The Spirits #71: Clarified Milk Punch
~ The Sighs of Nymphs ~ Aphra Behn's Parties ~ And If All Else Fails ~ Summer Sale ~
SUMMER SALE! I’m offering a full year subscription to the Cabinet for half price throughout the month of June. You can expect a flurry of exciting new posts as well as access to the full archive.
~ CLARIFIED MILK PUNCH ~
In a break with normal proceedings, I am going to do the introduction first and the instructions second, with copious illustrations. This one just requires a little explanation and encouragement too. Every time I look at the ingredients list, I think: “This can’t possibly work!” But it does work. Almost too well. It’s delicious. Like a silken slipper or the sighs of nymphs. Also, it’s fun to serve it to guests and make them guess what’s in it. Not many will hazard dark rum and milk - though a few wags might note the yellowish tinge and wonder if you’re serving them a urine sample (in which case the joke is on them; this is the sample of Aphrodite herself!)
The below is adapted from a 1711 recipe first recorded by the housewife Mary Rockett (she made it with brandy) though it is said to have been invented by the 17th century playwright, poet and spy, Aphra Behn. Many subsequent versions exist (sometimes known as English Milk Punch) but they are built on the same chemistry. The idea is to create an acidic punch (spirit, citrus, sugar, tea/water), deliberately curdle it with milk, then filter the whey through the curds to arrive at a transparent liquid with a silky smooth texture and an uncloyingly creamy taste. I have never managed to get it perfectly clear - it’s usually yellowish - but this could presumably be remedied by using green not black tea or possibly water (as per the original recipe), and maybe also a spirit with less age on it.
Anyway, this has fuelled a couple of parties of mine and I’m sure it would be a hit at any celebrations of hereditary monarchy that British readers may be attending this weekend. It keeps for a long time (that was the whole point of it back in the 18th century; it has a stable shelf life) so you may as well make loads of it. Ms. Rockett’s original recipe called for a whole gallon of brandy. Bottle some down for such time as you need reminding that magic really does exist.
🖊️I am Richard Godwin.
🧋My instructions for sugar syrup, ice, grenadine, orgeat, etc are here.
🧑🏫 My 10 RULES FOR MAKING COCKTAILS are here.
⚗️ All my recipes are built around just 12 bottles of alcohol; here.
📃 The full A-Z recipe archive is here.
➡️ Please find a round up of organisations helping Ukrainians here.
And you like The Spirits, do please forward this to your friends.
Below are the proportions I’d recommend for four people (with seconds). But I’d recommend you at least double them.
2 lemons (all the peel plus 50ml juice)
Spices (star anise, cinnamon, allspice, clove, coriander, cardamom all good)
300ml dark rum (or brandy)
250ml hot tea
250ml whole milk
You will also need, 2x saucepans, a sieve, a muslin cloth, and a pour-over coffee filter.
1. Remove the zest from the lemons with a vegetable peeler, taking care to get as little of the white pith as possible. (The Westmark Quick Peeler, pictured above, is second to none at this job!) Place them in the bottom of a saucepan with your 60g sugar (brown, golden or white, all good) plus whichever spices you are using. (Star anise is my absolute favourite in a punch). I happened to have a spare grapefruit around so I added some zest from that too.
2. Pound the sugar and spices into the peels. This is to create your oleo saccharum which is the key to all punches. You might apply a low heat as you do this but don’t let it caramelise too much.
3. Make a pot of tea (250ml). I used Taiwanese Golden Lily Milk oolong sourced by the Rare Tea Company. But you can use any tea really, green or black (oolong sits somewhere in the middle) or a herbal tisane. Earl Grey might be nice. Word of warning! This seems like the simplest task but it is so easy to forget the pot and overbrew the tea. Don’t be that person! Please also bear in mind (as no one ever does in Starbucks, Costa, etc) that green tea (unlike black tea) should be made with water some way off boiling point (80 degrees or so). I think this is the reason a lot of people think they don’t like green tea.
4) Strain the 250ml tea into the pan and add 300ml rum too (I used El Dorado 12). Now gently warm while stirring to dissolve all the lemon-sugar. Add the 50ml lemon juice too. Taste. Nice huh? If it isn’t, add a dash more sugar or whatever else you feel is required. (Orange liqueur, maraschino, cherry brandy, crème de pêche?)
5) Meanwhile, in another pan bring the 250ml milk to the boil.
6) Now the fun part. When the milk reaches boiling point - it will begin the froth up dramatically - tip it into the punch. It will curdle and look a bit like sick. Don’t worry. This is just the milk proteins bonding to the polyphenols in the rum and the tea. Turn off both hobs and let this mixture sit awhile (an hour is recommended) while you tidy up.
7) Now comes the straining stage. Set up a sieve over a clean saucepan and line it with a muslin cloth (if you purloin this from your sleeping baby’s drawer as I did, do make sure it’s clean; otherwise, a thinnish tea towel might do). Pour the curdled mixture into the straining device: the curds will filter out all of the tannins leaving you with a clear(ish) liquid. Be patient. It may take a while for the liquid to seep through. When you have done it once, do it again - the second strain is generally more effective. You might like to do a third strain through a coffee filter to remove the last bits of sediment.
8) If it’s for a party, serve out of a punch bowl or a jug, decorated with lemons, flowers, etc (be sure it’s optionally chilled though!) It’s a nice thing to bottle and to take to a party too. Either way, when it comes to serving all you really need is ice and strip of lemon.
I read, after making the above, that boiling the milk is unnecessary and gives less predictable results. Mrs Rockett’s recipe actually suggests making it all cold and then heating once curdled? Worth a try.
In a spirit of experimentation, I decided to make a clarified Champs-Elysées (50ml brandy, 10ml Green Chartreuse, 10ml sugar, 15ml lemon + 60ml milk). It curdled rather nicely; I passed this through a coffee filter and arrived at an utterly delicious drink. The point is: I reckon you could use the milk method to clarify just about any sour cocktail you desire. Strawberry Margaritas, Porn Star Martinis, Zombies, you name it. Report back please!
Kings and Queens and Dukes and Earls.
THIS PLAYLIST UPDATES AUTOMATICALLY EACH WEEK. The idea is, you download it and return to it each week in your Spotify. If there was an old song you’d like to hear again, you’ll find it RIGHT HERE in the ongoing archive of 2021 playlists.
WHAT I’VE BEEN READING
The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki (NY Times article on it here)
I am taking a week off from regular Spirits but I will be writing Cabinet posts on Falernum and hopefully Sherry for paid subscribers next week - so do consider taking up the generous offer below.
Your regular cocktail of the week will return on June 17th at 4pm BST. And for this, you should get in: dark rum, coconut milk, pineapple juice and orange or grapefruit juice.