If there's ever a time to pour a bottle of alcohol into a cake, it's the holiday season. Take , which is traditionally doused in brandy for months in anticipation of yuletide gatherings, or Caribbean rum cake, inspired by holiday pudding. Mulled wine cake is a sleeper hit of the genre — one that definitely deserves table space at your next festive party or potluck.
If the baked good sounds familiar to you, perhaps you're already privy to the revelation that is red wine chocolate cake, which is exactly what it sounds like (a chocolate cake with red wine mixed into the batter). Deb Perlman of , whose version of the decadent treat is inspired by a recipe from Alsace, calls it "quintessentially September" thanks to its "faintly spiced" red wine.
By that same token, mulled wine cake is quintessentially wintry, destined to be enjoyed by a crackling fire (or at least a radiator). It's also super easy to pull together, though its richness and complexity of flavor suggest otherwise. The mulled wine and its bevy of spices lend a compellingly cozy warmth and depth to the boozy dessert.
You probably don't need to be told that wine and chocolate are a natural pairing. Indeed, they're classic Valentine's Day gifts for a reason. One explanation could be that the fermentation process involved in the making of both products yields a cosmic marriage of flavors. Mulled wine cake certainly makes a fantastic case for combining the two — say, in a . By using mulled wine, the nuances of those classic ingredients like cloves, cinnamon, and allspice (plus any extra spices you want to bring to the table, including cardamom, nutmeg, and even dried citrus peels or ginger) will bring layers of flavor to the cake.
Of course, if you're one of those rare souls with an aversion to chocolate, there's no hard and fast rule that says you must use cocoa powder or chopped chocolate in your mulled wine cake. The baking spices in mulled wine will bring plenty of delicious, festive flavor all on their own to all kinds of cake recipes. If you do go the chocolate-free route, consider leaning heavily on the spices to really pack a punch. While you're at it, massage the zest of an orange into your baking sugar. It will complement the flavors in your mulled wine and leave your kitchen smelling like a holiday wreath.
The most important component of mulled wine cake is — you guessed it — the mulled wine. While much of the alcohol will be burned off in the baking process, the flavors of the spices and the subtle earthiness of the wine itself will come through in each bite. Think of it as the alcoholic equivalent of the "good olive oil" Ina Garten tells you to use in so many of her recipes. (For the record, .)
To make simple, at home, all you need is red wine, cinnamon sticks, fresh ginger, an orange, a lemon, cloves, star anise pods, and sugar. For the best results, seek out a full-bodied, low-tannin red, such as a pinot noir or malbec, with notes of warming spices. For a more nuanced flavor, try fortified wines with added sweetness like port or vermouth. Once you have your cauldron of steamy, spiced wine ready to go, consider saving a little extra to serve alongside your cake.