Hullo dear!

I thought I’d kick things off with a picture of a piece of my France, and even better, one taken in your company when you last visited me.

October outdoorsiness

It is from a year ago and from October at that, but I have always found it very Winter, very… December. Don’t you think? I suppose the impression comes from the stark contrast of the black, white and RED.

I thought it would be a good way to illustrate the first post of the month (who am I kidding: of the blog itself, too!), especially since you expressed the desire to have me write on a topic so very seasonal to me here in  Northern Europe:

~~ mulled wine ~~

Admittedly I am a little puzzled as to why you, from the depths of your Southern hemisphere Summer, are curious about my mulled wine recipe… but who cares. You wanted to know, so I’ll tell you.

In Alsace, northeastern region of France where I lived for a while, people buy cups of mulled wine at the Christmas market (Weihnachtsmarkt) and stroll around from booth to booth as they drink it to warm up. There’s no need for an excuse like a walk in the cold, though: it’s just as easy to make it yourself and drink it comfortably at home, like one does egg nog I suppose (I am not very familiar with egg nog, so I might be wrong about the conditions and circumstances of its consumption).

The basics of mulled wine are as follows: it is usually prepared from red wine (but I’ve seen sweet white mulled wine too), which is spiced and heated up. The wine “cooks” a little and the heat helps the spices release their flavors; it is then drunk while still warm.

You can, obviously, buy mulled wine spices already prepared in little kits or bags; there are industrial versions and organic versions, spice mixes in bottles and others in little muslin bags. But it’s also very easy to prepare yourself if you have a spice rack.

Please remember that I’m a very haphazard cook – a haphazard anything, really – and don’t be too surprised if this doesn’t look anything like a recipe. It probably doesn’t deserve the name.

Ingredients you’ll need:

* mace
* cloves
* nutmeg
* star anise
* vanilla
* cinnamon
* cardamom
* ginger
* an orange
* a lemon
* brown sugar
* red wine

* water
* vodka or cognac or bourbon to pre-infuse the spices if you wish
* muslin, as cloth to filter, or as a bag to put the spices in

Personally, I never pre-infused the spices in a glass of strong alcohol the night before, but I read about it so I thought I should tell you it’s a possibility. I assume it’d make for a stronger mulled wine altogether: more spicy, and more alcoholic.

Your red wine should preferably be fruity, and a bit tannic and dark. I’ve heard Syrah wines hold up great for it; yet I’ve used my local fruity Gamay-based wines to good effect too, even though they’re a bit lighter.

I usually do one bottle or two at a time, that is to say 0.75 liter or 1.5 liter. Nothing stops you from making it by the gallon if you’d rather, apart from the size of your pots.

Start by taking your spices and mixing them up in a bowl. The ginger can be fresh or powdered, the star anise whole or powdered, the vanilla can be beans or extract (you know how to scrape the tasty part from within the bean pod, yes?) – this is indifferent.

Just assemble all your spices together with a mind to their relative proportions: more cinnamon and vanilla, which are sweeter, and less star anise, cloves and cardamom, the tastes of which are really strong and can easily overpower companion spices.

Don’t forget, when considering the proportions, that fresh will be stronger than powdered. I love the bite of ginger and tend to use freshly chopped root rather than dry ground ginger, but if you’re making a spice mix to use later or don’t enjoy that tang as much as me, then half a teaspoon of powdered ginger will do you fine. Some people add a turn of the black pepper grinder or two.

Zest your orange and lemon, and add the zest to your spice mix. Then juice both fruits, which should give you about half a glass of a citrus juice. Now you’ve reached a fork in the road.

Your choices are, first, to either wrap your spice mix in a muslin bag or not. Pick one (I don’t).

1. Put this spice mix in a pot with half a liter of water and bring it to a low boil, keep it there for 15mn
2. Pour a glass of cognac/vodak/whisky in the bowl of spices, mix it well (or immerge the muslin bag in the alcohol) then cover it to let it infuse for 12 hours
3. Choose the straightforward (maybe lazier) way, like I usually do :)

If 1,
add 4 tablespoons of brown sugar per bottle of wine to the boiling water, stir until it dissolve, then add and the juice & the wine and reduce the heat under your pot. Let the whole thing heat back up then simmer low for half an hour.

If 2,
pour the spices and alcohol in your pot, stir in the sugar (same proportion) and 1/4 liter of water. Add the wine & the juice and heat the mixture up to a low boil; leave it to simmer for half an hour. This will be stronger.

If 3,
simply put the spice mix in a pot with all the wine, juice and sugar, and heat it slowly up to a simmer for half an hour, stirring occasionally.

In every case, after this step you’re pretty much done! If you didn’t use a muslin bag you’ll want to strain the wine into a jug so your guests don’t end up with spice silt / chunks of ginger and cinnamon sticks at the bottom of their glasses. If you have more energy than me to put into decorating, you might detail another orange in thin slices to deck the edges of the glasses, or cube it to add fresh chunks of fruit in the jug.

Mulled wine is often served with cookies on the side, and sugar at hand of course for those who prefer their mulled wine sweeter.

I’m not very good at this recipe-writing business, am I? I probably made it all appear much more complex than it is. I swear it’s easy! If I can do it without messing up, you can too. :D

Oh, and here’s a good summer tip: this recipe is pretty much also the recipe for sangria – which is much more seasonal for you! You’ll need more citrus juice for sangria, and you’ll want to add a lot of chopped fresh fruit to the drink, as well as letting it cool down, since it is drunk cold not warm.

I often thin down sangria by mixing it with either sparkling water or something like a bitter lemonade soda in a 1-1 proportion, because I think it makes it better for thirst-quenching purposes, but many people prefer the “heavier”, more alcoholic version.


Ps: do we need categories? I didn’t think so, for now. But then, I’m a tags girl.