Something Warm To Sip Into

December 12, 1990|By Carleton Jones

As far as most cookbooks are concerned, the toddy seems to be a lost art. Seek it not in trendy books aching to teach you exotica.

What you want are tried and true country formulas sprouting in New England or on the Midwestern plains where they really take winter seriously. "Brandy, whiskey and rum are the base liquors that mix best in hot drinks," says beverage expert Thomas Cowan. I find that statement hard to refute. But I think there are ways that you might play around with a toddy or a warm punch using some of the lighter liqueurs, or even scotch, for variety.

Flavorings for winter punches can include chocolate, cinnamon sticks, freshly ground nutmeg, powdered ginger, apple and orange slices and almost any liqueur, especially the coffee- or fruit-based variety.

Whatever preparations you make, you should treat a toddy container the same way you treat a soup you really want to get to the table piping hot. Pour in boiling water and let the cup or vessel stand a few minutes. Then empty the water and add the hot mix. (A modern alternative to this is, of course, warming in a microwave.)

Whatever the method, heat tends to bring out the flavor of things. Chances are the hot drinks will give you a new angle, maybe even feelings of respect, for the qualities of traditional holiday seasonings.

On the other hand, a simple, non-alcoholic hot punch in a punch bowl or Tom-and-Jerry-cup is perfectly achieveable

with off-the-shelf supermarket items.

The cranberry and apple combination is, of course, one of the favorite leit motifs of New England. Try a formula of 3 or 4 cups of cranberry juice with 3 or 4 cups of apple juice, which you bring to a boiling point. Toss in three bags of your favorite spiced tea and a cinnamon stick and allow to steep off the heat for about 10 minutes. Remove the tea bags and cinnamon stick. Reheat slowly or serve, if still hot, in preheated mugs. It will do for four to six merry-makers. I like this preparation with a couple of --es of Angostura bitters and a couple lemon slices added at the last minute.

Other basic hot punches can be easily concocted from a coffee base, with a more interesting than usual sugar flavor. Try 1 teaspoon of instant coffee and 1 teaspoon of maple syrup or honey for every 2/3 cup of water volume. Dollops of whipped cream on top of this hot treat are customary. For sophistication, a -- of coffee liqueur is optional.

That old perennial, hot mulled cider, is virtually foolproof for holiday quaffing and often is spiked with either rum, brandy or calvados -- with rare calvados holding the edge, since it is actually made from apples. Standard recipes never omit

cinnamon sticks in the brew and often add ground cardamom and nutmeg to spice the punch more thoroughly. Orange juice in hot cider will also add a fresh dimension.

Sarah Leah Chase, the master of Down East American cuisine, presents this novel chocolate libation in her latest book, the just published "Cold-Weather Cooking," (Workman Publishing. 1990. 418 pages. $13.95 in paper).

Hot white chocolate

Serves two.

2 ounces best quality white chocolate, chopped

1/3 cup brewed coffee

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups milk or half and half

grated nutmeg for garnish

Melt the chocolate in a small, heavy saucepan over very low heat, stirring frequently. Stir in the coffee and vanilla until smooth. Add the milk, increase the heat to medium and heat until the mixture is quite hot but not boiling. Pour the mixture into a blender container and whizz until frothy. Pour the chocolate into two cups and sprinkle each with a light dusting of nutmeg. Serve at once.

Black Forest coffee is a cozy and traditional standard for wintry nights. This version, non-alcoholic, is recommended by the National Coffee Association.

Black Forest coffee

Makes 1 serving.

6 ounces of fresh brewed coffee

2 tablespoons of chocolate syrup

1 tablespoon maraschino cherry juice

whipped cream

shaved chocolate or chocolate chips

maraschino cherry

Combine the coffee, chocolate syrup and cherry juice and mix well. Serve in cups topped with whipped cream, chocolate shavings and a cherry.

George Washington slept in the circa 1760 Halfway House down Petersburg (Va.) way, so it's possible -- though there's no record of it -- he quaffed this toddy. It's served on chilly nights with cinnamon rolls, according to Dawn O'Brien's "Virginia's Historic Restaurants" (John F. Blair, 1985. $11.95).

Hot spiced wine

Serves ten.

1 quart dry red wine

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon whole cloves 1 cinnamon stick

1 lemon, sliced

1/2 orange, sliced

Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Bring to boil over high heat, then simmer for 15 minutes, strain and serve hot.

Here's another hot one for the holidays from Arthur's, famed corporate gourmet haunt in downtown Pittsburgh, another Dawn O'Brien find from her cook's tour of Pennsylvania's historic restaurants, co-authored by Claire Walter, (John F. Blair, publisher. 1986. $12.95). It's a hefty, two-stage affair with a fruit garnish added at the last minute.

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