It may sound odd to have childhood memories of hot cocktails, but the scents of warm spiced rum and wine mingle with those of a freshly cut tree in my mind. My dad in particular is a fan of hot buttered rum, and for years my mom’s homemade mix was a holiday staple. Mulled wine was another family tradition, but I associate it with New Year’s Day, when my sister and I would go with my mom to a puzzle party. Several tables of complicated jigsaw puzzles would fill the living room, but the boxes showing the finished picture were always hidden away. We would spend hours linking together pieces, often the only kids amid a roomful of adults. The scent of warm spices hit you the moment the hostess opened the front door.
Now that I’m old enough to enjoy not just the smell but also the taste of winter warmers, I’ve adapted the family recipes to suit my tastes: less sugar and more spice. Don’t hesitate to adapt these recipes yet again until you decide they’re filled with everything nice.
Hot Buttered Rum
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly ground cloves
1 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom seeds or allspice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
pinch of salt
6 ounces hot water
2 tablespoons Butter Batter
2 ounces rum
Cream the butter and sugar until smooth. In a spice mill or clean coffee grinder, grind the spices into a fine powder. Stir the ground spices, vanilla, and salt into the butter mixture until thoroughly combined. Scoop all of the mixture that you don’t intend to use immediately into a container, cover, and refrigerate; it keeps many months.
To serve, add hot water, just below a boil, to each mug, and then vigorously stir in the batter with a small whisk until it dissolves and becomes frothy. Stir in the rum and serve immediately. To use the entire batter batch at once, have 1 liter of rum and 3/4 gallon of hot water on hand. Serves 16.
Tips & Tricks
- As with mulled wine (see below), starting with whole spices will give your beverage the best flavor. If you’re using preground spices for your butter batter, splurge for fresh ones instead of reaching for an aged jar on your spice shelf.
- Instead of scooping out the batter, you can roll it into a log like you would for Herb Butter and slice off an ounce per mug. Freezing it is an option, but it will take longer to dissolve in the hot water and will cool your drink more quickly.
- Adding rum and water to the butter mix gives you a complete drink or can be a starting point for other warming cocktails. Vary the type of rum—white, dark, Demerara, Jamaican—for a subtle change in flavor. Substitute brandy or whiskey or add a liqueur like Drambuie or Galliano for a new twist. Stir the batter into coffee or black tea for a nonalcoholic variation.
- My mom’s batter mix was all sweet and no spice: not only did it bump up the sugar, but she beat the butter and sugar into a pint of vanilla ice cream and only sprinkled on a little nutmeg or cinnamon as garnish. If you go that route, be sure to store the mix in the freezer.
Twice as Tasty
Mulled wine has a long history in my family. As I was growing up, it made a Christmas Day appearance on my mom’s cooktop only if lots of adult friends were expected to drop in that year. But my mom recalls an annual heavily boozed version, concocted by my grandfather, “simmering all Christmas Day on the trash burner in the kitchen” of her childhood home. His recipe emphasized “all quantities approximate, variable according to taste, budget, condition of sobriety, etc.”
The version I’ve grown to love was adapted from the recipe served by my distant cousin when I spent a Christmas at her home near Olso. More of a traditional Norwegian gløgg, she served it with spoons for rescuing the nuts and alcohol-infused raisins lurking in the bottom of the mug. It too had been passed down in various forms from the days the family lived in Damsgård in Bergen. Now a museum, my ancestors’ portraits still hang on the walls, and it’s not hard to imagine gløgg being served from the family china still on display in the pantry.
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
5 whole cloves
1 allspice berry
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
zest from 1/2 lemon and/or orange
1 2-inch piece of gingerroot, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup vodka
1 bottle red wine
1/4 cup ultrafine sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla sugar
1/4 cup slivered or sliced almonds
Crush the cinnamon, cardamom, and allspice and grate the nutmeg. Put all spices, zest, and ginger in a glass jar. Put the raisins in another glass jar. Pour vodka over the raisins until just covered; pour the remaining vodka into the spice jar, swirling the jar as needed to cover the spices. Put a lid on each jar and let sit at room temperature overnight.
Strain the vodka from both jars into a pot, composting the spices but reserving the raisins. Mix in the wine and sugars. Heat until steaming, but don’t boil. Stir and taste, adjusting the sweetness as needed. To serve, put a few almonds and raisins into each mug and then ladle in the wine. Serves 6–8.
Tips & Tricks
- Whole spices are even more crucial to this beverage than they are to Hot Buttered Rum. Crushing them helps to release their flavor but still makes it easy to strain them out of the mixture.
- Historically, akvavit, a herb-infused spirit, was used to spike Norwegian gløgg. Search for an imported bottle or seek out an American-made version from a craft distillery. Less traditional versions stir in port or brandy—my grandfather’s recipe calls for both.
- When cooking with or heating alcohol, use a bottle you would normally drink. Don’t expect to enjoy the beverage if you don’t like the booze it features.
- I’d rather strain a little cool liquid than a pot of hot wine. If you didn’t plan ahead, soak the raisins for 30 minutes but add the spices straight to the pot. Strain the hot gløgg before serving.
- For a party, leave a pot holding several batches on the stovetop over low heat or use a slow cooker. For a fuller taste, cool the mulled wine, pour it into a bottle, and leave it a week before reheating.
- In Norway, I was usually served ginger biscuits with gløgg; I love it paired with Triple Gingersnaps. You could also choose Baked Rice Pudding for another traditional accompaniment or Sweet and Spicy Nuts for easy-to-make nibbles for a crowd.
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