This is the season of sensuous smells as well as sights. The aroma of warm mulled cider mingling with the woodsy smell of fir or balsam Christmas trees and pine decorations hangs in the air ready to beckon guests into your home. An added log blazing in the fireplace and some gingerbread cookies warm from the oven surely would have lured young Hansel and Gretel to your door, and all that mess they got themselves into would have been avoided. But such is the stuff of fairy tales.
Just because entertaining is a little less formal these days, you don't have to eat from paper plates and drink out of Dixie cups. It's time to rescue grandmother's old punch bowl from the attic and blow the dust off the Baccarat crystal.
Things do get a bit hectic around the holiday season. So if you're flat out, consider a Twelfth Night party after the pine needles and confetti of Christmas and New Year's are swept away. (For those who aren't good at math, it comes on the sixth of January.)
One of the most successful parties I ever had was a late-afternoon Twelfth Night gathering where I served nothing but mugs of hot mulled cider, homemade gingerbread men (and women), gigantic, long-stemmed strawberries dipped in creme fraiche and confectioners' sugar, a tray of colorful marzipan fruits, and the best white and dark chocolates I could find. If you're entertaining a large crowd, you may want to serve a cold punch alongside a hot one like mulled cider.
You can add a splash of class to cold punch by freezing flowers and ferns in an ice block.
Or, for this time of year, holly branches with clusters of whole cranberries are most appropriate (holly berries are toxic).
To do this successfully, the air bubbles in the water should be driven out by first boiling the water and then allowing it to cool. Pour the water into a mold (an angel food cake ring works well) to about one-third full, freeze, arrange holly and cranberries, top off with water and freeze again. Float ice ring in punch just before serving.
Where the following recipes call for orange juice, freshly squeezed is always best. If that's too much trouble, use cartons of juice not from concentrate. And, of course, frozen orange juice may be used in a pinch.
Any punch may be garnished with rings of orange or lemon slices studded with whole cloves.
Cheers! HOT MULLED CIDER
2 sticks cinnamon, broken in pieces
2 teaspoons whole allspice
2 teaspoons whole cloves
1-1/2 gallons apple cider
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 oranges cut in thick slices
Tie spices in cheesecloth bag. Combine cider, sugar, orange slices, and spices in a large cooking pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for at least 15 to 20 minutes. Pour into warmed punch bowl. Add more hot cider as needed. Serves about 18.
1 quart unsweetened pineapple juice
1 12-ounce can apricot juice
1 cup orange juice
2 cinnamon sticks
2 whole cardamom seeds, crushed
1 teaspoon cloves
Lemon and orange slices for garnish (optional)
Combine juices and spices in a large saucepan, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15 to 20 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before straining into warmed punch bowl. Garnish with lemon and orange slices.
THE BEST HOT CHOCOLATE
It may be a bit presumptuous to call this the best hot chocolate, maybe I should just say it's the best I've ever had.
What makes it so good is the imported Dutch cocoa and the homemade whipped cream. If you must use domestic cocoa, add a bit more sugar to offset the acrid flavor as American cocoa has a bitter aftertaste.
4 tablespoons imported Dutch cocoa
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon powdered cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 quarts scalded milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
A sprinkle more cocoa for garnish
Combine cocoa, sugar, cinnamon, and salt in the top of a large double boiler; place over boiling water. Slowly pour 1 cup of milk into cocoa mixture while stirring with a wooden spoon until a thick paste is formed.
Whisk in remaining scalded milk, and add vanilla extract. Continue whisking until slightly frothy. Serve in mugs topped with whipped cream sprinkled with cocoa. Serves 8.
Queen Victoria would be less than amused if this punch, concocted in her honor, was not prepared with a most splendid flowered ice ring of red roses and served in individual silver punch cups. This recipe may be easily doubled if necessary.
1 1/2 quarts orange juice
1 1/2 cups fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup maraschino cherries with liquid
2 1/2 to 3 bottles sparkling white grape juice
Mix orange and lemon juices, and cherries with liquid in a large punch bowl. Float ice block and add sparkling grape juice. Serves 12.
CUP OF INNOCENCE PUNCH
2 cups sugar
1 quart brewed spiced herbal tea, chilled
2 quarts cold water
1 quart orange juice
2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice
1-1/2 quarts cranberry or cran/raspberry juice
1 liter cold ginger ale
Block of ice
In a small saucepan, add sugar and 1 cup cold water. Bring to boil and stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Let stand to cool. Stir all ingredients except sugar syrup and ginger ale in a large punch bowl. Just prior to serving, add half the sugar syrup then the ginger ale. Stir and taste, and add more sugar syrup if desired. Add block of ice. Fills about 50 punch cups.
HOT MULLED CRANBERRY PUNCH
2 quarts cranberry juice
1 cup pineapple juice
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon whole allspice
1 quart ginger ale
Combine juices in a large saucepan. Tie spices in cheesecloth bag and add to juices. Simmer for about 40 minutes. Pour into mugs adding ginger ale to taste.
OLD-FASHIONED CIDER SPICES
This is a wonderful blend of mulling spices that may be kept in a sealed jar and added to cider to taste. The interesting addition here is juniper berries, which bring a decided tang. Simply tie 2 or 3 tablespoons of the spices in a few layers of cheesecloth, add to cider and simmer for at least 30 minutes. These spices also make a fine seasonal host gift.
12 cinnamon sticks, broken in pieces
1/4 cup juniper berries
1/4 cup whole allspice
1/4 cup whole cloves
6 whole cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Zest of 3 oranges and 2 lemons
Mix all ingredients throughly and store in a jar or Zip-loc bag.