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8 Christmas cocktail recipes from our favourite food writers

8 Christmas cocktail recipes from our favourite food writers

From the Baltics to Central Asia, here is our selection of cocktail recipes to add a boozy twist to this festive season.

29 December 2021

Birch syrup spritzer

Makes four

Birch trees and their bark have proven useful to the Baltics. Historically they have been used to make a number of things — roofing, canoes, fishing floats, baskets… the list goes on — but each spring the trunks of millions of these trees also fill up with sap, which can be tapped and drunk. Enjoyed fresh, it is delicious and refreshing enough, but when left to ferment for a few weeks, it develops a natural spritz. Widely renowned for both its detoxifying qualities and skincare benefits, the drink is quite possibly on the road to becoming the next kombucha – though as it is not yet available everywhere, I have recreated a version of it here using birch syrup, which can be bought at health food stores, or online. I like to add some lemon to make my spritzer even more refreshing, and the following gets close to mimicking the drink you would find tapped from the birch trees in spring.

1l carbonated mineral water

4 tsp birch syrup

2 tsp lemon juice

1 lemon, sliced into thin rounds

20g birch leaves, to garnish

Ice, to serve

Add all the ingredients, except the ice, to a carafe or large jug, and mix together with a long spoon. Pour over ice to serve.

From Baltic by Simon Bajada (Hardie Grant, £25) Photography: Simon Bajada.

Warm quince ‘toddy’ with white rum

Makes 400ml (approx. 25 servings)

The quince, or ‘northern lemon’, as it is referred to by some in the Baltics, is particularly cherished in the region, appearing as it does at the end of summer, once all the season’s berries have been exhausted, and offering up its unique flavour and wonderful possibilities for preserving. One of those possibilities is this delicious, versatile syrup – that I love simply because I love quince – which is excellent either transformed into a winter warmer, or served chilled in the heat of summer.

3 large quinces, approx. 1.2 kg

800g sugar

To serve (optional):

Carbonated or boiling water

Lemon slices

White rum

Sterilise a large glass jar by washing it thoroughly in hot soapy water, rinsing well, then putting it on a baking tray in a low oven (120°C) for 20 minutes. Leave to cool. Wash, core, and thinly slice the quince using a mandoline, a food processor fitted with the slice attachment, or a very sharp knife. Add a handful of the quince slices to the jar and top with 150g of sugar. Shake the jar so that the sugar falls into the gaps between the slices, then continue this process of filling up the jar until all the quince slices and sugar have been used. Seal with a lid and refrigerate for four days, occasionally giving the jar a shake or turning it upside down so that the sugar breaks down evenly.

After four days, pour the contents of the jar into a fine sieve set over a large bowl, pressing on the quince pieces with a fork, to extract as much liquid from them as possible. Reserving the quince pieces to make a spread, transfer the strained liquid to a clean jar or bottle, seal with a lid, and store in the refrigerator until needed (it will be good for one to two months). To serve chilled, add two to three teaspoons of the quince syrup to a glass and top it with carbonated water and a few slices of lemon. Alternatively, serve hot by stirring the same quantity of syrup through 250ml of boiling water, adding a nip of white rum too, if you like.

From Baltic by Simon Bajada (Hardie Grant, £25) Photography: Simon Bajada.

Porter liqueur

Makes 1x800ml bottle

In the mid-19th century, Lithuania was not only a healthy producer of beer but also of porter – a result of the introduction of low-fermentation yeast to the brewing process in the region. The Red Estate brewery was one of the largest producers of this porter and even had a store solely dedicated to its sale in Vilnius, which operated until it was nationalised during the Soviet occupation. Labelled as the ‘Baltic Porter’, the drink has little in common with an English porter other than its name. Being sweeter and more alcoholic, it is more similar to its Russian equivalent. This (strong!) beer cocktail was created at the same time as industrial porter brewing developed within the country, and brewers were learning how to make their original porter beer. Popular with the region’s home brewing enthusiasts, it’s an easy and unique drink to bring together. With its sweet coffee undertones, it rounds a meal nicely, and a nip added to a warm coffee does wonders.

300ml vodka

20g prunes, diced

2 tsp ground coffee

1l porter (dark beer or stout)

1 tbsp honey

Sterilise a glass bottle by washing it thoroughly in hot soapy water, rinsing well, then putting it on a baking tray in a low oven (120°C) for 20 minutes. Leave to cool. Add the vodka, prunes and coffee to the bottle. Seal with a cork or lid and leave to stand for one week, shaking on occasion. After a week, strain the liquid through a paper coffee filter into a heavy-based saucepan, discarding the solids. Add the porter to the pan, bring to a simmer and cook for eight to ten minutes, until reduced by half. Stir in the honey, remove from the heat, and leave to cool, then pour back into the bottle, seal, and leave to stand for one more week before serving.

From Baltic by Simon Bajada (Hardie Grant, £25) Photography: Simon Bajada.

Spiced Chocolate Martini

Makes one

50g dark chocolate

50ml single cream

Large pinch ground cinnamon plus extra to serve

100ml cardamom-infused vodka

For the cardamom-infused vodka, you want to add about five cardamom pods to a half litre bottle of vodka and allow them to infuse for about a week, turning the bottle once a day.

Place the chocolate in a heat proof bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. As soon as it’s melted, remove it from heat. In another bowl, pour in the cream, then slowly whisk in the melted chocolate. Add the cinnamon and allow to cool. Put some ice into a cocktail shaker or jar, add the chocolate cream and the vodka, and shake vigorously. Strain into a martini glass and sprinkle more cinnamon on top.

From Polska by Zuza Zak (Quadrille, £25). Photography: Laura Edwards.

Sbiten’ (spiced honey drink)

Makes six

This ancient quaff was once imbibed several times daily, as a tonic, especially in winter. Medicinal herbs like St. John’s-wort and fir tips were frequently added, either to soothe, or invigorate the system. Most often, this spiced honey drink is non-alcoholic, though it becomes Russia’s answer to glögg when the honey is simmered with brandy, beer, or wine. Hawkers with samovar-like urns slung over their shoulders used to ply Russia’s streets, offering passersby a bracing drink for only a few kopecks, but like other old-fashioned figures, these sbiten’ sellers disappeared after the Revolution. Now, happily, this drink is experiencing a revival, and sbiten’ tastes lovely even when sipped from a mug at home.

1.4l water

188ml pure mild honey

4cm knob of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

3 cinnamon sticks

8 whole black peppercorns

3 whole cloves

6 allspice berries

6 cardamom pods

1 tsp dried mint or lemon verbena

6 tbsp brandy

Lemon slices (optional)

In a medium saucepan bring all the ingredients except for the dried mint to boil. Immediately reduce the heat, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface. Add the dried mint and simmer the mixture for 15 minutes. Strain, add the brandy, and serve, with lemon slices to cut the sweetness, if desired.

From Beyond the North Wind: Russia in Recipes and Lore by Darra Goldstein (Ten Speed Press, £25). Photography: Darra Goldstein.

Tartas Winter Warmer or creamy mulled beer

Makes four

4 light beer cans

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp cloves

3 eggs, separated

Pinch of salt

2 tbsp soft, brown sugar

2 tbsp runny honey

1 tbsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp brandy (optional)

Put the beer, cinnamon, and cloves, into a pan, and place over a very gentle heat, stirring continuously. Once it’s warm (but not hot), cover it, remove from heat, and allow to infuse for about ten minutes. Whisk the egg whites with salt to stiff peaks. In another bowl, blend the yolks with the sugar until creamy. Add the honey and mix to combine.

Combine the whites with the yolk mixture, then start pouring this mixture into the warm beer. Stir continuously. Do not allow the mixture to get too hot, or you’ll get scrambled eggs in your beer. Once the eggs are fully incorporated, stir over a low heat for a couple of minutes. Add the vanilla extract and brandy right at the end and turn the heat off. Cover the pan and allow it to stand for a couple more minutes before serving.

From Polska by Zuza Zak (Quadrille, £25). Photography: Laura Edwards.

The Snowflake

Makes one

125 ml sparkling wine such as Cava or Prosecco

For the advocaat (egg liqueur):

300ml whole milk

1 vanilla pod, slit lengthways

5-6 egg yolks

200g caster sugar

300ml vodka

To make the advocaat, place the milk in a pan with the vanilla pod, and heat gently until it comes to the boil, then turn the heat off, and allow to cool completely. While it’s cooling, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until smooth and creamy. Pour the egg yolk mixture into the cool milk, whisking all the time. Add the vodka, whisk for another two minutes, then pour the mixture into a clean bottle and leave for five days. You can store this in the fridge for up to one month. To make the cocktail, pour a little of your homemade advocaat (about 25ml) into a champagne glass and top up with sparkling wine.

From Polska by Zuza Zak (Quadrille, £25). Photography: Laura Edwards.

Chingiz’s Apple Vanilla Vodka

Makes one litre

5 small apples such as Fiesta, peeled, cored and kept whole

2 dried pear halves

1l vodka

2 small drops (and no more) vanilla extract

Pack the apples into a tall glass jar (I use a Kilner). Drop in the pear halves, and pour over just shy of one litre of vodka, and finally add the vanilla extract. Seal and let it sit for at least a week, in a cool, dark place, where it will take on the flavour of the fruit. To serve (ideally at a party), pour 40–50ml/three table spoons of the vodka into a chilled glass. Remove the infused pear halves from the jar, and slice them into long strips to sit astride the top of the glass.

From Red Sands: Reportage and Recipes Through Central Asia From Hinterland to Heartland by Caroline Eden (Quadrille, £26). Photography: Ola O. Smit and Theodore Kaye

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