If autumn could be a spice, it'd be cinnamon. Earthy and subtle, cinnamon yields a beguiling warmth that pairs beautifully with crisp breezes, pumpkin patches, and burnished trees. It isn't a fluke that the apple, fall's superlative fruit, jives so well with the cinnamon quill's tempestuous musk. While I'm a fan of a great apple pie, some days I don't want to bother. It's on those chilliest of fall days when I reach for my thermal leggings, a favorite book, and a just-this-side-of-sweet beverage that unites the two pinnacles of fall.
Simply combine fresh apple cider, cinnamon sticks, star anise, a few whole cloves, and a couple of cardamom pods in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer until fragrant. Turn the heat to very low and allow the cider to steep for as long as you can stand. I tend to pour my first cup at the initial whiff of spice-laden aroma, and enjoy subsequent servings all afternoon long.
Serve it with a few shortbread cookies, and it could (almost) be apple pie.