Nothing signals the end of fall and the start of winter like hot, seasonal drinks. And while pumpkin spice lattes may be the flavor of the day, and eggnog the Christmas favorite, one seasonal drink stands apart in my eyes: mulled cider.
Homemade mulled cider is perfect: sweet, spicy, complex, and comforting all at once. It's very easy to make, and the mulling spices store well. As a result, mulling spices are my go-to gift during the holiday season. They're easy, affordable, and fun for everyone: all you need are a few key ingredients.
To make your mulling spices, you'll need some assortment of the dried spices listed below:
- cinnamon sticks
- whole cloves
- allspice berries
- cardamom pods
- star anise
- whole black peppercorns
All of these ingredients can usually be found in the baking and spices section of your local grocery store or supermarket.
I use a simple ratio when I make mulled cider—4:3. In other words, I use 4 cinnamon sticks to 3 of every other ingredient. However, you can play with this formula as much as you want depending on the flavors of mulled cider that you love most. For instance, sometimes I double the amount of peppercorns because I want an extra-spicy cider.
If you have a spice grinder, set it on a very course setting and grind up your ingredients. You can also use a mortar and pestle and ground the ingredients using a little bit of elbow grease.
If you don't have a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle, don't worry! Just place your spices in a resealable plastic bag, seal it, grab a cast iron skillet, and play a game of whack-a-spice. (We've also got other mortar and pestle alternatives here.)
You want to crush your spices until they are in small pieces, but not so much that they turn into a powder.
When I make mulling spices for myself, I put them in any easy container... mason jars, plastic containers, resealable plastic bags, you name it. But when making mulling spices as a gift, I like to use cute carriers for the spices. Usually I use small glass jars, which look great on the shelf.
However, if you want to get a little fancier, you can purchase empty tea bags and fill them up with your spice mixture for individual servings of mulled spices. (The 4:3 ratio of spices I mentioned earlier makes enough mulling spices for 8 individual packets.) That's a surefire way to get on your friends' good sides! I also like to leave a little note with the mulling spices, letting my friends know how best to use them (steep in hot apple cider for five minutes).
If you do decide to give bags of mulling spices away as a gift, be sure to let your fortunate friends know that the tea bags should be kept in an airtight container to prevent the spices from staling, or losing potency. If kept in an airtight container, the mulling spices will be just as potent as the day you made the bags for up to a year!
These mulling spices can also be used in wine as well as cider; just add the spices directly to a warming pot of wine and enjoy.
It's hard to beat mulled cider (or wine), either for yourself or as a gift. And on that note... I'm off to drink some!
Want to learn more about spices in general? Check out our article on buying, grinding, and tempering spices. We also have a great tutorial on how and why you should be making your own spices at home. If you want to take your love of apple cider and spices to the next level, you could always try making apple chai-der, a delicious mix of apple cider and chai tea spices.