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Holiday Entertaining: Bowled Over

There's no better way to bring a crowd together than by setting a fragrant punch -- spicy and spiked, hot or cold -- in the middle of the party.

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Punch it up: (Left to right) Aleutia's Harvest Punch, the Gramercy Tavern's Pineapple Punch, and the Gramercy Tavern's Autumn Punch.  

Is punch too prom-night to serve your urban-sophisticate party guests? Not according to Nick Mautone, Gramercy Tavern's resident mixologist, who's likely to break out a ladle or two at his own holiday bashes. "It's a subliminal way to get everyone in the mood the moment they walk through the door," he says. The punch bowl exerts some kind of magnetic pull on partygoers, who cluster around to serve themselves and each other, sparing you the trouble of mixing drinks or hiring a bartender. The six recipes we snared from some of New York's top chefs and bar masters are concocted from home-steeped liquors, zesty spices, and fresh fruit juices. Whether an innovative riff on a holiday classic, like Fressen's gingersnap milk punch (think eggnog, minus the egg), or a seductively intoxicating inspiration like Aleutia's minty, tea-infused vodka punch, these libations will turn any gathering into a high-spirited soirée. Mautone finds the perfect balance of bitter and sweet by combining sherry with candied grapefruit rinds. Petrossian's updated Bloody Mary substitutes intense tomato water for juice. And Aquavit's glögg, the hot, spiced, and spiked wine found in every Scandinavian home at holiday time, is an aromatic winter mainstay that should catch on here. "You want to give your guests something homemade," says Aquavit chef Marcus Samuelsson. "That's the whole gift and essence of the holidays."

Pineapple Punch
NICK MAUTONE
GRAMERCY TAVERN
Yields 10 to 12 drinks.

1 ripe pineapple
6 to 8 ounces confectioners' sugar, depending on the sweetness of the pineapple
2 cups apricot brandy
2 bottles sparkling wine

Peel, core, and finely chop the pineapple, place in a bowl, and stir in the sugar until combined. Set aside, covered, in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.

Pour the apricot brandy over the fruit and steep until needed. (The mixture will last approximately 2 weeks in the refrigerator.)

When ready to serve, place the pineapple mixture in a punch bowl, and top with the sparkling wine. Stir thoroughly and serve well chilled in champagne glasses.

Tips: A quart of pineapple juice, poured into a small container and frozen, makes an excellent ice cube for the punch bowl.

Make individual servings by filling a champagne glass halfway with the pineapple mixture and topping with sparkling wine.

For a nonalcoholic version, use peach or apricot nectar instead of the apricot brandy, and replace the sparkling wine with ginger ale.

Autumn Punch
NICK MAUTONE
GRAMERCY TAVERN
Yields 12 to 15 drinks.

Candied grapefruit:
2 cups sugar
12 pieces whole star anise (optional)
2 grapefruit
Punch:

2 cups freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
2 bottles sparkling wine
1 cup Pedro Ximénez sherry (available at Union Square Wines, 33 Union Square West)

Candied grapefruit: In a nonreactive saucepan, mix 3 cups water, the sugar, and 2 pieces of star anise. Boil the mixture for about 2 to 5 minutes to form a thick syrup. While it boils, peel the grapefruit, keeping the rind in larger pieces, such as quarters, and leaving the white pith on the rind.

Blanch the rind in boiling water for 30 seconds, shock in cold water, and repeat twice, to remove the bitterness. Add the blanched rinds to the syrup mixture, and simmer over low heat for up to 3 hours or until the rinds are consistent in color and the syrup has turned golden. The rinds should be tender and easily pierced and should have a sweet-and-tart flavor.

Punch: Julienne all the candied grapefruit, reserving about a quarter to garnish the champagne glasses, and place the remaining candied grapefruit and the syrup in the punch bowl.

Pour in the grapefruit juice, the sparkling wine, and the sherry. Stir gently until mixed. (If you like it sweeter, add more sherry to taste.) Top with remaining star anise. Place several strips of the grapefruit rind in the bottom of champagne glasses and top with punch.

Glögg
MARCUS SAMUELSSON
AQUAVIT
Yields 6 to 8 drinks.

1/2 teaspoon crushed cardamom seeds
2 cinnamon sticks
6 cloves
3-inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
Zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup vodka
1 750-ml. bottle red wine
1 cup sugar
Raisins and blanched almonds for garnish

Crush the cardamom and cinnamon, and place them in a glass jar along with the cloves, ginger, and orange zest. Add the vodka, cap the jar, and set aside to steep for 24 to 48 hours at room temperature.

Strain the vodka and discard the spices. Put the red wine and spiced vodka in a large saucepan, add the sugar, cover, and place over medium-low heat for a few minutes until the sugar dissolves. Do not boil. Serve warm, with raisins and almonds for guests to add to their drinks as desired.

Harvest Punch
JULIE REINER
ALEUTIA
Yields 12 drinks.

3 cups tea infused with Stolichnaya Ohranj (recipe below)
1 and a 1/2 cups mint sugar syrup (recipe below)
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup pineapple juice
Garnish:
3 oranges, sliced thin
12 sprigs mint
Bowl of ice cubes

In a large punch bowl, mix tea-infused vodka with mint syrup and juices. Gradually stir in 3 cups water. Garnish bowl with orange slices and sprigs of mint. Add a few ice cubes to each glass before ladling in the punch.

Tea-Infused Vodka
1 liter Stolichnaya Ohranj
2 large iced-tea bags filled with Hawaiian tea, or 8 tablespoons loose tea leaves (available from the T Salon Emporium, 11 East 20th Street)
Submerge the bottle of vodka in hot water for 10 minutes.

Pour the vodka into a pitcher, and add the tea to the vodka. Allow to steep for 45 minutes or until the vodka darkens. Remove the tea bags or strain to remove the tea leaves, and funnel the vodka back into the bottle.

Mint Syrup
25 fresh mint leaves
1 cup white sugar

In a small saucepan, add the mint leaves to 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low for 2 minutes. Strain, and discard leaves. Add the sugar to the mint water, and allow the sugar to dissolve.

Gingersnap Milk Punch
JERRI BANKS
FRESSEN
Yields 8 to 12 drinks.

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup of grated fresh ginger
2 cinnamon sticks, broken up
3 to 4 whole cloves
1 gallon milk

Combine the sugar with 1 cup water in a small saucepan, and heat until sugar has dissolved. Add the grated ginger, cinnamon sticks, and cloves and remove from heat. Set aside to steep for 4 hours at room temperature. Add the syrup and the spices to the milk, and refrigerate for 2 to 6 hours to develop flavors. Strain, and serve cold or very gently warmed. (Do not allow the milk to get near a boil.) Serve in a wide-mouth cookie jar or punch bowl surrounded by gingersnaps.

For an adult version, add candied-ginger vodka (recipe below) or rum.

Candied-Ginger Vodka
1 pound candied ginger
1 liter vodka
1 week to 2 weeks ahead: Steep the candied ginger in the vodka in a large covered container.
Day of the party: Pour the vodka through a fine strainer and discard the candied ginger. Return the vodka to a bottle and refrigerate. (May also be served over ice cream.)

Tomato and Pepper-Vodka Punch
DAVID CUNNINGHAM
PETROSSIAN

4 celery stalks with the leaves
5 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons white-wine Worcestershire sauce
1 750-ml. bottle pepper vodka
Garnish: 1 pint tiny cherry tomatoes (if tomatoes are large, cut them in half)

Remove the leaves from the celery. Chop the leaves coarsely, setting them aside, and cut the stalks into 1-inch pieces. Put the tomatoes, celery stalks, garlic, salt, sugar, and white-wine Worcestershire sauce in a blender, and process until all the ingredients are liquefied. Transfer to a saucepan, and bring to a simmer.

Line a sieve with a double layer of cheesecloth and strain the tomato liquid. Discard the vegetable solids and chill the reserved tomato water in a covered jug.

Set the pepper vodka in the freezer to chill. Fill an ice-cube tray with some of the tomato water and place in the freezer. When the cubes begin to freeze around the edges but are still liquid in the middle, place a few of the chopped celery leaves in the center of each to garnish. Continue to freeze until solid.

Mix one part chilled pepper vodka and two parts tomato water in a punch bowl (proportions may be adjusted to taste). Just before serving, add the ice cubes and cherry tomatoes and mix. Vodka may be served on the side so guests can adjust the mixture, especially as the evening progresses and the melting ice dilutes the punch.

  • FOOD STYLING BY ALISON ATTENBOROUGH; PROP STYLING BY PHILIPPABRATHWAITE.
  • BOWLS AND TALL PITCHER FROM THE TERENCE CONRAN SHOP
  • PUNCH GLASSES FROM CRATE & BARREL; TABLE FROM TROY.
  • CUPS FROM CRATE & BARREL; PITCHER FROM CALVIN KLEIN.
  • TALL GLASSES FROM TAKASHIMAYA; FROSTED VOTIVE HOLDER FROM THE MOMADESIGN STORE
  • DECANTER FROM THE TERENCE CONRAN SHOP; DECANTER FROM BANANA REPUBLIC;GLASS AND CREAMER FROM AD HOC; LUCITE TABLE FROM TROY.


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