If you're planning to host holiday parties this season, you really need a beverage option that not only guarantees holiday spirit, but is relatively easy (and affordable) to prepare and comes with a built-in floor show.
I've been mixing variations of a Flaming Holiday Punch (known in some circles as "English Bishop") every December for years now. The base recipe is from Esquire's Handbook for Hosts, from 1949, which is nice on its own but quite open to improvisation. The ingredients are a cinch: a bottle of aged rum (something with a little body and character to it—Appleton Extra is good here, as are Matusalem Gran Reserva, Mount Gay Eclipse or Cockspur—warmed in a hot-water bath to avoid any unpleasantness that could come with hot flammables on a stovetop), poured into a punch bowl over baked oranges studded with cloves. Toss in a little sugar and some holiday spice, turn down the lights before you apply a match to the hot liquid (careful!) and conversation is pretty much guaranteed to stop.
In addition to the ooh-and-aah factor, the flames play a couple more roles in the punch: first, they flare the cloves, orange oil and other spices, creating a fragrance that could be bottled and sold as "Essence of Yuletide," and they also knock down the alcohol level of the punch somewhat, so the potency isn't too overpowering for the more occasional drinkers. To douse the flames (and make the punch more palatable), simply pour in some warmed apple cider, then serve.
To convert the English Bishop into a Farmer's Bishop, simply substitute apple brandy for the rum (an excellent alternative, I say from experience). You can also twiddle with the sweetener; use demerara sugar for a little richness, or swap out some of the sugar for maple syrup or allspice liqueur.
Last year just before Christmas, Boston bartender Josie Packard prepared this punch for Rachel Maddow's show on MSNBC. Josie's version added the fresh-squeezed juice from two oranges and two lemons to the cider, along with a little hot water to blunt the acidity of the fruit juice, and used equal parts brandy and rum for the liquor (she also squeezed orange peels over the flame for additional pyrotechnics and flavor—not at all bad idea).
- Yield:approximately 20
- Active time: 15 minutes
- Total time:45 minutes
- 6 small oranges
- approximately 1/2 cup whole cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 cup sugar, to taste
- 1 750ml bottle aged rum
- 1/2 gallon unfiltered apple cider
- 1 pint boiling water (optional, should you wish for further dilution)
Preheat oven to 350. Stud an orange with whole cloves by inserting the pointed end of the clove through the orange peel, pushing until only the bud protrudes. Repeat with remaining oranges; bake oranges until soft, about 30 minutes. Once the oranges have cooled slightly, place them in a heatproof punch bowl.
Warm the rum by placing the bottle in a pot of hot (not boiling) water for 10 minutes or so. While the rum warms, heat the cider in a large saucepan until steamy; pour into a pitcher and have ready for use.
Pour the rum into the punch bowl, and add sugar. Lower the lights.
Using a heatproof ladle, scoop a up a small amount of the rum. Holding the ladle away from the punch bowl (and your face, and the curtains, and the dog), light the scoop of rum using a kitchen match -- if necessary, add a little high-proof rum to aid in ignition.
Carefully drizzle the flaming rum into the punch bowl, which should ignite the rest of the rum. Sprinkle pinches of the spices into the flames.
After a minute or two, or whenever you're tired of the spectacle, douse the flames by gently adding the hot cider (and hot water if using), stirring with the ladle as you go. The flames may not immediately go out, but keep stirring and as the alcohol is diluted, they'll soon flicker and die.
Serve in punch cups.