To warm you up on a cold day, try this “Better than Starbucks” Caramel Apple Cider Recipe. Using 100% pure pressed apple juice is key for achieving the tastiest results! This recipe is great for holiday parties, both for children and adults alike. It always gets rave reviews! Also tastes great without the caramel.
Make Your Own Hot Spiced Apple Cider Instead of Buying Apple Cider Mix Packets
Growing up, hot apple cider was one of my favorite wintertime treats. So naturally I played around with my own homemade recipes and now only use the pre-packaged powder when I am in a bind. Yes, the stuff in the little envelopes, however, convenient it may seem, does not even hold a candle to real apple cider.
You can make apple cider totally from scratch – like even starting with apples if you are totally hard core like that! I mean, there are about a million versions on the internet that involve cooking apples, mashing them, filtering the juice through cheesecloth…… or you can do it more traditionally and buy a juice press and go that route (without the heat). Those sound just peachy, well, I mean, apple-y! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) For this recipe, I prefer to buy cider at the store because, well, it’s about a million times easier and it will ensure a great flavor (flavor can vary based on the variety of apples used, and most ciders have a particular variety or blend that they use).
A must for this recipe is using 100% fresh pressed apple juice or apple cider. Simply Apple Juice is a great option that is usually available all year and found in most grocery stores. You’ll notice it is more cloudy in appearance than the varieties of apple juice or the juice you make from concentrate. That’s because their juice is not sweetened, does not have additives, not watered down, and has minimal filtration.
And in my local grocery stores (and even at a few little corner fruit stands) I can also find regional brands of juice or cider in the Fall/Winter. Even without adding the spices, warm up a cup of this cider, and you will feel nice and cozy.
If you are in doubt as to what to buy, here are two tips: 1) look for opaque/cloudy instead of clear, 2) look at the ingredient list. The simpler, the better.
What is the Difference Between Apple Juice and Apple Cider?
Here’s the deal: there is no real legal standard to what is called apple cider. So, it can be confusing. But like I said, above, as long as you are using 100% pure pressed apple with no additives and minimal filtration, you are gonna get the best flavor for your hot drink.
Depending on your source, you will see that many note the difference is in the processing and filtration. Apple juice goes through a pasteurization process where it is heated (to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit) to kill off what could be harmful bacteria and removes all solids through filtration that gives it a clear appearance. A lot of varieties also have additives including sugars, water, and absorbic acid. All of this is done to extend shelf life and gives the ability to store it without refrigeration. (However, as I mentioned, Simply Apple Juice brand is labeled as juice, but it does not have additives or preservatives, and has a cloudier appearance and you always find it in the refrigerated section.)
Cider is made by squeezing juice out of apple mash through a fruit press (involving cloth and wooden racks). It may be pasteurized or unpasteurized (click here for one take on this). It is usually not filtered (or minimally) so still contains pulp and sediment. It is much more susceptible to dangerous bacteria, so it should be refrigerated ASAP (especially if unpasteurized). Some sources also note that cider traditionally also goes through a fermentation process from the natural yeasts found in apples (3-4 days for a non-alcoholic mild cider with a slight zip called “sweet cider” or longer for a “hard cider”- aka, alcoholic. Click here for more info). Just remember, by heating it up to 160, that will kill the bacteria and you can do that with juice that you make yourself or buy from fruit stands. And get this – the ever popular Martinelli’s Apple “Cider” is admittedly not cider at all, but simply carbonated apple juice. But hey, who’s really being that picky?!? Obviously not the FDA. 🙂
Copycat Starbucks Caramel Apple Spice
Okay, now on to this recipe. You know, I was going to give this post a “Copycat” label to compare to the Starbucks Caramel Apple “Spice”. But the problem is……THIS IS WAY BETTER THAN THE STARBUCKS CARAMEL APPLE CIDER! (Just FYI – now I won’t speak for everywhere, but at least when I’ve seen workers prepare this cider at a Starbucks near me, the “fresh pressed apple juice” was none other than Treetop Apple Juice concentrate- take that for what it’s worth after reviewing the convo above about my passion for 100% fresh pressed.) Anyway, I had to make sure to differentiate this.
If you really want to make this shine, try using my favorite homemade caramel sauce. It really doesn’t get better than this.
Better than Starbucks Caramel Apple Cider
- 4 to 6 cups 100% pure pressed apple juice or cider
- 1/4 cup caramel sauce
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 6 cloves whole
- 6 allspice berries
- whipped cream optional
- caramel sauce to drizzle on top optional
Put apple juice, caramel sauce and spices in a medium pan and simmer over medium-low heat for 5 minutes. Let steep for longer if desired.
Pour into cups/mugs and top with whipped cream and then caramel sauce if you’re feeling fancy.
Make sure to use 100% pure pressed juice or cider (such as Simply Apple). This will produce the best flavor.
If you want to make this in a crock pot, feel free to do so. It will usually take 1-2 hours to warm.
Don't have whole spices? You can use ground cinnamon, cloves, and allspice as well. Start with no more than 1/4 teaspoon of each, and go from there until it's flavored to your liking.
If you want to keep this really simple, you can bypass the caramel completely. In fact, if you want to literally just warm up the juice/cider without any spices, it still tastes fabulous.
Check the comments! Kid version with whipped cream, adult version with a splash of some maple whiskey.