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Brown sugar (Recipe: mulled cider)

Mulled cider

If you've been reading The Perfect Pantry for a while, you know a lot about me.

You know that I live in Rhode Island, in a log house in the woods, with a nice kitchen and an herb garden and a fire pit outside.

You know that I love Asian noodles and coffee and that stuff that isn't really mayonnaise.

You know that I am old... old enough to think of this whenever someone says brown sugar...


If you are old like me, you're singing along now, with the image playing in your head of Mick Jagger in perpetual motion and a pink satin suit circa 1971.

If you're not quite as old, the brown sugar image in your head might be more like this:

Brown sugar

Brown sugar -- the type we buy in the supermarket -- is refined white sugar with molasses added (or containing residual molasses from the refining process). Light brown sugar contains 3.5 percent molasses; dark brown has up to 6.5 percent. The darker the color, the stronger the taste.

In my pantry at the moment I have four types of brown sugar: light and dark (no-name store brand), from my local market; turbinado, a chunkier raw sugar which has been partially processed, where only the surface molasses has been washed off, yielding a blond color and mild brown sugar flavor; and demerara, a light brown crystal. Turbinado and demerara are often used in tea and other beverages, and as a crunchy topping for cookies; both are Ted's addition to the pantry, as he has become our resident cookie baker.

I store all types of brown sugar in glass jars with tight-fitting lids; even so, the sugar often hardens before you have a chance to use it. You can reclaim your sugar by putting a piece of bread in the jar, and leaving it overnight. The next morning, like magic, the bread is hard but the sugar is soft. Go figure.

Mulled cider

Adapted from Some Like It Hot: 50 Drinks to Warm Your Spirits by Holly Burrows and Katie Walter, this recipe is best if made with unpasteurized apple cider from a local orchard. If you don't live in Apple Land, use the freshest cider you can find at the market. Serves 12; can be doubled or tripled.


12 cups apple cider
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tsp grated lemon zest
2 tsp grated orange zest
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 cinnamon sticks
4 whole cloves
2 whole allspice berries
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of kosher salt
12 cinnamon sticks for garnish


Mix all ingredients except the 12 cinnamon sticks in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat, strain, and discard the solids. Ladle into mugs and garnish each with a cinnamon stick.

Note: You can also make this in a slow cooker on low for 3-4 hours. Great for a party!

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Spiced punch
Hot buttered rum
Irish soda bread
Chicken marbella
Apple spice cake

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... although I made an unfortunate mistake with brown sugar this year... made a sour cherry liqueur with cherries and vodka, and thought I'd be clever and use brown sugar rather than white. Ended up a bit, well, treacly... not very nice really.

I'll use brown sugar in many things others use white sugar, I just like it.
Since I'm a spice person, mulled cider is terrific in my book.

I do believe I have all 4 types of brown sugar in my pantry! I know this is so wrong to admit, but sometimes I like to sneak little nibbles of light brown sugar to satisfy my sweet tooth. That, or I resort to a squeeze of honey, which seems far less risque!

I buy the plastic bags of brown sugar, secure them with a twist wrap and put the whole sebang into another plastic bag. Doesn't have the curb appeal of yours, but the sugar never clumps. And I don't have to mess with the crumbly bread.

I can't wait to use the mulled cider recipe this holiday season!

To me the tastes of brown sugar and butter reminds me of the holidays. LOVE IT! ANd I guess I am old 'cuz I relate to the Stones.

Thank you so much for this post. I hadn't thought of transferring my brown sugar to a jar, but that's so much prettier than the boxes and sticky bags they come in. Also, can't wait to try your chicken and salmon recipes! Thank you for the links to those.

Penuche is an old-fashioned candy that lets you eat brown sugar almost straight -- a great thing to do. I always liked when brown sugar in the wax box-liners clumped because the lumps are easier to pick up and eat right from the box. You just have to eat it before it turns into one big rock.

I usually just keep white sugar and molasses around and then I can make my own organic sulphur free brown sugar whenever I need it. it's a cinch to make and much cheaper. Plus, then I only have to keep 2 things in my pantry. I also always have turbinado sugar on hand for our coffee (and to sprinkle on top of muffins). We prefer honey in tea & cider.

Since I too am getting old, I am really feeling the cold weather. A nice hot drink is just what I'm craving!

A friend of mine gave me that little bear to be put inside the brown sugar jar so it never gets hard. I always have brown sugar around, Lydia, because of my baking addiction. :)

Raising hand for Mick's Brown Sugar (or Keith's- I think he wrote it?). I had a true celiac scare seeing bread in your brown sugar jar, but I'm over it now (just breathe). And wishing I had a mug of mulled cider. :)

Yum, I love mulled cider! (And anything with brown sugar, really.) I'd probably add a splash of brandy to mine, but, well, that's just me.

Also, thanks for the bread tip - I don't bake all that often so my sugar tends to harden, and chipping off chunks with a knife is just more trouble than it's worth.

Brown sugar is almost always in my pantry! It reminds me of a "dessert" my dad would make for us when we were little girls:
take one slice of plain (white) bread, spread with butter (or margarine), sprinkle heavily with brown sugar, fold up to hold the goodness in, and eat! He would ask us if we wanted some "carbarustrum with some frascinola on the side" for dessert! He has always had a thing for double talk.

Loved your images of mulled cider, Rolling Stones, and a jar of brown sugar.
I think Kate has the right idea, though, with the Terra Cotta piece.
Mind you, my living revolves around those terra cotta pieces. lol
Anyhow, loved the recipes!

I love brown sugar (although maple sugar is my favorite) and here the neighbors make their own and sell it at the little weekend fair in the square. A little more molassesy and a good deal harder - we have to grate it or melt it...Anyway, I want some hot mulled cider when I visit in December. Deal?

I agree with Susy's tip of just having sugar and molasses. I always buy brown sugar but end up with brown sugar rocks before I can use it all. Your cider recipe looks great! Though I would probably add a little rum or cinnamon schnapps. :)

I never knew the bit about using bread with the sugar! That's an interesting tip. My approach has usually been to take out the day's frustrations on the bag of sugar until its broken up, lol.

As for the cider--yum! I miss having a good cider--definitely something the northeast takes more seriously than down here in the southeast.

don't you love how the smell of the cider stays attached to the house walls, kitchen, etc.. for days? I love that part.
And no, I had no idea you liked Miracle Whip. More power to ya, as I can't stand it. LOL

Love this post! LOL! Thanks for the tip about storing brown sugar and then softening it. At the moment, I have four boxes of rock hard brown sugar. I'd always buy a new box anytime I needed to use brown sugar. Now, I see there's hope for them after all.


I can't find any cider around here! I've been looking for some organic cider, but I guess I might just have to get regular.

Great article and a lovely recipe for the coming party season! Thanks Lydia :)

Found your blog only a few days ago and am enjoying it very much. I did grin when I saw the bread in the brown sugar jar. My mother taught me this rescue trick and it has never failed me.

Paul, mistakes in the kitchen make the best stories...

MyKitchen, there are lots of times when substituting brown for rice doesn't matter, and in fact often improves the dish.

Sandie, I don't have much of a sweet tooth, so this sounds a little bit crazy to me. But read on -- you're not the only brown sugar snacker here!

Marcia, the bags do work better for retaining moisture, but not as well as keeping out critters -- and you know how I feel about critters...

Margaret, hope you enjoy it.

Simply, whew -- I thought I was the only old one around here.

Natashya, I also like jars because I can see how much of each thing I have, so I keep lots of pantry staples in glass jars.

Mae, you and Sandie (see above) need to get together on this brown sugar eating thing!

Susy, Julia: you guys are too energetic for me. Brandy would be a nice addition to the cider.

Kate, it would be delicious in this cold weather.

Patricia, I've wondered whether those work, but I guess they do! And it's a gluten-free solution.

Karina, another Stones fan heard from! Yes, sorry about the bread -- I think an apple would work, and would be a GF way to soften the sugar.

Joanna, yes, brandy would be delicious here.

Teresa, sounds like a perfect snack. Wish my dad had thought of it.

Cindy, thank you.

Peter, you're on! Maybe I'll spike it a bit, too.

Mike, I like your method for softening the sugar. There are many days when I'd be happy to take a rubber mallet to mine!

Dawn, that aroma hangs in the air around here for months. They don't call my area Apple Land for nothing.

Paz, you need to get your rock-hard sugar to Mike (see above), who will whack it up for you!

Pam, cider is a way of life here, at least for 4 or 5 months of the year.

Anh, thank you -- this really is a perfect dish for a holiday party.

Mary, welcome to The Perfect Pantry!

Mmm, cider, I can here Christmas music playing and the fire roaring!

I spent a weeks in Jamaica a few years back on a University class. We took a trip up to the Blue Mountains, to a coffee roaster. We were offered large steaming cups of their coffee (as well as another plant product that they like to smoke down there) and to sweeten they only offered dark brown sugar. I have been hooked on only using brown sugar in coffee and tea for years now!!!! Just adds a depth to the drink that I adore.

(the roaster smelled amazingly weird-dirty Jamaicans & pot & brutally wonderful coffee!!!)

i love brown sugar! it was a favorite treat when i was little. when no one was looking i'd sneak into the kitchen to try and pick out the big chunk of brown sugar from the box. imagine my surprise to pull out a small piece of bread my mother had stuck in the box to keep it fresh, just like you have in your canister!

Ooh! Thanks for the tip on how to soften it!
I go through the regular brown sugar fast enough that it isn't an issue, but currently have a solid mass of demerara. I'll give it a shot.

You can also microwave the brown sugar for a few seconds to soften it. It'll harden up again later, but it stays soft long enough to scoop it.
Your mulled cider sounds delicious!

Betcha didn't know I was born in Pawtucket!
I've been dropping in on your blog for over a year now, and have you on my sidebar. Always fun to stop by!

I want to have a cup of mulled cider in your kitchen with you now.

Irony: when we sold mulled cider in our natural food store deli, we kept a crock pot going, adding more cider and spices as we went (hot by day, chilled by night). As it steeps and steams, the sweetness of the cider (local orchards, very fresh) concentrates and we didn't even need sugar.
I'm sold on Demerara -- mine is from Maritius, big crystals and the rare clump breaks up easily. Why suffer?

You crack me up, Lydia!
I love brown sugar... LOVE it. I try to get it in most of my sugar recipes somewhere as I love the flavor it brings to the recipes!

It seems that I need to do some more sugar research. That mulled cider sounds really good!

Peabody, that's how mulled cider always makes me feel, too.

Corgimas, sounds like an adventure -- and the making of a lifelong sugar addiction!

Mary, it seems that you're not the only Pantry reader who used to go for those clumps of brown sugar. What a fun memory.

Natashya, I hear that a chunk of apple will work, too.

CT, thanks for the tip!

Cindy, glad to find another Rhode Islander here in food blog land!

Susan, can we make that happen, please? I would love it.

Susan G, I like the way you think. Why suffer, indeed...

Kristen, that additional hit of molasses is almost always a good thing.

Kevin, just like salt, the selection of sugars now available in regular grocery stores is amazing. Have fun experimenting.

I never thought about using demerara sugar in drinks. Thanks a lot for letting me in on this.

Mmm, love brown sugar too. I have a preference for the dark brown, the light just doesn't have enough oomph in baked goods. And I keep mine in a large Tupperware square container. No lumping and easy to scoop with the measuring cup.

Hi Lydia,
I was born 3 years after that song was released but I still was singing that song when you said brown sugar - strange!!

Mulled wine is a wonderful thing :-) Even though it's sangria weather at the moment down under, we do enjoy mulled wine during our "Christmas in July" parties. I've had the English and German versions and like them both. I am not sure of the details of how they are different though. Yours is wonderful with the addition of cider.

Have a wonderful weekend,

I have heard rumors of the magic of white bread and brown sugar. I'll have to give it a try, since inevitably, I am slamming hardened brown sugar on the kitchen counter trying to get it to soften. I'm going to save the mulled cider recipe for the holidays. Sounds like the perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon in December!

there are so many drinks in my to make box. this is just going to be another one to add! love it. oh and how do i get in the other ppls pantry's!??! :) it'll force me to clean up!

Attention "celiac scare" No bread or pretty terra cotta is necessary to soften up your sugar. A wedge of freshly sliced apple works equally as well. Just let it sit overnight in your sugar jar and eat it in the morning with all the sugary bits clinging to it.

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