When I was five years old, I gave my parents a Christmas present we had made at school: a jelly jar filled with mulling spices. I think it was just Tang and ground cinnamon mixed together but I couldn't have been prouder: I had made astronaut cider!
Wanting to recreate this gift in a more grown-up form, I recently filled some cotton spice bags with cracked spices, crystallized ginger, and dried orange zest. These sachets of mulling spices make a festive gift, plus it's also kind of fun to smash the spices with a frying pan, a technique that can come in handy in dealing with any holiday aggression.
The mulling spices fit neatly in little cotton spice bags (often sold as "bouquet garni bags"). Alternatively, you can wrap up the spices with a triple layer of cheesecloth and cooking twine. Either way, they should then be packed up in an airtight container or bag and stored in a cool, dark place to preserve the flavor. I wrapped mine up in cellophane gift bags.
To prepare mulled cider, simply steep the bag of mulling spices in a barely simmering covered pot of cider. If you'd like it even more "grown-up," spike it with a splash of Grand Marnier or Calvados. Disks of crystallized ginger and orange slices make a nice garnish.
Mulled wine: You can also use the mulling spices from the mulled cider recipe for making mulled red wine. Instead of a 1/2 gallon of cider, use a 750ml bottle of red table wine, along with about 1/3 cup each of port and orange juice to add a little sweetness.
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