A tureen of mulled wine will fill a gathering with the most wonderful Christmas smells; sadly, however, the combination of bargain-basement Château de Migraine plus sugar also tends to bring about the worst Christmas hangovers. The mulled negroni, on the other hand, is a cut above on both counts. The negroni (gin, Italian vermouth, Campari) is a strong cocktail that becomes a little too heady when it’s warmed, but you can tame it by diluting it with a similarly coloured herbal tea. I find Pukka’s Elderberry & Echinacea does the job well, but a hibiscus, rose, cranberry or similar tea would also work fine. A small squirt of citrus at the end helps to round out the flavours.
Prep 10 min
200ml Italian vermouth
1 orange, sliced into semi-circles
1 lemon, sliced into semi-circles
600ml brewed elderberry tea (or similar)
Gently warm the gin, vermouth and Campari in a saucepan with most of the sliced citrus fruit (reserve some to garnish), then, just as the negroni mix begins to bubble, pour in the tea. Stir and serve in mugs garnished with a slice each of orange and lemon.
There’s a famous scene in Vladimir Nabokov’s 1957 comic novel Pnin when the novel’s hero, a hapless Russian professor, hosts a party for his American colleagues. It is a rare moment of triumph for Pnin, and one that might have something to do with the punch he serves: “a heady mixture of chilled Châteaud’Yquem, grapefruit juice and maraschino, which the solemn host had already started to stir in a large bowl of brilliant aquamarine glass with a decorative design of swirled ribbing and lily pads.” Zadie Smith and Martin Amis have both written essays centring on this bowl, but, curiously, neither paid much attention to the punch itself: a strange and wonderful creation, provided you balance it out a little. Please do not actually use Château d’Yquem, the most esteemed Bordeaux dessert wine (and £200-plus per bottle), unless you are extremely rich. A less elevated dessert wine will do just fine; I made it with Co-op Jurançon and it was still heavenly; sauternes, monbazillac, riesling auslese, etc, would all work wonderfully, too. In fact, this is a great way of using up the stuff after Christmas dinner.
Prep 5 min
600ml dessert wine
300ml grapefruit juice (white, ideally)
60ml maraschino liqueur– I used Luxardo
Grapefruit peel (both pink and white, ideally), to decorate
300ml sparkling water
Stir the first four ingredients in as beautiful a bowl as you can find, then decorate with the grapefruit twists. Just before serving, cool the mix by adding copious ice, top up with sparkling water, stir and pour into pretty glasses.
Apple pie punch
There are few English liquids that are as all-round delicious as fresh pressed apple juice. Here is a way to make it go a bit farther. By all means play around with the spices in the sugar syrup. And, if you are so inclined, a tot of Somerset Cider Brandy wouldn’t go amiss, either. This will make more syrup than you need, but it keeps in the fridge for about a month and is delicious in all manner of mixed drinks, from old fashioneds to milkshakes to homemade lemonade.
Prep 12 min
Infuse 4 hr+
For the spiced sugar syrup
4 cinnamon sticks
5 green cardamom pods
200g raw cane sugar
1 vanilla pod, split (optional)
For the drink
750ml good apple juice
75ml spiced sugar syrup (see above and method)
75ml apple cider vinegar
2 apples, cut into slices
Nutmeg, to finish
First make the syrup. Toast the cinnamon, cardamom and cloves in a dry saucepan until they smell fragrant, then add the sugar and water and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat, simmer for three or four minutes, then turn off the heat, drop in the vanilla pod (if using) and cover the pan. Leave the syrup to infuse for four hours (or overnight), then strain and decant.
To make the drink, put the apple juice, syrup, vinegar and water in a pan, add the sliced apples and warm up – don’t let it come to a boil, though. Pour into heat-resistant glasses and finish with a grating of nutmeg over the top.
Clarified milk punch
The word “alchemy” is bandied about a bit overmuch by craft bartending types, but if any drink is worthy of the term, it is surely this, a concoction first recorded by English housewife Mary Rockett in 1711. The pale, clear liquid that comes out at the end bears scant resemblance to the ingredients that go in, and the taste is quite magical. It was originally an ingenious solution to the problems of shelf life in the pre-refrigeration age: if you deliberately curdle milk, then filter out the curds, you arrive at a stable, transparent whey solution that keeps for months. A lot of early recipes specify that this is a punch “for bottling”, but it’s much more than that – silky-smooth, eminently sippable and crying out for a room full of guests. It’s going to look strange while you make it, but trust the process.
Prep 15 min
2 lemons, peeled (reserve 6 twists to garnish) and juiced, to get 50ml
300ml dark rum
1 dash absinthe
1 dash Angostura bitters
250ml hot green tea
250ml whole milkPut the lemon peel (take care to avoid the bitter white pith) and sugar in a bowl or jug and muddle (ie, bash) to make a sherbet. Add the rum, absinthe and bitters, then stir until the sugar is fully dissolved (if you like, throw in a few Christmassy spices and leave to infuse overnight).
Gently warm the rum mix in a pan, then pour in the hot tea and lemon juice. In a separate pan, bring the milk to a boil, and the moment it starts to froth up, pour it into the rum mixture. It will curdle and look disgusting, but that’s OK.
Line a sieve with muslin, then pass the punch mix through it to filter out the curds, along with most of the colour; you’ll probably need to repeat the sieving a few times to achieve perfect clarity. A final pass through a coffee filter should remove any final particles.
The finished punch will keep in a sealed jar or bottle in the fridge for a couple of weeks (presuming you aren’t tempted to down it before). Serve over ice in dainty cups and garnish with a twist of lemon (or a maraschino cherry).