Purim is unique in the cannon of Jewish holidays in that while wine is a critical component of most Jewish holidays, it is only on Purim that one is actually encouraged to overindulge in drink. While one can fulfill this mitzvah of drinking on Purim with any sort of wine, one of the most delightful ways of doing it is with a punch made from that most delightful of wines — Champagne.
The exact origins of punch are somewhat unclear. But by the beginning of the 18th century, it was one of the most popular drinks in the English-speaking world, and for good reason: a well-appointed punch bowl has an almost magic-like ability to make any happy occasion seem just a bit more festive.
According to cocktail historian David Wondrich, author of “Punch: the Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl” ($23.95, Perigee, 2010), punch allows a host to “create something for friends, and not just open a bottle,” and all to appreciate “the communal experience of sharing a bowl of punch.”
Perhaps the most festive punches are those based on that most festive of wines, Champagne. While there are many modern recipes for Champagne-based punches, I find that classic Champagne punches are often more satisfying than their modern descendants.
So for this month’s Fruit of the Vine, I provide recipes for two classic Champagne punches, both of which are adapted from recipes found in the world’s first bartenders’ guide, Jerry Thomas’ 1862 book, “How to Mix Drinks or the Bon Vivant’s Companion.” Either of these punches would make a delightful addition to your holiday table.
A few words on ingredients:
When making a punch it is important to use only quality ingredients. Always use fresh juices that were juiced within a day of making the punch. Citrus fruits should be juiced at room temperature, as they will yield more juice when warm. If you don’t own juicer, don’t worry. As most punches only require a small amount of juice, a hand-held citrus reamer will work nicely. Strain the juice through a wire-mesh strainer or a few layers of cheesecloth to remove seeds and pulp, as these may cloud a punch.
This simple but delicious Champagne punch can easily be made in any quantity. As written, the recipe will produce approximately three liters of punch, and will serve 10-12 persons.
3 bottles of Champagne, 750 ml. each
¾ cup of Kedem raspberry syrup
juice of three lemons
½-¾ cup of simple syrup, to taste
½ pineapple, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
3 oranges, thinly sliced
1 block of ice
Place the pineapple slices in the bottom of the punch bowl and smash them with your fingers to express some of the juice. Put in the block of ice and add the lemon juice, raspberry syrup, and ½ cup of simple syrup. Pour in the Champagne, stir and taste. Add the additional ¼ cup of simple syrup if necessary, and float orange slices on top of the punch to garnish.
LIGHT GUARD PUNCH:
Wondrich suggests that this delicious Champagne punch was likely named for the New York Light Guard, a company made up of city society gents that distinguished itself in the early days of the Civil War (though before the war they were known to be “in peace … invincible, in war invisible”). The recipe will produce approximately six liters of punch and will serve 20-25 persons.
3 bottles of Champagne, 750 ml. each
1 bottle of pale sherry
(Tio Pepe’s kosher Fino Sherry), 750 ml.
1 bottle of white dessert wine (Balma Venitia’s
Muscat de Beaumes de Venise would be
a good choice), 750 ml.
1 bottle of Cognac (Louis Royer VS***,
Montaigne VS*** and Carmel Brandy
100 would all be good choices), 750 ml.
½-1 cup simple syrup, to taste
1 pineapple, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
4 lemons, thinly sliced
1 block of ice
In a small non-reactive mixing bowl combine the sliced fruit and the cognac. Cover, refrigerate, and allow the fruit to macerate in the cognac for about four hours. When ready to serve put the block of ice into the punch bowl, add the cognac and fruit mixture, then pour in the all five bottles of wine and ½ cup of simple syrup. Stir and taste. Add additional simple syrup as necessary.
As sugar dissolves slowly in cold liquids, it is best to use a simple sugar syrup in punches. To make simple syrup pour a cup of superfine sugar and a cup of water into a small sauce pan and heat over a low flame, stirring until the sugar is fully dissolved. One can also buy a pre-made simple syrup, such as Monin’s Pure Cane Syrup.
Another crucial ingredient, and one that is often overlooked, is ice. When making punch one should always use a solid block of ice, at least three or four inches thick on each side. Ice cubes will melt much quicker than a solid block and dilute the punch. To make an ice block simply fill a plastic food container two-thirds filled with water and freeze overnight. Use distilled water to create clearer ice.
It is important that all the ingredients, and the punch bowl itself, are well chilled before making the punch.
While both recipes call for Champagne, the current price of kosher Champagne makes it is far too dear to use in punch. Some less expensive viable alternatives would include French blanc de blancs, Israeli bruts, Italian proseccos and Spanish cavas. Wondrich advises that when making Champagne punch “don’t skimp on the wine, and use the driest you can afford.”
Fruit of the Vine appears monthly.