Get merry this holiday season with this semi-traditional wassail recipe with hard cider, baked apples, citrus, and spices!
I’ve been making some version of wassail every holiday season for years, but this year I wanted to really do it right. I googled “traditional wassail” and went down a rabbit hole of history and variations.
Wassail has been around for a long, long time! And it’s been made so many ways— with cider, wine, and even beer. Some old recipes call for a topping of bread, others frothy whipped eggs. But almost all recipes seem to start with baked apples, and so that’s where I began. From there I combined what I liked from several recipes to make my own variation on the classic.
To the baked apples I’ve added hard apple cider, sweet Madeira wine, and brandy. Oranges and lemon brighten it up, while spices like cinnamon, allspice, and cloves make it super cozy. Mull it all together until all the flavors have blended and you have a perfect sip-able drink to get you through the new year.
This wassail will serve a crowd, so it’s perfect for holiday parties. So gather your friends and loved ones near and toast the season!
There’s an old tradition of caroling and carrying a bowl of wassail house-to-house to share with neighbors in exchange for gifts. Maybe we should bring that back? That sounds like a lot of fun.
I’ve included instructions in the recipe for making this in the slow cooker, if you’d rather just set it and forget it. And I’ve also given you alternatives if you’d rather make this without alcohol. This wassail is something everyone can (and should) enjoy!
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Boozy Hot Wassail
- 4 small apples
- 4 tablespoons brown sugar or demerara sugar (55 grams)
- 1 medium orange
- 1 teaspoon whole cloves
- 1/2 cup water (125 ml)
- 1 quart hard cider (1 liter)
- 2 cups port or sweet madeira wine (500 ml)
- 1 cup brandy (250 ml)
- 1/2 lemon , halved
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 teaspoon whole allspice
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Remove core of apples with a small knife or melon baller. Place in a 4-quart or larger dutch oven or other oven-proof pot. Fill the cavity of each apple with 1 tablespoon of brown or demerara sugar. Stud the orange with the whole cloves and place in the pot. Add the water.
- Bake until apples are tender but still maintain their shape, 35-45 minutes.
- Remove pot from the oven and place on the stove. Cut orange into quarters and return to the pot. Add hard cider, wine, brandy, lemon, cinnamon sticks, and whole allspice.
- Barely bring to a boil over medium high heat, then reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve immediately or keep warm until ready to serve.
- If you'd rather not have spices floating in your beverage, wrap spices in cheesecloth and tie with string. Steep in the wassail as it heats to impart flavors, and remove before serving.
- To make in a slow cooker: Cook apples on high for 2-3 hours. Add remaining ingredients and cook on high until hot, 1-2 hours more.
- To make non-alcoholic: Use 6 cups apple cider and 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice in place of the hard cider, wine, and brandy.
- Feel free to save the baked apples for another use. Top with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream!