We went out to dinner with friends last night, and I discovered on the way home that the evenings are now too chilly for just a blazer. Soon enough, it’ll be that time of year when it will be unthinkable to go out without a sweater, a thick wool coat, and a scarf.
I’m actually kind of looking forward to it. Having lived in LA all my life, I’ve never gotten to experience the change of the seasons. When I visited Paris for a week last Christmas, there was nothing more charming than going out in the morning, our breath making little clouds as we walked, and getting a steaming cup of vin chaud from a street vendor to sip as we walked.
That’s the other great thing about mulled wine, by the way: it apparently doesn’t conform to the post-5-o’clock rule that nearly every other boozy drink does. It’s totally acceptable to have a mug of it with lunch, especially if that lunch happens to be a crêpe loaded with jambon and fromage from the street vendor next to the vin chaud guy.
Inspired by Jamie Oliver.
1 750-ml bottle red wine
1/2 cup sugar
1 whole nutmeg
1 teaspoon whole cardamom pods
3 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon whole cloves
2 star anise
1/4 cup cognac or calvados (optional)
In a large saucepan, mix together the sugar and a splash of the red wine, just enough to cover the sugar. Zest the orange in large strips using a vegetable peeler or paring knife, then juice the orange into the wine mixture.
Place the whole nutmeg, cardamom pods, and cinnamon sticks on a cutting board and smash them with a heavy skillet until the spices are in smallish pieces. Combine all of the spices and orange zest on a square of doubled cheesecloth. Tie up the spice bundle with kitchen twine, leaving plenty of room in the cheesecloth for the spices to bloom. Add it to the saucepan with the sugar mixture.
Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring the bag of spices around. Continue simmering for about 5 minutes, until you have a thick syrup. Pour in the rest of the wine, lower the heat as low as it will go, and let the wine gently heat up for another hour or so. Do not allow it to simmer. Add the cognac or calvados if using, then ladle into mugs and serve warm, garnishing with a cinnamon stick or star anise if desired.
A cheap, fruity red wine is best for this. The nuances in expensive wine will be cloaked by the spices, and anything with heavy tannins will make it bitter.
If you don’t have cheesecloth, just chuck all the spices into the sugar and wine mixture and make sure to strain them out before serving.
It’s lovely to keep the mulled wine warm in a slow cooker on low all day, taking mugs whenever you feel it necessary. Keep the lid on and the spices in the wine, and it will get better and better the longer it sits. Don’t worry about the alcohol burning off — it actually takes a rather long time for alcohol to evaporate at such a low temperature, and you can always add a bit of hard alcohol at the end to make up for it.
Music to cook by: I Will Possess Your Heart [Death Cab for Cutie // Narrow Stairs]