This cranberry-cinnamon punch can be made with or without the alcohol

Special to The Washington PostDecember 26, 2013 

THE WASHINGTON POST

Punch is a drink of celebration. Its very presentation brings people close: Guests gather around the sacred pool of the punch bowl, extend their cups and — assuming you’ve mixed it well — plead Dickensianly for more.

Author David Wondrich, who followed up his award-winning “Imbibe!” with the copiously researched and occasionally hilarious “Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl,” said the drink most likely came ashore with English and Dutch sailors returning from their exploits in various colonies around the early 1600s.

Whatever the ingredients in a punch, whether citrus, sugar, water and/or booze, keep in mind that balance and dilution are key. Wondrich says a punch should have about the alcohol content of sherry: roughly 16 to 22 percent.

Common mistakes? Too much spice.

This recipe requires a bit of prep — you brew a spiced cranberry syrup in advance of the final punchmaking, It has the colors and flavors of the holiday season.

You’ll need a punch bowl. Small ice cubes melt fast, so for punches that may be sitting out at a party for a while, a big block of ice is a good option. You can make one in the freezer at home: Fill a bowl, an empty ice cream carton or a Tupperware dish with warm water. Freeze it overnight in advance of the party.

For a nonalcoholic punch option, make extra syrup and use it to flavor seltzer.

Make ahead: You’ll have leftover syrup, which can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.

ON THE FIRST DAY OF CHRISTMAS THIS PUNCH CAME TO ME

14 to 16 servings

For the syrup:

3 cups sugar

3 cups water

1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries

Peel (no pith) of 1 ruby red grapefruit

2 teaspoons peeled, grated ginger root

1 cinnamon stick (3 inches)

For the punch

2 cups syrup (see above note concerning alcohol)

2 cups pink grapefruit juice

2 cups (16 ounces) Fords gin (may substitute other London dry gin)

1/4 cup fresh cranberries, for garnish

8 dashes Angostura bitters

8 dashes Fee Brothers grapefruit bitters

3 sprigs rosemary

1 large block ice, for serving (see note above)

2 cups (16 ounces) sparkling wine

For the syrup: Combine the sugar, water, cranberries, grapefruit peel, ginger and cinnamon stick in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; cover and cook for about 20 minutes, until the sugar has dissolved, the cranberries have burst and the mixture has thickened a bit. Remove from the heat.

Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a large container or 750-milliliter bottle, pressing on the solids to extract as much syrup as possible. Discard the solids. The yield is a scant 4 cups. Cool, then refrigerate until ready to use.

For the punch: Combine 2 cups of the syrup, the grapefruit juice, gin and cranberries in a punch bowl. Add the two types of bitters.

Clap the rosemary between your palms to release its aroma, then add it to the punch bowl. Stir to incorporate, then carefully add the block of ice. Allow the flavors to meld for 15 minutes, then add the sparkling wine just before serving.

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