Punch Up Your Pesach | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Punch Up Your Pesach

Punch Up Your Pesach

Kosher-for-Passover punches enliven the holiday table.

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In traditional Jewish liturgy, Passover has what some might see as an ironic description: “The holiday of matzahs, the time of our freedom.” For during the eight days of Passover, with its restrictive, matzah-based diet, one might not feel entirely free, particularly when it comes to food and drink.

While kosher drink enthusiasts may lament that single malts are off the table during Passover, there are actually a growing number of good Pesach-friendly drink options — from micro-distillery gin, vodka and kirshwasser, to good Mexican Tequilas. However, when I’m looking for something really fun and festive to drink on Passover, I usually go to my bookcase and pull out my dog-eared facsimile copy of Jerry Thomas’ 1862 book, “How to Mix Drinks, or the Bon Vivant’s Companion,” and try to find an interesting, Passover-friendly, recipe for punch.

While the exact origins of punch are somewhat unclear, during the 18th and 19th centuries 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. So it’s not surprising that Thomas’ book, which was the world’s first bartender’s guide, should have more than 75 recipes for punch, many of which require no rare ingredients or special equipment.

The following three punch recipes are based closely on Thomas’ book, and any of them would make a delightful addition to your celebration of “the time of our freedom.”

Bimbo Punch:

This is a Cognac-based variant of the classic Swedish Punsch. The recipe produces a punch-concentrate that can be made weeks in advance, and is equally good served hot or cold. Personally, I like to serve my Bimbo hot, at the end of a meal, as a digestif. (Please note that Thomas’ book predates the first use of the contemporary, and unflattering, meaning of the word “bimbo” by more than 50 years, so don’t let the name make you uncomfortable.)

1 750 bottle of cognac

6 medium sized lemons, thinly sliced

1 lb. of sugar (I prefer to use demerara sugar, but white sugar will also work well)

1 quart of water

Cheesecloth and twine

Lay the lemon slices onto a large piece of cheesecloth, and using the twine tie the cheesecloth together into a very loose pouch.   Place this into a two-quart or larger non-reactive bowl or glass jar.  Pour in the Cognac, making sure that all of the lemon slices are covered by the liquid. Cover the bowl or jar, and let steep, at room temperature, for six hours. Then remove the pouch of lemon slices, being careful not to squeeze it. In a saucepan bring the water to a boil, and stir in the sugar. When the sugar is dissolved pour the hot sugar syrup into the Cognac. When this has cooled you will have approximately two quarts of punch-concentrate, which can be bottled and will remain good for a few months.

To serve cold Bimbo punch, mix 4 cups of chilled punch-concentrate with 3½ cups of cold water, and a block of ice in a chilled bowl or tureen and stir. This will produce 16 4-ounce servings. To serve hot Bimbo, pour ¼ cup punch-concentrate into a teacup or mug with ¼ cup of hot water, stir and (optionally) grate a little nutmeg on top.

Champagne Punch:

This simple but delicious Champagne punch can easily be made in any quantity. The recipe as written will produce approximately three liters of punch, and will produce approximately 10 6-ounce servings.

3 750 ml bottles of Champagne

¾ cup of raspberry syrup (I like to use Kedem Brand)

The juice of three lemons

½-¾ cup of simple syrup, to taste

½ of a 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 as a garnish.

Light Guard Punch:

This utterly enchanting punch requires a truly special occasion, especially as the ingredients can easily run in excess of $200.  Cocktail historian David Wondrich, author of “Punch: the Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl” ($23.95, Perigee, 2010) suggest that this liquid ambrosia 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 quarts of punch and will serve 20-25 persons.

3 750 ml bottles of Champagne

1 750 ml bottle of pale sherry (use Tio Pepe’s kosher Fino Sherry)

1 750 ml bottle of Sauternes (Chateau Piada would be a good choice. If that should prove too dear, consider using two 375 ml bottles of either Carmel’s Sha’al Vineyard Late Harvest Gewürztraminer, or Yarden’s Heightswine)

1 750 ml bottle of Cognac

½-1 cup of 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 to the punch bowl, then pour in the all five bottles of wine and ½ cup of simple syrup. Stir and taste. Add additional simple syrup as necessary.

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 a 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.

As sugar dissolves slowly in cold liquids, it’s best to use a simple sugar syrup in punches. I like to make my simple syrup with demerara sugar (Florida Crystals brand demerara sugar is certified kosher for Passover), a type of dark raw sugar that adds a bit of complexity to the flavor of the syrup; however white sugar will make a perfectly good simple syrup. To make simple syrup, pour a cup of sugar and a cup of water into a small saucepan and heat over a low flame, stirring until the sugar is fully dissolved.

Another crucial ingredient for cold punches, and one that is often overlooked, is ice. When making a cold 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 more quickly 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.

Two of the recipes call for Champagne, and with the current price of kosher Champagne, it is far too dear to use in punch. Some less expensive, viable, alternatives would include French Blanc dc Blancs, Israeli Bruts, Italian Proseccos and Spanish Cavas.  Always use the driest sparkling wine you can afford

Two of the recipes also call for Cognac. In the past few years, unfortunately, kosher Cognac has become harder to find, and a bit more expensive, making a Cognac-based kosher punch a bit of a luxury item. For making punch, one is going to want to use a young Cognac, such as Louis Royer VS, Dupuy VS or Montaigne ***. Israeli brandies, such as Carmel 777 would be a good, less expensive, alternative.

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