Saturday, December 13, 2008

Mulled Wine with Honey and Orange

When I choose a book for Take One Cookbook, I spend some time going through it, flagging potential recipes with Post-it notes, trying to get a theme for the week, or to get balance between the courses to give the right sense of the book. It's a really relaxing task...sort of like planning a dinner party but without the need to clean the house. I like it very much.

I also like chucking the plans sometimes. I'd flagged nothing but cookies for this week, to jump of last week's candy, and yet... yesterday, I needed eggnog. With that diversion, I've freed myself to chuck the last o the cookie recipes from Christmas 101 and do another Christmasy punchbowl favorite.

When I was a teenager, every year I'd have a hayride, and my friends from choir and theater would come over, warm themselves on mulled cider, and go out either on a flat trailer pulled by my dad's tractor, or occasionally in a horse-drawn wagon. (In suburban Portland. No, really.) Now, I try to keep the tradition going, but adapted for Washington, DC, where I have no access to farm equipment. Every third Sunday of Advent (Pink Sunday, so named for the pink candle on the wreath that gets lit that day, or Gaudete Sunday -- gaudete meaning "rejoicing"), I gather friends and hit the neighborhood to sing whereever we can, and then come back for cookies, mulled cider, and the "grown up" version, mulled wine.
Mulled Wine with Honey and Orange

Makes 2 quarts, about 16 servings

Make Ahead: The wine is best prepared just before serving.

1 large seedless orange
12 whole cloves
12 allspice berries
Two 3-inch cinnamon sticks
3 cardamom pods, crushed (optional)
One 1 1/2-liter bottle fruity red wine, such as Merlot
1 cup honey
2/3 cup Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur

1. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the orange. Rinse and wring out a 12-inch square piece of cheesecloth. Wrap the orange zest, cloves, allspice, cinnamon sticks, and cardamom, if using, in the cheesecloth and tie with apiece of kitchen string. Cut the orange in half and squeeze the juice from the oragne. Set the juice aside.

2. In a large non-aluminum pot, combine the wine, honey, Grand Marnier, orange juice, and spice packet, stirring to dissolve the honey. Heat, stirring occasionally, over low heat until hot but not boiling, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a slow cooker set on Low and serve hot.
Do yourself a favor: if you're going to use a slow cooker, just do all your prep in that slow cooker. Transferring hot liquids from one vessel to another when it's not absolutely necessary is crazy.

Why do you need to avoid an aluminum pan? Aluminum reacts with acids, and you've got a lot of acid in this dish -- the wine, the oranges, the Grand Marnier. Use stainless, or if you've got an enameled pot, use that.

The honey I'd do to taste, rather than to measurement. You need to balance out the wine to make it, well, a punch.

I don't recommend having only a pot of mulled wine going; get another pot (how about that aluminum one you couldn't use for wine?) and mull apple cider. You can use the same general recipe, but leave out the wine and liquor. Add a touch of extra flavor by zesting and juicing a lemon.

When serving both mulled treats, try mixing the two in your glass. It's a modern day wassail, and it's darned tasty.

Tomorrow's Pink Sunday. I'll be mulling up a storm, and making a joyful noise with good friends. Cheers!


  1. Or keep it to one pot, and make a mulled cider wine. That's what I'm taking to my medieval reenacting group Yule Feast tonight. In the medieval tradition, the recipe isn't very precise:

    Fruity but cheap red wine
    Apple juice
    Cinnamon sticks
    Ginger root (smallish chunk, with the skin removed, or you can slice it if you prefer)
    Whole Cloves
    Ground Nutmeg
    Sliced orange (keep the peel on)
    Sliced lemon (keep the peel on)
    Sliced apple (keep the peel on - remove seeds if you want)

    The juice and wine should be equal parts. Everything else is to taste. Simmer for a while, serve warm.

  2. I tend to avoid the hard liquor and instead replace a bottle of the wine with a bottle of port. I like the richness rather than sharpness that brings, and it makes it much less lethal!

    (And I use the little Schwartz sachets of mulling spice, together with the zest of an orange and the rest of the orange halved, squeezed and studded with cloves.)