'Tis the season for lazy nights by the fire and a hot mug of cider to warm our hands and bellies. While you can't go wrong with a classic apple cider simmering on the stove, its sweetness makes it the perfect base for a number of festive add-ins. Serve up a hot pot at a holiday party or go for an apres-ski party in a woodsy cabin!
Mull it over. The classic mulling mix includes a combination of spices (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice) and fruit (dried or fresh oranges, apples, raisins, and cranberries). For easy straining, bundle everything into a cheesecloth sack or spice bag and steep it in the cider for half an hour on low heat. Garnish with a cinnamon stick before serving, or float a few cloves or an orange slice in the mug if you like it fancy.
Spice it up. The European spice mix we know and love isn't the only way to spice up a pot of apple cider. Ginger, galangal, star anise, five-spice, peppercorn, and cardamom all add a delicious twist to traditional mulled cider. Try to use whole spices when you can, as ground spices can make a cider seem "muddy." To garnish, drop in a clump of crystallized ginger, or hang a thin coin of fresh ginger or galangal on the rim.
Make it hot. While we're talking spice, let's also talk about the caliente kind! A little fire can tone down the sweetness of cider and give it a little bite... making it more complex, adding another layer of warmth, and pairing beautifully with chocolate. Sprinkle a pinch of cayenne pepper on top, or float a dried chile de arbol in your mug for some sultry heat.
Spike it good. Looking for a more grown-up drink? Bourbon, whiskey, spiced rum, and even red wine add what I like to call "liquid layers" for those chilly nights! Add a half-cup to a half-gallon of cider for subtle booziness, up to a full cup if you really want to get the party started. For variety, try an infused spirit like black cherry bourbon or honey whiskey.
Mix it up. The beauty of apple cider is being able to dress it any which way you want. Try mixing a dried chile with a cinnamon stick in your mug, or add citrus peels to a boozy pot of cider. For the holidays, you can even have a few pots simmering on the stove at once, each with a different flavor for your guests to sample! (Hot cider party, anyone?) And best of all, your house will smell delicious while they're all brewing!