Spiced Cranberry Cordial and two non-alcoholic cocktails to make with it
Fill up your thermos with something seasonal to keep you warm during outdoor, cold weather activities.
I got my COVID booster on Saturday evening, and it knocked me flat out for a few days. I was expecting maybe a day of feeling kind of crummy and then getting back to work by Monday, but I still had a fever on Tuesday, and was still feeling a little rundown on Wednesday. Luckily, this week’s drink was designed to be warming and cozy, which made it easy for me to smile for the camera even though I had a low grade fever at the time.
The inspiration for this drink was the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon inflation, an event that takes place on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and is exactly what it says on the box: the balloons for the parade are inflated the day before, and people go to watch them do this. While I’m sure there are still plenty of tourists at the balloon inflation, it’s largely New Yorkers, particularly UWS locals, who attend. The inverse is true of the actual parade, which is wall to wall tourists with only the occasional New Yorker who isn’t pulling a paycheck to be there.
Of course, there are plenty of tourist activities in which New Yorkers participate with great frequency: we picnic in Central Park, line up for SNL and Good Morning America concerts, see Broadway shows, and attend the Mets Museum, Opera, and baseball. I’ve never been to the Statue of Liberty, but I’ve been on more than one harbor cruise past it, and I’ve ridden the Staten Island Ferry like a tourist, turning around and getting right back on the boat to Manhattan.
But I especially love those New York traditions, places, and events that aren’t exactly secrets, but are specifically tangential to super crowded tourist ones: the Dyke March the weekend before the West Village Pride Parade; Koreatown 2 blocks southeast of Macy’s at Herald Square, and the flower district 6 blocks south; the Metropolitan Opera streamed in Times Square vs New Year’s Rockin’ Eve; Flushing’s Chinatown instead of Manhattan’s; off-off-Broadway.
I’ve never actually gone to the balloon inflation before, but the first idea I had for a hot cocktail was to make a drink that would address the main reason for my lack of attendance: I am a total wuss when it comes to standing around in the cold. After 15 New York winters, even as the season has become progressively warmer, I’ve become progressively less cold tolerant. I can run around in below zero temperatures, as long as I’m properly layered, but for some reason, as soon as I stand still I start to frost over like a wet windshield in January.
I wanted to make a cocktail with seasonally appropriate ingredients, that was hot in both temperature and flavor, to warm me up on the first sip and provide a sustained toastiness as the spice builds as I continued to drink it. I tried hot apple cider but even with an extra dose of ginger, it wasn’t spicy enough, and a big dose of capsaicin (the compound that makes chilies hot) from most of the zero proof spirits I tried clashed awfully with apples and cinnamon. (Relatedly, please don’t put jalapeño in your apple pie. Trust me.)
I wanted an autumn fruit, but I needed one with a bit more bite. So I turned to cranberries.
Cranberry is used in cocktails all the time, from the basic vodka cranberry to the deceptively difficult to get right cosmopolitan (there should only be enough cranberry juice in a cosmo to tint it bubble gum pink), but it’s rarely used in hot drinks. Which is a shame, because warm cranberry is delicious. Dangerously so, as I’ve found from licking the spoon as I stir a bubbling pot of them while making cranberry sauce, and end up burning my tongue so badly from molten sugar that I can’t taste the rest of Thanksgiving dinner.
For the spiced cranberry cordial for this cocktail, I borrowed the flavor profile of my go-to cranberry sauce recipe from Myra Kornfeld’s seemingly (and sadly!) out-of-print cookbook, The Voluptuous Vegan, in which she replaces the usual ginger or cinnamon with cardamom. Let me tell you, the combination of tart cranberries with earthy-but-floral cardamom is a delightfully unexpected and incredibly delicious. To this I added cloves, for their slight tongue-numbing effect, to make it easier to keep sipping something full of that capsaicin fire, and because despite the novelty of a spice that is paradoxically cooling and warming at the same time, cloves are rarely given the chance to shine in their own right. The resulting cordial has a unique flavor profile, while still tasting recognizably autumnal and cozy.
Once the cordial was ready, it was time to decide which non-alcoholic spirit to add for the kick I wanted. After some experimenting, I decided that there were actually two perfect options. For a sweeter, lower key heat, Free Spirits The Spirit of Bourbon makes a beautiful warmer for sipping indoors next to a fire place after you come inside from the cold. The best to pack in your thermos for standing around watching Snoopy and Spongebob take shape is a combination Bonbuz Slowburn and Gnista Floral Wormwood. The spicy cranberry-orange flavor puts a real fire in your belly, but is safer and quite a bit more delicious than swallowing one of those activated charcoal hand warmers.
I swear that I am not being paid by either Free Spirits or Bonbuz to develop recipes for their products— these just keep being the best options in what I’m making each week. But now you’ve got so many 5PM Eternal recipes for these there’s no reason not to go ahead and buy them!
The spiced cranberry cordial recipe makes enough for four cocktails, and it will keep in the fridge for at least a week. The sugar ratio is not as high as a syrup, however, so I would not plan on storing it indefinitely. When reheating the cordial, gently warm in a small sauce pan over medium heat until hot. Do not warm it too fast or it will splatter and this stuff will definitely stain clothing! You can try to do this in the microwave, but be careful with how fast and at what temperature you heat it up, as it may bubble and pop and paint the walls of your microwave dark magenta.
Recipe: Cardamom and Clove Spiced Cranberry Cordial
2 cups water
½ cup sugar
2 cups whole cranberries
¼ tsp whole cloves
1 tsp cardamom
Add all ingredients to medium sauce pan and bring to a boil over high heat.
Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 45-60 minutes. Stir every 15 minutes or so to help the cranberries break down and release their juice.
Remove from heat and let cool slightly for 10-15 minutes with the lid still on to make sure the liquid does not reduce too much.
Strain through a very fine mesh strainer, pressing down on the cranberry solids. The liquid should be thicker than water, but not the consistency of a puree.
Store in the fridge for up to a week.
The leftover spiced cranberry pulp makes a nice condiment for pork chops, turkey, baked brie, or seitan, or just to eat on its own.
Recipe: Cranberry Comforter
3 ounces Free Spirits The Spirit of Bourbon
3 ounces Cardamom and Clove Spiced Cranberry Cordial, heated to preferred temperature
Pour The Spirit of Bourbon into a heat proof mug or glass.
Pour hot cordial into glass and stir to combine.
Recipe: Cranberry Blaze
2 ounces Gnista Floral Wormwood
1 ounce Bonbuz Slowburn
3 ounces Cardamom and Clove Spiced Cranberry Cordial, warmed to preferred temperature
Pour Gnista Floral Wormwood and Bonbuz Slowburn into a heat proof mug or glass.
Top with hot cordial and stir to combine.
Since these were created for attending and after the balloon inflation, obviously that’s my first and foremost suggestion, but feel free to utilize the Cranberry Blaze for any of the following outdoor activities, and the Cranberry Comforter for a cozy warmup afterward or any of the indoor ones:
Go ice skating
Stroll down 5th Avenue in New York and look at the decorations in the windows at Bergdorf Goodman, Saks, and whatever other stores can still afford the rent there
Attend a Christmas tree lighting
Snuggle in a plaid flannel and fleece blanket in front of a fireplace
Take a nice, warm bath, preferably in a cabin somewhere in the woods
Watch the National Dog Show
I guess if you must, attend the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (or better yet, just watch it at home)
Until next week, keep your cranberries warm and spiced, yourself nice and toasty, your cocktails zero proof, and your 5PMs eternal!