance that had been in the juice - and the wonderful taste those apples had had revealed it was still there in the finished product. It occurred to me, too, that I'd need not worry about bottles exploding from unwanted secondary fermentation if there was no residual sugar.

Anyway, December being much colder than normal, mulling the cider was the perfect way to re-sweeten it in a seasonal way. I'd been mulling fresh apple juice for a few weeks in order to satisfy my craving for something warm without getting drunk every night (and using up my surfeit of homemade apple juice). I was experimenting with unusual spices, too.

So, here's a template for mulling dry cider (don't make the mistake I did once, and waste your money on sparkling stuff - it will obviously lose its bubbles when heated), apple juice, wine, grape juice and whatever else you can think of. It's very loose, because the tartness of the base ingredient, and the availability of spices will vary so much.

Liquid (e.g. cider)
Sweetener (I don't mean artificial sweeteners; white sugar is the least interesting option - try unrefined, brown, or honey)
Whole spices, roughly crushed (cinnamon sticks, allspice berries, cassia, green cardamom - these are great, if standard; try black pepper, nutmeg (freshly grated), black cardamom, grains of paradise, or anything similar).
Fruit (optional; orange slices are good in mulled wine, apple slices and sultanas are excellent in cider; finely-pared lemon peel can be interesting)

  • Fill a pan 1/2-2/3 full with the liquid. Place over the lowest heat on your hob.
  • Add enough sweetener to balance the flavour - and remember, when it's hot, it may taste stronger, so you may want to marginally over-sweeten it. Ideally, start out with too little sugar, and keep adding and tasting until you reach the perfect level.
  • The best way to add the spices is in a muslin bag, tied up, or a mesh infuser - I have one especially designed for spices, but you can use metal "tea bags", the sort to allow brewing of loose tea without any mess. This just stops people having to pick bits of spice out of their mouths as they drink.
  • Add any fruit, if using.
  • Stir until the sugar has completely dissolved.
  • Heat until just hot - do not boil, as this drives off the alcohol (although not as quickly as you may think). If it cools down between servings, reheat - but never boil.
  • Serve in heat-proof glasses or cups.
My favourite part is eating the swollen, apple-infused sultanas at the bottom of the glass.