Hot mulled cider is a must-have at all our fall and winter shindigs. It's probably a holdover from when we lived in New England and the frigid winters necessitated lots of hot beverages. But mulled cider is just so delicious and the smell so inviting, we serve it even in our mild California weather. Guests of all ages never seem to turn down a mug, and the adults especially relish the opportunity to do a little self-spiking with their alcohol of choice.
A slow cooker does double duty of both mulling the cider and keeping it warm for hours, making it the perfect appliance for this classic cold-weather beverage.
The Right Apple Cider
The most important ingredient for a good mulled apple cider is, of course, the apple cider. Apple cider can mean a few things, but here's what you'll need: Fresh apple cider that contains no added sugar or spices (those are sometimes labeled spiced apple cider), or unfiltered apple juice.
A cloudy cider is the best visual clue you're buying the right beverage. It should come from the refrigerator section at the store. We're not using hard (alcoholic) cider here, the sparkling clear stuff from Martinelli's, nor apple juice. Apple juice tends to be sweetened and lacks all the deep flavor of fresh-pressed apple juice.
If you're lucky enough to find local, unpasteurized apple cider, grab it. (You can even freeze it!) Your mulled cider will be more complex and earthier than any pasteurized version. If you're worried about food safety, the slow cooker will basically pasteurize the cider as it cooks.
Spicing Your Cider
Once you've got the right kind of cider, it's on to the spices. You can use a whole range of sweet spices, but the most basic combination is spicy fresh ginger, cinnamon sticks, and cloves. Feel free to add star anise, black peppercorns, or allspice berries to make this cider your own.
While the mulled cider may look pretty with all the spices floating on top, those little bits of spices do make it less pleasant to sip. To avoid getting bits of spices in every sip, tie up the spices in a little sachet made of cheesecloth or a coffee filter, or use a large tea ball instead.
Apple cider is plenty sweet on its own, so I don't add any sugar when I mull. I do however, like to add a whole sliced orange. Not only are the slices really festive-looking on top, but the fragrant orange peel and the juice really complement the apple and spice flavors.
How To Make Slow-Cooker Mulled Cider
Makes 16 (8-ounce) drinks
What You Need
fresh apple cider or unfiltered apple juice
(1 1/2-inch) piece fresh ginger
(3-inch) cinnamon sticks
Orange slices, for serving (optional)
5-quart or larger slow cooker
Cheesecloth or paper coffee filter and kitchen twine, or a tea ball (optional)
Fill the slow cooker: Pour the cider or juice into a 5-quart or larger slow cooker.
Add the fresh ingredients: Cut the orange into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Cut the ginger into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Add both to the slow cooker.
Add the spices: Add the cinnamon sticks. Add the cloves and optional spices. To make it easier to serve, place the cloves and spices in a tea ball first, or place in a double layer of cheesecloth or paper coffee filter, gather it up into a sachet, and tie closed with kitchen twine.
Slow cook the cider: Cover the slow cooker and cook until the flavors meld, 4 hours on LOW. (If there are clumps of spices floating at the top that you wish to remove, strain the cider through a fine-mesh strainer or cheesecloth into a large pot.) Keep warm and serve in mugs garnished with additional orange slices if desired.
Apple cider: Buy fresh apple cider or unfiltered apple juice for the best flavor. Do not use sparkling cider, spiced cider, hard cider, or clear apple juice.
Optional add-in spices: You can add any combination of the following spices to make a more complex-tasting cider: 4 star anise pods, 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns, or 1/2 teaspoon whole allspice berries.
Spiking: For individual spiked ciders, place liquor bottles next to the slow cooker for people to spike their own drink. Rye whiskey, rum, or bourbon are great matches for mulled cider.
Storage: Leftover cider can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Stovetop directions: This recipe is designed for the slow cooker, but you can also simmer the cider covered over low heat on the stovetop for about 1 hour.