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Hot & Frothy

Hot buttered rum. Hot pumpkin toddy. Mulled wine. Are you feeling toasty?

It's the season for warming up inside with hot drinks, with bars offering some fine ones on their menus. But they're just as easy to make at home — and that way you don't even have to de-ice the car.

"In a colder climate, it's a little more comforting to have something warm in your hand," says Rodel Borromeo, executive chef at Social bar on the waterfront in Tacoma, Wash.

Hot, alcoholic drinks go back a long way, of course: Hot toddies crop up in Charles Dickens and Jack London; hot negus (mulled wine) in Jane Austen. The hot toddy, made of sugar, spice, citrus, alcohol and hot water, is a traditional way to cure a cold — or at least, cheer yourself up while you're suffering. Hot buttered rum, with its mixture of creamed butter and sugar, spices, rum and hot water, also is soothing.

But Tacoma and Olympia, Wash., chefs have ways of spicing up the traditional recipes that will make them burn even brighter.

"We add a bit of cayenne to give a bit more warmth to the experience," says Borromeo, of Social's hot buttered rum recipe, which calls for a little bit of Bailey's Irish Cream. Cayenne also spices up hot milk-based drinks, such as cocoa, chai or coffee lattes.

Or you could try a different spice mix. Buck's 5th Avenue Spices in Olympia has a chutney mix of ground cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and black pepper that drinks expert Brooke Ahnemann likes to sprinkle on hot cocoa or coffee.

Not into milk? Try wine. Mulling wine goes back centuries with many names around Europe: Think Nordic "glogg" or German "gluhwein." You can buy mulling wine spices from stores such as Buck's, but putting your own mix together is easy.

The usual ingredients are whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, whole allspice and a bit of orange peel. Wrap in a cheesecloth bag or just float them in the wine and scoop them out when you're done. Boil the wine with sugar to taste. But how much spice?

"Everyone has different tastes," says Ahnemann. "I usually recommend people start with a tablespoon of spice mix per bottle of wine, and add more if they like it."

Another way to get extra flavor is add a sweet liqueur such as triple sec instead of sugar, Ahnemann suggests.

Need something nonalcoholic? You can mull cider, too. Ahnemann uses the Buck's combination of spices, plus some lemon peel and dried rosebuds for floral fragrance. Or try making hot buttered rum without the rum, adding cream soda instead — you'll get something rather like Harry Potter's butterbeer, sweet and rich.

Then there's the toddy. The story goes that this sweet, lemony, alcoholic drink traveled to England from India, where people still make strong, distilled toddy from palm-tree sap. A hot toddy's easy enough to make — just mix a little sugar or honey, a little spice (cinnamon or cloves), a dash of lemon juice and a shot of whisky or rum into some hot water.

But if you want to make it a little different, try Borromeo's version, which just went off the seasonal menu at Social: roasted pumpkin, mashed into a puree with honey and simple syrup. Being a puree, it'll separate if you leave it sitting, says Borromeo, so just stir if necessary.

Finally, there's the froth. Not all hot drinks need it — you won't be wanting to froth mulled wine or cider — but it's useful if you're sprinkling spices or chocolate. The easiest way is adding whipped cream.

Whip your own milk or cream with a hand-held electric mixer, an espresso steamer or a whisk. For a party trick, and to cool down a piping-hot drink, try what chai sellers in India do: pour a latte from one cup into another and back again, increasing the distance until you have a froth. (This might be something to practice over the sink first.)

We may have a long, cold winter ahead of us, but think of it as a deliciously long time to whip up your own menu of hot, frothy drinks. You might even cure a cold or two, as well.

Cinnamon, chili peppers, whole anise and other spices can create complex flavors when combined with whiskey or vodka. MCT photo