The aroma of cinnamon, nutmeg and other exotic spices are always an important part of fall and winter for me. If I'm not feeling the holiday spirit yet, a batch of spicy hot apple cider is a sure fire way for me to start seeing visions of sugarplums, or more likely, cookie fixings and wrapping paper. Apparently the sense of smell is almost as evocative as the sense of hearing, which bodes well if you plan on spending a few hours this weekend baking and listening to Christmas carols. You may come away from this prep marathon tired, but probably revisit a few cherished memories of Christmases past while creaming butter and calculating your cache of chocolate chips.
When I make spiced cider, the house smells like Mrs. Santa's kitchen (or what I imagine inhalations of her baking and brews smell like), and tastes like a little slice of childhood in a ceramic mug. Check out my recipe and instructions below. You'll like the mellow flavor and nice balance of spices. The addition of a few peppercorns gives it a bit of a bite to cut the sweetness, too.
This recipe uses a slow cooker (crockpot) to heat and infuse the mixture, but you can do the same thing either on your stovetop, or in the oven (at around 250 degrees Fahrenheit uncovered to start, and then down to 200 or on the warm setting to hold).
Slow Cooker Spicy Apple Cider Recipe
2 quarts sweet apple cider (not hard cider)
2 tbsp. packed light brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick (3 to 4 inches long)
1/2 tsp. whole cloves
1/2 tsp. whole allspice berries
1/2 tsp. whole peppercorns
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg (fresh ground is best)
2 cardamom pods, crushed (optional)
1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
1 whole orange, quartered (You'll be using the peel, so organic or unwaxed oranges are a good choice. *If you use a waxed orange, see the note below for instructions on how to remove its waxy coating.)
Place apple cider in a slow cooker, uncovered and on high for an hour. This evaporates some of the water and concentrates the apple flavor.
While the cider is reducing, measure out all the spices but the nutmeg and salt, and place them in a double length of cheesecloth. If you don't have cheesecloth, you can use a coffee filter. Close and secure the open end of either option with a length of twine.
Add the spice bag, quartered orange, nutmeg and salt to the mixture, and continue cooking for another 20 to 30 minutes.
Test the cider to see if it's spicy enough. If the taste isn't up to your standard, continue cooking and checking it every 15 minutes or so. When you're satisfied, remove the orange sections and spice bag, switch to a low setting on your slow cooker and cover. Note: don't leave the spice bag in place. It will eventually overwhelm the apple flavor and start to taste bitter.
Use the mixture as desired.
You can refrigerate any remainder for up to 48 hours. Oh, and you can add rum to taste of you want a beverage that's a little -- more.
The recipe can be halved or doubled. When cutting it in half, use a pinch of nutmeg rather than trying to measure out a 1/16th of a teaspoon's worth.
*Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons and limes are often waxed to improve their appearance and help them retain moisture. Although wax isn't harmful per se, it isn't intended for consumption. If you're using a recipe that includes citrus peel, you can remove the wax by rinsing the whole fruit in hot water for 30 seconds or so. For multiples, fill a pot with hot (not boiling) water and immerse the fruits for 30 seconds. Then rinse each one in hot water briefly. You can also use this method to remove wax from vegetables.
Photo supplied by Flickr user: Alexis Lamster https://www.flickr.com/photos/amlamster/6387142769/in/photolist