Apple cider is Michigan’s liquid gold

Cider is the apple of a home cook’s eye for its ability to…

Apple cider is Michigan’s liquid gold
Apple cider is Michigan’s liquid gold
Apple cider is Michigan's liquid gold 1

Forget pumpkin spice.

Apple cider is the true taste of autumn in Michigan.

It’s a season that can’t be rushed — and the season is now.

Cider is the apple of a home cook’s eye for its ability to flavor a wide array of dishes. And there’s more than one kind of cider to choose from.

“Sweet” or “soft” apple cider is nonalcoholic. Fresh, preservative-free and unpasteurized, it’s what you and the kiddos get — along with doughnuts, natch — from local cider mills. “Hard” cider is preserved via fermentation, contains alcohol, is bottled or canned and has extended shelf life.

The soft side of cider

Sweet cider is more than a poor relation to today’s on-trend hard ciders. It can bring a true taste of terroir and seasonality to the table.

The Franklin Cider Mill, for example, crafts a mix of 15 or so varieties of Michigan-grown apples for its sweet cider.

“We have a cider master who puts the different varieties together to make sophisticated blends that change over the season,” says Franklin Cider Mill owner, Laura Peltz.

The blends — as does cider’s character — change throughout autumn.

“Cider gets thicker over the season,” Peltz says. “After the first frost, the sugars develop, and it gets more sugary.”

Sweet cider can add apple flavor to any dish and is especially good in desserts. Former White House pastry chef, the late Roland Mesnier, created Apple-Cider Creme Brulee, a favorite of former President George W. Bush. You can also boil down cider for concentrated pancake syrup, as a glaze for cakes, an ice-cream topping or even as apple jelly. “Mull” sweet cider by blending it with spices and other ingredients for a hot beverage.

Unpasteurized and preservative-free, sweet cider requires refrigeration and will keep for seven to 10 days.

The hard side of cider

Hard cider is a heritage beverage that’s having a moment now. Early English settlers brought apples and their techniques for making hard cider to the New World. Fermentation was the only way to preserve what they produced. These days, hard cider gives apple growers a shelf-stable year-round product for sale.

As with wine and beer, hard cider’s alcohol content (some are around 6%) makes it excellent for cooking. Its complex, somewhat sharp, somewhat sweet flavor makes it ideal for marinades, braises, sauces, savory dishes and even breads. And hard cider plays very nicely with charcuterie and cheese platters.

Pairing cider with cheese

“One reason that ciders and cheese go so well together is the residual sweetness of the cider (even the hard ones),” says Tessie Ives-Wilson, an American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional and event planner at Zingerman’s Delicatessen in Ann Arbor. “Even a little bit of sweetness is a great contrast to the salty, savory flavors in a wide variety of cheeses. Apples are also high in tannins (just like wine) and can bring drier notes to a cider that can also pick up sweetness and umami in great cheese.”

Here are Ives-Wilson’s pairing suggestions.

Similarity or affinity: Pair subtle-flavored cheeses with subtle, sweeter ciders; rustic cheeses with more intense, funky ciders; and cheeses with fruity or floral notes with ciders that echo those flavors. A medium-bodied fresh, sweet cider with an Alpine-style cheese that has sweet, nutty notes like Comte or Pleasant Ridge Reserve would be a beautiful pairing.

Complement or contrast: Dry vs. sweet, sweet and sour, etc. Choose a cider that’s tart and dry to cut through the richness of your favorite triple-cream brie.

Fresh ciders: These tend to be much sweeter, so, for contrast pairings, choose drier, saltier cheeses like cheddar, manchego and aged Gruyere. For an affinity pairing, search out a nice, crystal-laden aged Gouda or an Alpine-style cheese with sweet, nutty notes such as Comte or Pleasant Ridge Reserve — the caramel and sweet notes will amplify fresh cider’s sweetness.

Ives-Wilson will conduct a “Virtual Happy Hour: Hard Cider and Cheese” class, at 6:30 p.m., September 29. Learn more at

Apple-Cider Pork Chops

4 boneless pork chops (about 2 pounds, total weight)*

4 teaspoons olive oil

12 ounces hard cider

2 tablespoons grain mustard

1 garlic clove, crushed

⅔ cup heavy cream

To taste salt

To taste  ground black pepper

1 pound  frozen gnocchi

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

Trim the fat off the chops, and then pound them briefly with a rolling pin or small skillet between 2 pieces of plastic wrap to make them thinner.

Heat the oil in a large skillet, and then sear the chops over moderately high heat for about 5 minutes per side. Remove the chops to a baking sheet and place in the oven.

Deglaze the pan by pouring the cider into it. Stir with a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits. Reduce the heat to medium and let the sauce bubble away until reduced by half, or to desired thickness. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the mustard, garlic, cream, salt and pepper. Stir until heated through. Add the pork chops and their juices back to the pan. Using tongs, turn the chops multiple times to coat them with the sauce. If the sauce becomes too dry, add more cream.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the frozen gnocchi. The gnocchi are done when they float to the surface. Using a slotted spoon, move the gnocchi to the pan with the sauce and the chops. Gently push the gnocchi around the pan to coat them with the sauce. To serve, spoon a small amount of the sauce onto a plate and top with a chop. Arrange some of the gnocchi around the chop. Spoon more of the sauce over the chop.

*Lamb chops also work for this recipe.

Recipe: Robin Watson

Cider-Glazed Apple Bundt Cake

Serves 12 to 16

Reducing the cider to exactly 1 cup is important to the success of this recipe. If you accidentally over-reduce the cider, make up the difference with water.

4 cups apple cider

3¾ cups all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoons salt

1½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

¾ teaspoon  ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon  ground allspice

¾ cup  confectioners’ sugar

16 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1½ cups packed  dark-brown sugar

3 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1½ pounds  Granny Smith or other tart apples, peeled, cored, and                             shredded using the large holes of a box grater or a food processor. Yield should be about 3 cups.

Boil the cider in a 12-inch skillet over high heat for 20 to 25 minutes, or until reduced to 1 cup. Set aside.

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 12-cup nonstick Bundt pan or spray it with a cooking spray that contains flour.

Whisk the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and allspice together in a large bowl until combined.

Place the confectioners’ sugar in a small bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of the reduced cider and whisk to form a smooth icing. Cover the bowl and set aside.

Set 6 tablespoons of reduced cider aside to brush over the baked cake.

Pour ½ cup of the reduced cider into a large bowl. Add the butter, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla and whisk until smooth. Pour the cider mixture over the flour mixture and stir with a rubber spatula until almost fully combined (some streaks of flour will remain). Stir in the apples and any accumulated juices until evenly distributed. Transfer the mixture to the prepared Bundt pan and smooth the top. Bake until a skewer inserted in center of the cake comes out clean, 55 to 65 minutes.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet. Brush the exposed surface of the cake lightly with 1 tablespoon of the reserved cider reduction. Allow the cake to cool for 10 minutes. Invert the cake onto the wire rack. Brush the top and sides with the remaining 5 tablespoons of reserved cider reduction. Cool the cake for 20 minutes. Stir the icing to loosen it, then drizzle it over the cake. Cool the cake completely, at least 2 hours, before serving. (Wrap leftover cake loosely and store it at room temperature for up to 3 days.)

Recipe: America’s Test Kitchen

Hot Mulled Cider

1 gallon fresh Michigan apple cider

⅔ cup fresh orange juice6  cinnamon sticks12  whole cloves

12 whole allspice berries

Combine all the ingredients in a stockpot and simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes. Strain and serve warm in mugs.

Refrigerate any unused portions and rewarm them for serving later.

Note: Add dark rum, if desired.

Recipe: Michigan Apple Committee

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