You’ve waited all year to find fresh apple cider once more, and after a trip to your local orchard, you’re home with a giant 2-gallon jug to enjoy. Now it’s time for hot apple cider, mulled cider, and perhaps even a homemade hot toddy. Here are five seasonal ingredients to add to your apple cider to really heat things up this autumn.
The following ingredients can all be added to either a single cup or a full pot of apple cider. If heating up a pot of cider, add ingredients to taste and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce to a low simmer and keep over heat for about 10 to 15 minutes. If a stronger infusion is desired, remove from heat and leave covered for 15 to 30 minutes for the flavors to steep even more. Strain if needed and enjoy.
1. Cinnamon: Cinnamon is a given for your cider, but in which form? Ground cinnamon or cinnamon sticks? Each has virtue. Ground cinnamon will do in a pinch (no pun intended), as most cooks have it in their cupboard ready to go at any moment, and it has a consistently strong “cinnamon” flavor. But ground cinnamon never seems to fully dissolve into water, so you may be left with a small clump of cinnamon at the bottom of your cider cup.
Cinnamon sticks, on the other hand, are great because you can pull them right out of the cup before serving. Their flavor varies greatly depending on the source, but can range from slightly sweet to a bit “woody.” Though cinnamon sticks prevail in their sheer aesthetic; there’s nothing like a tall, aromatic stick floating proudly in a steaming cup of apple cider.
2. Cloves: Often ignored the rest of the year, cloves find their time to shine in the autumn and winter months. You’ll find this pungent spice in gingerbread, holiday-themed meats, and, of course, mulled wine or cider. It has a warm, sweet flavor that naturally lends itself to other similar flavors, which happens to be everything going into your cider.
Go easy on the cloves when adding to your cider, as a few can go a very long way. Start with just a few whole cloves for a cup of cider, or if making a full pot, no more than ½ or 1 teaspoon whole cloves. If using ground cloves, use much less than that—just about 1/8 teaspoon.
3. Ginger: Nothing adds a spike of crisp spice to a cup of hot cider quite like fresh ginger root. Instantly warming in nature, ginger can flush the skin and add a sense of heat to the whole body—a wonderful thing if you’re getting cozy by the fire on a chilly autumn eve. It can also aid in digestion, so sipping ginger-spiked cider after dinner can be quite soothing to the stomach.
Simply scrub a 1-inch piece of ginger and slice thinly on the diagonal, then add to your cider to taste. Dried ginger will work if it's all you've got, but it’s a bit like using ground cinnamon; the aromas won’t be as strong in powdered form, and you’ll be left with those pesky little clumps of un-dissolved powder in your final cider.
4. Orange peel: Orange juice in your cider may not sound appetizing, but freshly zested orange peel adds a mild citrus touch that’s quite lovely. (Consider the traditional “hot toddy” cocktail, which often is made with lemon juice and peel.)
Scrub your whole orange clean, and peel off the entire peel from the fruit. When using your vegetable peeler against the skin, be careful to avoid peeling the inner white pith along with the zest; it has an off-putting bitter flavor. Alternatively, you can add slices of whole orange to your cider—just slice cross-sections of the fruit and add in.
5. Rosemary: Rosemary finds its way onto our autumnal and holiday menus sooner or later, whether in roasted pork loin, lamb shanks, or the quintessential Thanksgiving stuffing. Yet this woody herb pairs deliciously with winter fruits, including pears, citruses, and apples, and it finds a great home inside hot apple cider. With a mild pine-like flavor and calming aroma, rosemary is a prime winter herb to try in cider.
If using fresh rosemary, add one to three sprigs to your pot of cider. If using dried rosemary, use only a tablespoon or less of the dried leaves—the aroma and flavor of dried herbs is always more potent than the fresh form, so err on the side of caution. (And if using dried rosemary, remember to strain it before you drink the cider!)
Image adapted from NatalieMaynor, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0