Finally, as some approximation of winter settles in here in New York, I am reminded of visiting Vienna in its pre-Christmas cheer a couple of years back. I was doing research for Sweet Invention, traipsing from pastry shop to pastry shop. (Yeah, I know, it's a tough job.) And I kept running across groups of people standing around, their cheeks rosy and their fists filled with steaming mugs. Needless to say, I had to investigate, and discovered one of Vienna's winter wonders: punch (pronounced "poonch"). No this isn't the cold, spiked Kool-Aid you find at office parties but more like a rich, mulled wine. There are dozens of variations: some spiked with brandy, others with schnapps (aka eau-de-vie). They're delightfully warming and, given their alcohol content, they are highly conducive to holiday cheer. There was a punch craze all over Europe about two hundred years ago but whereas the taste for it faded in places like France and even England (its birthplace, thus the name), here the tradition held on.
Here's a recipe I put together by combining a few online sources. Great after a skating party, a day on the slopes or the most dangerous sport of the season, competitive holiday shopping.
makes about six, 6-ounce servings
1/2 cup brandy
1/2 cup golden rum
2/3 cup raw sugar or to taste
1 small cinnamon stick
2 pods cardamom
2-inch piece of vanilla pod, split lengthwise
4 slices orange (preferably organic)
4 slices of lemon (preferably organic)
1 bottle red wine (Beaujolais works well or if you want to be more authentic use something like Blaufrankisch)
Combine brandy and rum with sugar, spices, orange and lemon slices in a small pan. Heat to about 150°F. (Do not allow to boil!) Remove from heat, cover and let stand for several hours. Combine wine and brandy mixture and heat until very hot but not boiling.