Monday, December 8, 2014

Punch for 50

I love our chalkboard paint!

The recipe at left pretty much says it all - I decided to put this up in our kitchen, so that I didn't have to repeat it over and over if anyone asked. Nobody really did, but it seemed to go down well. And my mother-in-law, whose birthday it was created to celebrate, requested a repeat at Thanksgiving. I'll take that as high praise!

To be honest, the shape and size of this chalkboard (painted onto an archway in our kitchen) made for a greatly simplified description anyway, and I figured this would be the place for a detailed breakdown.

Okay, so first, the ratio written out here actually came from two separate syrups I'd made previously: an orange-vanilla oleo-saccharum and a spiced cranberry-brown sugar syrup. These were tasty, but each a bit labor intensive, so I combined them into a single syrup for mass production. Prepare as follows:

Peel three medium-large navel oranges, avoiding the white pith, and place the peels into a large nonreactive work bowl. Add in 1 cup of sugar and muddle the oranges until the sugar sticks to the peels. Set these aside for at least 45 minutes and let the sugar absorb the orange oils to form the oleo-saccharum; add an additional sprinkle of sugar and toss if the peels start looking excessively wet.

Set a large pot (at least 4 quarts) over medium heat and toss in a few spices: 2 teaspoons each black peppercorn and allspice berries, plus two nutmegs and two cinnamon sticks smashed into several large pieces. Give these a quick stir or keep the pan moving until they become fragrant, then pour in 4 cups of water (this will bubble up a bit, don't be scared). Bring this to a simmer, then pour in 5 cups of sugar and about 2 tablespoons of molasses (I eyeball this, as it's too much trouble to measure). Stir until the sugar dissolves, then add in a pound of frozen cranberries, because they'll leach out into the syrup better than fresh.

Head back to your orange oleo-saccharum; at this point, a significant amount of oil from the peels should have been absorbed by the sugar. Use a spatula to scrape the peels and sugar into the syrup, bring the pot back up to a bare simmer, and kill the heat. Let the whole thing cool and infuse for a couple of hours.

Once the syrup has cooled off, add the juice from the oranges, plus 2 teaspoons of good vanilla extract. Stir and run the syrup through a sieve to remove the solids. At this point, I poured the syrup into a clean 1.75 L bottle for storage, because I love my Tanqueray handles.

To serve, pour the syrup base into a large punch bowl. Refill the empty container with cold water, add that, and then 4 cups of fresh lemon juice along with 2 liters of soda water. Add in some large ice cubes to keep the whole thing cold and garnish with a few thin slices of orange and some extra cranberries. In fact, if I had thought ahead, I might have frozen those into the ice cubes.

Once again, I forgot to take a picture of the final product. Sigh. Serve the punch alongside a white wine (an inexpensive California chardonnay in this case) and a few bottles of spirit. One of these was Jameson, of course (it's my mother-in-law's whiskey of choice) but gin was quite popular as well. This has become just about my favorite party trick - easy to prepare ahead of time, easy to assemble, flexible, fun for guests, and endlessly remixable. That's a tough act to beat.

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