Wassail is a hot mulled cider, traditionally enjoyed during wassailing, an English Christmas drinking ritual intended to ensure a good apple harvest the following year. The whole baked apples floating on top lend a homey feel to the warming festive drink. Serve as is -- or top with a splash of brandy if you like. It's perfect for a big family gathering or holiday party.
Spoon the sugar into the center of each apple, then place in a 9-inch square baking dish with 1 cup water. Bake until the apples are very tender, 1 hour to 1 hour 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, add the hard cider, pale ale, apple cider and Madeira to a large pot and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Put the cloves, allspice, cinnamon sticks, orange zest and lemon zest in a piece of cheesecloth and tie it closed. Add to the pot along with the ginger and nutmeg. Reduce the heat to low and steep the mixture until the liquid is well spiced and fragrant, about 1 hour.
Add the cooked apples and any of their juices to the pot and stir to combine. Remove the cheesecloth. Serve warm in individual mugs with an orange wedge and cinnamon stick.
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