Adding punch to your party: a couple of festive selections

In My Glass

December 27, 2006|By Rob Kasper

Open-house parties on New Year's Day are ideal occasions to dust off the punch bowl and fill it with large quantities of a libation that soothes, refreshes and is self-serving. A punch, in other words.

A true punch must have at least five ingredients. That is what The Bartender's Bible by Gary Regan says. The word "punch," Regan says, could come from the Hindu or Persian word "panch," which means five. But "punch" also could be an abbreviation of "puncheon," which is a very large cask. So if you buy the second explanation, it is permissible to have four ingredients.

Regardless of its derivation, a good punch follows several rules. One, according to The Ultimate Bar Book by Mittie Hellmich, is that the ingredients are chilled before they are mixed. This helps keep the punch cold while it is served.

Another key is to use fresh juices, not canned. This will make the difference between an "OK punch and a sublime one," Hellmich writes.

Sparkling ingredients should be added just before the finished punch is served. This preserves the carbonation.

The last major ingredient to go in the punch bowl should be the ice. Use block ice - not ice cubes, Hellmich says - because the larger piece is slower to melt. You can make your own ice block by filling a metal pan, a plastic container or a bundt pan with water and freezing it.

Garnishing with floating pieces of fruit is colorful but optional.

I tried a couple of recipes for New Year's Day punch. One, called Red Bubbles, was an almost alcohol-free punch (the bitters it uses has a slight amount of alcohol) whipped up by the Hearty Boys, a pair of Chicago caterers who have won a spot on the Food Network.

The makers of 7UP recently hired the duo, Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh, to create holiday drinks. Not surprisingly, their punch recipe calls for Cherry 7UP. The punch was pretty good, although you probably could use any bubbly cherry soda to make it.

Though I have never been able to figure out who Frank Davis is, I am a fan of the Frank Davis Punch, a mixture I have been sipping on New Year's Day for the last decade. I got the recipe from Adrian Barbul, who along with his wife, Ann, serves this flavorful but potent punch to friends at New Year's Day gatherings in the couple's North Baltimore home. Adrian reminded me that I had given him this very recipe almost 10 years ago. Which proves, I guess, that in punch as in life, you start over on New Year's Day.

Red Bubbles Punch

Makes 8 to 10 glasses

one 750-milliliter bottle sparkling cider

3/4 cup orange juice

1 1/2 tablespoons bitters

two 12-ounce cans of Cherry 7UP

8 strips of lemon zest for garnish

Chill all liquids; mix in punch bowl or clear pitcher. Add block of ice. Serve immediately in champagne glasses garnished with lemon twists.

(If you want alcohol in your punch, substitute a bottle of champagne for cider, add 1/2 cup Campari aperitif and omit the bitters.)

Courtesy of Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh (the Hearty Boys)

Frank Davis Punch

Makes 36 six-ounce servings

1 cup lemon juice

1/2 cup superfine sugar

1 liter chilled gold tequila

4 (750 milliliter) bottles of chilled sauterne or comparable sweet wine

2 (750 milliliter) bottles of chilled champagne or sparkling wine

1 large honeydew melon, cut into melon balls

Stir lemon juice and sugar in large punch bowl until sugar is dissolved. Add tequila, sauterne and champagne. Stir well. Add a large block of ice and garnish with melon balls.

Courtesy of Adrian Barbul

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