To me, mulled apple cider is fall in liquid form. This is an association forged in my early childhood, when my mom would buy gigantic 2-gallon jugs of the cloudy brown liquid as soon as October hit and keep the fridge stocked with it until spring sprung. I coveted the cider because it was so unbelievably apple-y, nothing like the watered-down juice I got in the cafeteria.
Apples, all ready to become cider. Photo by James Ransom
On special occasions, usually when company was coming over on a chilly night, we would mull said cider—my mom would let me count out the spices to throw in a large pot that simmered all afternoon on the stove. There were always two versions: one for the kids, and a special, boozier one with rum for the adults.
Now an adult myself (sort of), my love of mulled cider has endured. I like to make a pot when friends come by, but am equally prone make a smaller, individual batch for long Friday evenings when I want to do nothing but feel absurdly cozy. Bonus: It makes the house smell like an autumn issue of a lifestyle catalogue. Here's how to follow my lead and get your mulled apple cider fix, all fall (and winter) long:
First, get your hands on some apple cider, unpasteurized if you can. Pour the cider into a vessel on the stove, leaving a little room for the liquid level to rise with additional spices, flavorings, and (possibly) booze. I recommend planning for 2 cups of cider per person, but you can always make a bit extra and store the remainder in your fridge for up to three days.
Next, ready your spices! Traditional choices are orange or lemon peels, cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice berries, and star anise. Per gallon of cider, I recommend using 4 cinnamon sticks and 1 teaspoon each of your chosen spices. Use whole ones, if you can—ground spices will give your cider an unpleasant gritty texture.
In my family we would always make clove-stuck oranges to flavor our cider, maybe because assembling one is an extremely easy way to keep a child (me) occupied for 30 or so minutes. To make, simply stick cloves into an orange (or lemon) in whatever pattern you fancy—stripes, polka dots, or abstract shapes. Express yourself! This infuses the cider and also makes it easy to fish out the cloves, without having to strain a bunch of hot liquid.
Alternatively, you could make an autumnal bouquet garni to flavor your mulled cider. Wrap your chosen spices and peels in a cheesecloth and tie it closed with some kitchen twine, then pop it in your cider. When it's ready, remove and toss! You can also fish out the spices with a slotted spoon or spider colander, or just serve it with the spices still mixed in for a more rustic vibe.
Simmer your cider for about 20 minutes to let the flavorings infuse. At this stage, you can leave it on the stove (on low!) for up to four hours. Otherwise, turn off and reheat before serving to avoid evaporation. You can even try making it in a slow cooker like TheKitchn, which is extra hands-off.
If you're adding booze, make sure to do it after the cider has been mulled—you don't want the heat to cook off the alcohol. I personally love a cheeky splash of bourbon with my mulled apple cider, but cognac or rum would work swimmingly, too.
Some people sweeten their apple cider with honey, brown sugar, or maple syrup, but I generally find the cider sweet enough on its own. Give your brew a taste test before serving and, if you need a little more sugary kick, add your chosen sweetener a tablespoon at a time. If you go too far, you can always add lemon juice to tarten things back up!