I am going for it. Twelve posts in December! This will be quite a feat since I have only averaged two posts in the last two months. But I really got caught up in the idea of doing twelve posts, for all the obvious Christmas reasons. This post will be the first of my “Twelve Posts of Christmas” and will focus on alternative uses for mulling spices. And it’s fitting because you may have a lot of this stuff laying around after Thanksgiving…or you may get it in a gift basket before Christmas and not know what do with it.
If you don’t even know what mulling spices are… it’s just a spice combo, usually cinnamon, cloves, all spice and orange peel (see bag in photo below). It is traditionally added to apple cider or red wine and infused over several hours, sometimes with extra sugar and lemons, to bring out all those flavors. But my thought was, “why stop there,” or rather, what do you do with these spices if you never get around to making mulled anything? No matter how often I try to remember to prepare mulled offerings, I rarely use the stuff. I mean, you kinda have to wait for a dinner party to justify mulling a bottle of wine for several hours and I have very few dinner parties. As a consequence of being an infrequent host and previously having tunnel vision for the use of mulling spices, I have had two tins of mulling spices from Williams Sonoma for ages. One tin is completely unopened, which means that it would take me five years to use up if I only used it for mulling cider or wine as I have in the past. It occurred to me that there must be more uses and also more year-round applications for the stuff. So I mulled* it over…
Chai Spiced Iced tea
If you look at the ingredients to most commerical chai black teas, you will notice they are basically the same ingredients as mulling spices. So, why not steep some of the mulling spices and add to your iced tea? You could simmer (mull) the spices in a couple of cups of water until the volume reduces and you really get the flavor, but I think this is excessive. It will work just as well if you crush the spices and let steep in really hot water. Straing, then add to a jar of cold black tea. Clearly this also works for hot tea.
If you love a nice chai latte, a home-made variety is not beyond your reach. Again, the spices in mulling spices are kinda the same as in a basic chai mix. (Though, you may want to add cardomon and ginger if you have them on hand). What you are trying to create here is a really thick tea, heavy with spices, so that when you add milk, it holds up . For one large serving, I took two bags of plain black tea and let steep in hot water in one cup. I then took my crushed mulling spices and let those steep in another cup.
You can even be a little crazy and let them steep together. I didn’t do this mostly because I didn’t have a container big enough. I added just a bit of brown sugar for a touch of sweetness (you can also add honey). When the spices were done steeping (and, really, this was just a guessing game, you could leave them in as long as you would like, and probably won’t know if it gets too intense until you realize you forgot about it for a few hours and decided to drink it anyway) I poured the mixture through a strainer to leave behind all the bits and added the really strong black tea and then topped it off with milk.
This wasn’t even on my radar until Thanksgiving day, and it is the perfect solution to the challenge of what to serve a large group of people if you want something festive and refreshing. Compliments for this go to my sister, who I think came across the recipe somewhere. However, it was really just the idea that we needed as inspiration. We came up with our own recipe–basically the stuff we had on hand: Red wine, a healthy pour of orange-mango juice, whatever fruit we had left after making pies and breakfast and a half cup of mulling spices all mixed up cold and placed in a pitcher. The fruit in our Sangria included apples, cranberries, limes and rasperries. And just before serving, we added some champagne for bubbles. I think we also added some other liquor, but I can’t remember. The point is… start with red wine, add some sweetness, some cut up fruit and mulling spices and you have mulled sangria. The twists you add are all your own! The more sweetness you add, the more the concoction can take some thing a little harder like brandy or triple sec. The mulling spices don’t actually take long to seep into the sangria, but the flavor gets more complex as your libation stew melds throughout the day. Note: it was not so good the next day. I think it was the limes. Others speculated it was the spices. Next year we just have to finish it all on Thanksgiving Day.
Pies and Puddings and Breads, oh my
Lest you think that the only thing you can do with mulling spices are delicious beverages, here is another alternative. Finely grind the mulling spices and use in your pumpkin and apple pie recipes, your rice and bread puddings, and pumpkin, zuchinni, and banana breads. Wherever you can add cinnamon, you can add this spice mix for additional depth. Just make sure you grind the mix to a powder. You don’t need sticks in your desserts.
Mulling spice ice cream
My Aunt V. wowed us with the simplest of projects this thanksgiving. She made a batch of cinnamon ice scream by combining vanilla ice cream with a hefty dose of cinnamon. This is such an obvious accompaniment to all those holiday pies… but if you want to go one step further, use the finely ground mulling spices for a bit of extra depth.
If you have experimented with mulling spices and have other ideas, please share. And don’t forget that if you want to make your own mulling spices, you likely have a lot of the ingredients on hand and can mix up your own batch. It’s probably all those spices that came with your spice set that you really don’t know what to do with…all spice, cloves and sticks of cinnamon. Add some home made dried orange peel and you have a combo similar to the pricey Williams Sonoma tin above. But don’t stop there, if you love ginger or pepper or chilis, add it!
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*Cheesy pun added for my husband.