This ready-to-make cognac punch kicks off Thanksgiving festivities

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This Thanksgiving, I’m punching. Yeah, okay, I also make turkey and pies, but I’m mostly excited about the punch, especially for what it stands for: a comeback to meeting the people I love. Punch means feast, and for the past few years, our Thanksgiving has been a feast of four, including two children, barely enough for a festive libation bowl to be shared.

Punch is, of course, the ultimate hostess hack. It can be prepped, bundled to serve a crowd, and makes a great icebreaker if your gathering needs it. And while it might not be as American as apple pie, punch has a very long history in this country (and for decades before in the Old World; even Charles Dickens was a fan).

Although I am an enthusiastic punch consumer, I am no expert in its making. The punches of my youth were Sprite and cranberry juice deals, with a jar of sherbet added, gradually melting into a frothy raft. The so-called punches from my college days involved lemonade powder and vodka and were mixed in the plastic recycling bins given to each student. I do not recommend either. Age has taught me a lot of things, especially when to ask for help. So I contacted my friend Jon Gasparini, a cocktail magician who has owned bars in San Francisco, including Rye and 15 Romolo, for over 20 years.

We agreed on a punch with a cognac backbone. French brandy, made from distilled white wine and aged in oak barrels for at least two years, has a woody, spicy flavor that seems seasonal. Because here it is combined with other ingredients, rather than sipped directly, you also don’t need to buy the more expensive brandy; a VS (at least two years old) or a VSOP (at least four years old) will work just fine, and popular brands like Hennessy and Courvoisier are easy to find.

Apricot liqueur was Gasparini’s suggestion, and it enhances the punch, giving it a luminous floral quality; he notes that if you can’t find – or don’t want to buy – apricot liqueur, you can use apricot jam diluted with hot water. All the punches are balanced by acidity and sweetness – here they take the form of freshly squeezed lemon juice and apple juice. The optional addition of sparkling wine to the punch shortens its shelf life, but I think that makes it particularly festive; add if you wish.

As for the container, now is the time to take out the punch bowl, if you have one. Alternatively, the punch can be mixed and served in a pot, large mixing bowl – even a plastic recycling bin. To keep it cool, I freeze some water in a quarter-sized bowl, then unmold the half-dome in the punch (heat the bottom of the bowl to make it easier to unmold). Keep the toppings simple – lemon slices and a few cinnamon sticks are all you need.

Neither too strong nor too sweet, a good punch sets the tone for a party, a generous libation in advance that says, in cocktail language, what we want to say to people we love: I am so glad you’re here.

Jessica Battilana is a freelance writer and author of “Directory: All The Recipes You Need”. Instagram: @jbattilana Email: food@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @jbattilana

Cognac punch

Makes 12-14 drinks

1 (750 ml) bottle of cognac, cold

12½ ounces of apple juice, cold

ounces of freshly squeezed lemon juice, cold

ounces of apricot liqueur, cold

½ ounce of Angostura bitters

Lemon wheels and cinnamon sticks, for garnish

Instructions: In a punch bowl, combine cognac, apple and lemon juices, apricot liqueur and bitters and toss to combine. Add the ice, then pour the sparkling wine, if desired, and garnish with lemon slices and cinnamon sticks.

Cognac punch for one

2 ounces of cognac, cold

1 ounce of apple juice, cold

½ ounce of apricot liqueur, cold

½ ounce of lemon juice, cold

½ bar spoon (or 1 full dropper) Angostura bitters

Sparkling wine, to top off the glass (optional)

Lemon wheel, for garnish

Instructions: In a mixing glass, add all the ingredients, fill with ice cubes, close and shake vigorously. Strain into a 10-ounce glass filled with chilled ice, garnish with sparkling wine, if using, and garnish with a lemon wedge.



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