A holiday punch recipe with gin, citrus and a cloud of meringue

A holiday punch recipe with gin, citrus and a cloud of meringue

Winter Sunburst Punch

(Scott Suchman for The Washington Post/food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)

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With the turn of the calendar into December, we’re fully into the holiday season, an ideally joyful, but perpetually stressful time of year when social calendars tend to go berserk and shopping mall parking lots turn into a mixed martial arts bout, all while our rejuvenating supply of warmth and daylight dwindles and dwindles, darkening our moods and stealing our much-needed vitamin D supply.

This is not the time for a cocktail DJ to take requests and make each guest a bespoke drink. A crowd-pleasing punch is your most reliable winter wingman. This time of year, if we’re having people over, I’m either setting up a DIY bar so guests can manage their lubrication, or I’m making a punch.

The punch I wanted this year was something that would express — both visually and in flavor — that moment that’s — hark! — right on the horizon: the winter solstice. The shivery season up here in the Northern hemisphere is also the moment when, cold as it may be, we’re starting to climb back toward longer days and more sunlight. I wanted a punch that would taste like a break in the clouds when the sun comes through.

What I ended up with was a slightly more complex cousin to a Punch Romaine, an old recipe from the famed French chef Auguste Escoffier. That original rum and citrus concoction, served as a boozy sorbet, is best known for being part of the extravagant multicourse dinner served to first-class passengers aboard the Titanic on the night it sank, a palate cleanser between the Parmentier potatoes and the iceberg.

This version is gin-based instead, with a spectrum of citruses — from fresh juice and neon-orange Aperol, a bittersweet Italian orange liqueur — and floral and spice notes from Bénédictine. These liqueurs add not only sweetness, but more complexity of flavor to the punch, which you lengthen by adding a bottle of dry sparkling wine to add bubbles and keep the sweetness in check.

Once you’ve got the punch bowled and ready, to get an edible stand-in for those clouds for your sunny orange punch to break through, you top the bowl with a batch of floofy meringue (using egg whites if you’re comfortable with them, aquafaba if you’re not) scented with vanilla and Angostura bitters.

The foam serves as an adornment, but it’s also a soft bed for complementary garnishes, such as citrus wheels and fresh herbs and spices.

You want your topping to hold some shape, but still be swirly and creamy meringue that can be spooned in loopy swirls and spread across the surface of the punch, where you can use it as a blank page for garnishes. Anything you put on top of the meringue should be something that you would be content to flavor the punch if it sinks in. Think sage, rosemary, thyme, not cilantro, or any overly bitter greens. Pick spices that will contrast nicely with your citrus, liqueur and gin — juniper, allspice, cloves, star anise pods, grated nutmeg and cinnamon. And, of course, thinly sliced wheels of citrus for color and aroma.

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How elaborate you want to get probably depends on how much you trust your artistic skills. I got the best results when I treated the garnishes as a sort of bouquet that would “sprout” from one edge of the punch bowl or as a wreath that hugged its inner edge.

This punch makes for an excellent aperitif, but should you wish to lean into the Punch Romaine history, you could join the many who have attempted to re-create dishes from that last first-class meal served on the Titanic (far fewer, I suspect, have tried to whip up the gruel and “cabin biscuits” offered to the third-class passengers). If you want to go that way, you can instead present it as a slushy intermezzo during a meal: Set out cocktail coupes or sorbet bowls, with a dollop of lemon or orange sorbet and some crushed ice in each one, then ladle the punch and meringue on top and serve with a dessert spoon, bringing the drink closer to the sherbet-style presentation the tippling scions would have enjoyed at their tables.

For a festive holiday bowl, this pomegranate and citrus punch brings the merry

Such a presentation is adding lacquer to an already well-gilded lily. And one could argue that sticking with just presenting the punch as it is gets much closer to the realities of that evening anyway. With the meringue and garnishes swooning all over the top, it’s certainly just as fancy, and much more in keeping with a cheery solstice spirit.

For the gin, you can use a standard London dry style, or something more citrusy; we used a combination of regular Tanqueray and Tanqueray Flor de Sevilla, its orange-flavored iteration. Use a brut-style sparkling white or rosé wine. The meringue topping is optional — the punch is delicious without it — but the topping increases the fancy factor and provides a soft landing for garnishes, as well as the “clouds” for the sunny punch to shine through.

If you prefer not to use raw eggs, you can make a fluffy topping using aquafaba, the liquid from a can of chickpeas. Substitute 6 tablespoons of aquafaba for the 3 egg whites, add 1/8 teaspoon of cream of tartar and then follow the recipe directions, but extend the whipping time to about 10 minutes. To get the aquafaba, shake the can of beans, then open and strain the liquid through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth. You should have 1/2 to 3/4 cup. Unused aquafaba can be frozen for future use.

If you want to serve the drink in slushier form, you can also make the punch a day ahead of time and freeze it (in jars or bottles) overnight, transferring it to the fridge half an hour before service and shaking it up when you move it into the punch bowl.

Make Ahead: The punch bowl ice will need to be frozen the night before you plan on serving the punch. The punch can be prepared, without the meringue topping, and refrigerated up to 1 day in advance.

Storage: Refrigerate the punch base, without the meringue, for up to 2 days.

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  • 3 cups gin (see headnote)
  • 2 cups fresh orange juice (from about 6 oranges)
  • 1 cup fresh blood orange juice (from about 4 blood oranges)
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 4 lemons)
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 cup Bénédictine
  • 1/2 cup Aperol
  • 1/4 teaspoon Angostura bitters
  • One (750-milliliter) bottle chilled brut-style sparkling wine, such as champagne, prosecco or cava

For the meringue topping (optional)

  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 4 drops vanilla extract
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • Citrus wheels, star anise, allspice berries, sprigs of rosemary, sage and/or thyme, for garnish (optional)

Make the ice block: The night before you plan to serve the punch, fill a cereal bowl or food storage container with water and place it in the freezer.

Make the punch base: In a large bowl, stir together the gin, orange, blood orange and lemon juices, water, Bénédictine, Aperol and bitters until combined. Refrigerate or freeze (see headnote) until ready to serve.

Make the meringue topping: When you’re almost ready to serve the punch, in a medium-size bowl, combine the egg whites, lemon juice, bitters and vanilla and, using a handheld mixer on medium speed, beat until foamy and thickened, about 2 minutes. Stop the mixer, add the confectioners’ sugar and beat on medium-high speed until pale and creamy, about 2 minutes. The meringue should be not quite at the soft-peaks stage; the topping should be glossy and move like thick soup when you stir it — underwhipping is better than overwhipping here. (See headnote for making the meringue with aquafaba rather than egg whites.)

Add the block of ice to your punch bowl, then pour the chilled punch base over it. Gently pour in the sparkling wine and carefully stir to combine.

Ladle the whipped meringue over the punch, if using, spreading it gently across the surface like a cloud-cover, then garnish with the citrus wheels, herbs and spices. Serve, dipping in a swirling motion so that some of the meringue topping makes it into each cup.

Calories: 149; Total Fat: 0 g; Saturated Fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: mg; Sodium: 1 mg; Carbohydrates: 8 g; Dietary Fiber: 0 g; Sugar: 6 g; Protein: 0 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.

From Spirits columnist M. Carrie Allan.

Tested by Allan; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

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