Last year around the same time we were making some Norwegian mulled wine or gløgg. As the weather turned colder this year, I was on the lookout for another warm, spice-infused drink to warm the soul (and body temperature) in these dark, chilly months.
Not wanting to do a mulled wine variation again, I opted for some wassail.
Wassail (rather than wass-AIL which is what I was calling it, it is more commonly pronounced WAH-sl, although the former version is not incorrect), is an old English mulled drink. It can be made using a variety of things, and there are many versions of it. Some use beer, others wine, with spirits sometimes added. I employed Tony to research the drink thoroughly and come up with the best version of his own.
Friends, this one is a keeper.
Although there are many variables in wassail, there are some constants. One is cider (of the hard variety). The drink is said to have originated as part of a winter ritual to ensure that the next year's apple harvest would be plentiful (and hence yield more cider). It is therefore the base for the drink. Another is spices, so that the resulting cider is "mulled." It is sometimes improved by brandy, port, or both. Some versions add an egg, which we opted not to use. Similarly to a punch, wassail can be served with fruit floating on top, usually baked apples and sometimes oranges.
Historically it is served with toast, which is soaked in the drink and then muddled in it. The entire mixture is then consumed (presumably while toasting "wassail" or wæs hæl, which means be healthy).
I am becoming a fan of mulled beverages. There is something about the aromatic, pungent smell of nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon together with the warmth, sweetness and fruitiness of the drink that is extremely comforting in the winter.
The apples are baked slightly ahead of time, so be sure to start at least an hour before you are planning to serve it. If you're short on time, you can dispense with the apples, and add a splash of apple juice to the drink instead, together with some orange wheels to float on top. And remember Julia Child's wise advice, "always start out with a larger pot than you think you need."
As a serving suggestion: have it with some shepherd's or meat pie. Or toast. Wassail!
Adapted from NY Times
You will need:
5 Fuji apples, or another sweet, crisp variety
4-6 tbsp brown sugar, divided
1 large orange
2 tsp whole cloves, more if needed
Two 22 oz bottles of hard, dry cider
1 3/4 cup Madeira
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 stick of cinnamon
1/2 cup brandy
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Core the apples, then fill the middle of each apple with one teaspoon of brown sugar. Cut the orange in half. Insert cloves into one half of the orange, spaced about half an inch apart. Reserve the other half for garnishing drinks. Place the apples and the cloved orange half into a ceramic baking dish and fill with cold water about 1/4 inch deep (approximately 1 cup). Bake uncovered for 1 hour, until apples are softened. Remove from oven.
2. In a large stock pot, stir in cider, Madeira, nutmeg, ginger and the cinnamon stick. Add the baked apples, cloved orange, and the liquid from the baking dish. With heat on low, heat until the mixture is just starting to simmer. Stir in the brandy. Add the brown sugar, one tablespoon at a time, stirring to dissolve; adjust to taste. Wait until the mixture starts to simmer, then turn off the heat so as not to evaporate the alcohol.
3. Ladle the wassail into mugs or double-walled glasses. Garnish each drink with an orange wedge pierced with whole cloves. Serve hot.