Made by boiling sweet cider, cider syrup acts a flavor booster, brightening and enriching dishes like this warming, satisfying squash soup.
At farmers’ markets and tastings, we are forever answering the question, “Cider syrup? What do you do with that?” People seem intrigued when presented with a list of ways to use it in savory dishes. “Glazed pork” leads them to nod, “drizzled over roasted Brussels sprouts” gets them excitedly talking about their love for Brussels sprouts, and “brightening a savory squash soup” makes them pop it into their bag.
We explain that when cider is boiled, the sugars concentrate but so do the acids, so the bottle is filled with a sweet-tangy syrup that is perfect for savory cooking. Its brightness and richness make it a wonderful substitute for balsamic vinegar or lemons; it works especially well in vinaigrettes on salads, and as a glaze for pork, chicken, and even some seafoods. It is a one-ingredient product with a complex flavor profile and a multitude of uses. We have joked that it should be as important to Americans as ketchup — and as ubiquitous.
Cider syrup can be purchased online and from specialty retailers — or, you can make it yourself. The key to making this versatile kitchen staple is to use a very wide shallow pan during most of the boiling to maximize the evaporative surface area. Also, keep a very close eye on the boil at the end, as it is easy for the syrup to boil over or burn if you get distracted! It takes approximately 1½ hours to make, depending on how hard you choose to boil. Note that the relative amounts of sugar and acid in blends of sweet cider can vary considerably. A syrup made from the cider of Pound Sweet will turn out very mild and mellow, whereas Baldwin cider will give you a syrup with zip!
For a warming, satisfying meal on a cold day, try your cider syrup in Winter Squash and Red Lentil Soup with Chard.
Makes approximately 1 pint
- 1 gallon sweet cider
- Pour the cider into a wide pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
- When the cider starts to boil and “breaks” (separates into a clear liquid with floating brown solids), remove the brown solids with a screen-type skimmer or strain the cider through a tight cloth, such as muslin. You can skip this step, but the syrup will be murky, though still delicious.
- Return the clear cider to the pan and continue cooking until it reaches a syrupy consistency (on a candy thermometer, that’s 220°F/104°C for a light syrup or 225°F/107°C for a thicker, more caramelized syrup). When the syrup is mostly reduced, it is helpful to transfer it to a smaller saucepan in order to increase its depth in the pan, so that you can immerse the thermometer enough to get an accurate reading. Keep your eye on the pan and reduce the heat at the end, or you might end up with a boil-over and a sticky stove to clean!
- Pour the syrup into a clean, sterile, widemouthed jar and cap while piping hot. It will keep nearly forever in the refrigerator, but if you are going to use it within a month or two, it can be kept out.
Winter Squash & Red Lentil Soup with Chard
Well spiced and flavorful, this soup can stand on its own but it is elevated by the addition of garnishes — which is how we feel about most soups. Try extra-virgin olive oil, thick yogurt, or sour cream for swirling on top, followed by a sprinkle of chopped cilantro and thinly sliced scallions.
Serves 6 for dinner
- 1 medium kabocha squash
- 6 garlic cloves
- 2 tablespoons sunflower oil
- 1½ cups finely chopped leeks
- 1 stalk celery, minced
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 cup dry hard cider
- 1 cup red lentils
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 7 cups water (or half water and half chicken stock)
- ¼ cup cider syrup
- 1 cup chopped Swiss chard
- 1 cup whole milk
- Extra-virgin olive oil, yogurt, or sour cream, for garnish (optional)
- Chopped cilantro and thinly sliced scallions, for garnish (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C) and oil a baking sheet.
- Cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, and place face down on the oiled baking sheet. Stick five of the garlic cloves (don’t remove the papery skins) in the cavities of the squash. Roast for 30 minutes, or until the squash is completely soft.
- Heat the sunflower oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the leeks and celery and sweat, stirring regularly, until they begin to soften and turn translucent, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the paprika and cumin, stir, then add the hard cider to deglaze the pot.
- Scoop out the flesh of the roasted squash and add it to the pot. Remove the skins from the roasted garlic cloves and add the garlic to the pot, along with the lentils, bay leaf, salt, water, and syrup. Turn the heat up to high, bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 1 hour.
- Remove the bay leaf. Using an immersion or stand blender, purée the soup. (Let it cool a little first if you are using a stand blender.)
- Bring the soup back to a simmer over medium-low heat. Add the chard to the pot and cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Crush the remaining clove of garlic and add it to the soup. Slowly stir in the milk and heat for another few minutes, making sure not to boil the soup. Serve hot and top with garnishes, if using.