Sparking Vanilla-Scented Apple Cider Party Punch

Last week, I gave in to the chilly weather and started wearing socks and sweaters. I simmered two pots of soup, made a pie and roasted off a few butternut squash for future baking projects.

October arrived, as did a carpet of ochre oak and maple leaves on our forest floor. Yes, fall is here to stay, and it’s getting me in the mood for Canadian Thanksgiving next week.

Because of our large extended family, we will celebrate Thanksgiving with a couple of events here and there over the holiday long weekend. Then on Monday, Danny and I are hosting twenty people for a mid-day turkey dinner around our table. I’m still finalizing the full menu (so many favourite dishes to narrow down!) but I have settled on a punch to serve.

I have a go-to party punch for spring and summer – a raspberry rhubarb collins – and it serves me well for a range of warm weather occasions. But truth be told, I didn’t have a favourite punch for fall until I started testing in earnest quite recently.

Spices. Spirits. Syrups. Sweeteners. There are a dozen different directions one can go when it comes to creating a crowd pleasing drink. In the end, I stayed true to this blog’s mantra and kept things simple; today’s recipe for Sparking Vanilla-Scented Apple Cider Party Punch is my pick for pre-Thanksgiving dinner cocktail hour.

Sparkling Vanilla-Scented Apple Cider Punch | Simple Bites

I love a seasonal punch that features local ingredients and for this recipe I use the very versatile fresh pressed apple cider. I buy it from a local orchard, where it is often pressed on the very same day from the freshest of apples. It’s a sweet juice with plenty of tang – much like biting into a cold Honeycrisp apple.

Unsweetened organic cranberry juice adds tartness to balance the sweet cider in this beverage. It also provides a touch of crimson colour, tinting our punch closer to a deep brick red rather than a sludgy brown.

Sparkling Vanilla-Scented Apple Cider Punch | Simple Bites

I stayed away from the obvious spices so often paired with the season’s fruit and instead opted for a simple vanilla infusion. In addition, a bit of coconut sugar adds a delightful caramel flavour, and gives the finished punch a hint of caramel-dipped apples. You could use regular brown sugar, too, but I love what the coconut sugar contributes to the drink.

If you are looking for a sweeter punch, use ginger ale in place of the bottle of sparkling, but otherwise, a bottle of a locally produced non-alcoholic sparkling juice is a delicious finishing touch. In a pinch, sparkling water would work almost as well.

Sparkling Vanilla-Scented Apple Cider Punch | Simple Bites

When entertaining, it’s hospitable to know your crowd, and my Thanksgiving guests just aren’t big drinkers. In addition, three of my sisters-in-law who are attending have a sweet baby boy on their knee and are breastfeeding. Keeping all this in mind, I knew that we would need a non-alcoholic punch that is as refreshing as it is delicious.

That said, I tested this punch spiked with a few different spirits – for the sake of research, of course!

Vodka allowed the flavours to shine through on their own and tequila was delicious and unique; however, I found bourbon to be my favourite as it paired exceptionally well with both the cider and the vanilla. So if you are hosting more of a drinking crown this holiday season, by all means, add a splash of bourbon to your apple cider punch.

Another delicious alternative is to top up the punch with a sparking hard cider, as in, alcoholic. Use a brand you know and love, or else ask a specialist to recommend a dry cider that isn’t too sweet and has plenty of bubbles.

Sparking Vanilla-Scented Apple Cider Party Punch
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Recipe type: Drinks
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves/Yield: Serves 8
A seasonal party punch for fall that is as refreshing as it is delicious.
Ingredients
  • 1/3 cup coconut sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 vanilla bean, split
  • 1 L fresh pressed apple cider
  • 1 cup unsweetened cranberry juice
  • 2 apples, to garnish
  • 4 cups ice
  • 750 mL non-alcoholic sparkling apple juice
  • frozen cranberries (optional)
  • 8 oz bourbon (optional)
Instructions
  1. In a small pot, combine coconut sugar, vanilla extract, split vanilla bean and 1 cup of the fresh pressed apple cider. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar. Once the infusion has boiled, turn off the heat and cover the pot with a lid. Allow to infuse for 1 hour.
  2. Cool the vanilla infusion completely. This syrup can be made in advance. If you are not using it right away, store it in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
  3. In a large pitcher, combine the remaining apple cider, cranberry juice and vanilla syrup. Stir well to combine. Thinly slice the apples and add them to the pitcher. At this point, the punch can hold for a few hours in the refrigerator.
  4. To Serve: Pour the punch with the apple slices into a punch bowl. Add the ice. Pour in the sparkling apple juice. Float a few frozen cranberries on top if desired. Stir well. Taste your punch and make sure it is to your liking.
  5. Serve at once.
Notes
Quick Fix: Always taste your punch and make sure it is to your liking. Too sweet? Add more unsweetened cranberry juice, a 1/4 cup at a time. Too tart? A few tablespoons of maple syrup stirred into the punch is an easy solution. Ginger ale will also add sweetness as well as bubbles.

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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Comments

  1. oooh, this is perfect! I’ve got 2 thanksgivings to go to this weekend, and the local Cranberry festival the saturday before! That timing works out well. 😉
    Sarah M

  2. I started reading this blog post fully expecting to comment that it sounded delicious and I would be making it in a year once I stop breastfeeding… and then I read the paragraph about your family members also breastfeeding and it was a nice surprise to know that the recipe is actually non-alcoholic. I still doubt I’ll be making it any time soon , but I’ll definitely bookmark this recipe for the future.

    • Hey Julie, why don’t you forward this to the host of your Thanksgiving festivities. 🙂 I think you’d enjoy a special sip – and you definitely deserve something a little special.

  3. Anne Marie says:

    I’m hoping to make this this weekend. Who knew sparkling apple juice would be so far hard to find! Especially at this time of year. I may just have to use hard cider after all. I wanted to make the non-alcoholic version as more guests could enjoy. I’ve been to Loblaws, Costco and another local grocery store to me. Wishing I had made a trip to an apple orchard the past few weekends. Can’t wait to try it. Hoping it happens!

    • I surprised you can’t find the sparkling apple juice, Anne Marie! All of my local grocery stores have several varieties – look in the produce section. It is always there.

  4. How pretty! Stunning pictures and punch, of course!

  5. Made your punch for a group gathering this week (Soup Swap!) and everyone loved it. I liked having the option of a fun non-alcoholic drink to go with a weeknight gathering, though I do think it’s much better with that splash of whiskey. 😉

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