Why not make this the year to have a Christmas holiday reception? To make sure that you, the host or hostess, get to meet your guests and enjoy time with them, instead of cocktails, serve a warm Mulled Wine Wassail Punch that everyone will enjoy. As an added bonus, you will have time to enjoy yourself!
The holiday season, from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve, is the perfect time for a warming drink. It will announce its presence throughout the house, bidding them welcome to your home and the reception. Such a drink is my hot mulled wine (or wassail) punch, refined over the years to taste.
It all began several years ago, when I found at my favorite wine store a bottle of inexpensive brandy. It was too rough to serve as a cognac after dinner, but perhaps, I thought, it could be diluted with some ice water and served as a fine cognac a l’eau before dinner. It did have a certain rigorous power. Then a better idea occurred to me. Why not use it as the base for a punch? That would do rather well, I thought. But what should be added?
I remembered the great pleasure of drinking a hot buttered rum one chilly February evening on the terrace of the Rhumerie Martinique in the student section of the Left Bank in Paris. In the winter, when you could see your breath even on that heated terrace, a hot drink was just perfect. And so the welcoming smell of a warm drink became part of my quest. Finally, I remembered how pleasant sangria can be on warm evenings. If that was the case in the summer, why wouldn’t a similar recipe adapt itself for winter enjoyment, this time warmed rather than chilled?
And so I began experimenting.
- First, I chose some robust, inexpensive red wines. This is definitely not the place for your prize wines. What you want instead is something with a fruity flavor that will hold up, so choose an inexpensive Cotes du Rhone wine, or perhaps a hearty Burgundy.
- Bear in mind that the wine itself with a brandy base is rather assertive, and will be even more so when the mixture is heated. So I decided to cut it with soda water as the punch was warmed.
- And I added sugar to taste, and orange peels studded with cloves.
It was good, but not yet very festive. Something else was definitely needed, a spice perhaps.
- After several years of experimenting I finally I found the right one, and by far the most expensive ingredient of the punch. It is an Indian spice, cardamom. A little goes a long way, but as it is heated, the odor, combined with the wine and brandy and other spicy smells, gives a welcoming note of wassail to your guests as they arrive.
This is not a terribly expensive punch, and it fits the season perfectly. It does need attention, though. Don’t just let it boil away.
- I make a large amount on the stove, at very low temperature for half an hour or so before the guests arrive. You can experiment and put it on medium for a few minutes, then lower the temperature as the punch comes together. The pot I use is a large one that did good service when apples were dunked in it during Halloween parties for our children. It fits over several burners on the stove, and seems to attract guests like a magnet. Have one or two other punch stations (including one nonalcoholic), and refill them as needed.
Here is my recipe. Feel free to vary the ingredients. I find it serves 60 very happy people!
- Combine one bottle of brandy with four magnums (one magnum=2 standard bottles) of sturdy red wine, heating evenly as the wine is added.
- Add six bottles of soda water, from time to time.
- Stir in sugar to taste. (I start with two cups, then add more as needed.)
- Add a teaspoonful or so of Cardamom, and the orange peels with cloves.
- Thoroughly mix the punch, stirring slowly with a wooden spoon (so that your fingers don’t get burned). Warm slowly and thoroughly.
Serve, and you’ll see new acquaintances acting like old friends!
NOTE: If you have an apron from a pricey bar or bistro, wearing it is encouraged once a year. This is your moment. Happy Holidays!