Recently, I made a batch of Rum Hibiscus Milk Punch for a family get together. It was delicious (more on that later) and disappeared quickly. The making of it, however, was more of a production than I had anticipated. This was due largely to a filtering misstep on my part which led to several experiments focused on that particular stage. Why settle for just one messed up batch of punch when you can pinpoint the mistake and possibly screw it up a couple more times? All in in the interest of science of course. And, most importantly, the failure was primarily in the appearance of the final product. The taste between batches differed only slightly. This distinction was key and helped drive a series of subsequent batches. Which is to say my refrigerator has jars of cloudy but delicious punch which should keep for a couple of months.
There were three things I modified in an effort to save time. Two of them I think had minimal impact on the finished product. Those two involved infusion time and type of milk. For the infusion, rum and citrus peels need to sit together for 48 hours followed by an additional two hours with dried hibiscus leaves. The recipe for this punch came from Drink in Boston and I usually try and follow their specs as closely as possible. In this case however, I didn't have 48 hours. I've had good luck in the past using a whipped cream dispenser and the nitrogen cavitation technique (discussed here) for this sort of thing. That was the first deviation from the recipe and I don't think it affected the end product adversely. Though, to be fair, I didn't a/b it against one where such a shortcut wasn't employed.
Next up was the milk. Unpasteurized whole milk was specified as the preferred type but I had a gallon of regular whole milk on hand so I used that instead. For the second and third versions (I did say my refrigerator was full of this stuff, right?) I drove to a nearby farm and bought a container of raw milk. It's tough to say what effect this had on the finished product since the incredibly labor intensive filtering technique I used to clarify the first batch was not something I felt like pursuing further in the batches that followed.
The third thing I changed though was a doozy. This was where the train came off the tracks. I realize this now (and in fact realized it instantly), have berated myself sufficiently and will go through life eschewing any attempt at speeding up this step. Basically, I tried to hasten what turned out to be an effective filtering technique. This recipe involves adding hot milk to the punch which will cause the milk to curdle. Eventually, this gets poured through a fine strainer and the curds will collect along the strainer's interior walls acting as an additional filtration layer. What passes through should be clear.
I thought if I stepped the mixture through strainers of increasing fineness then each time I would remove slightly smaller particles and end up at the same place. Again, the flaw in this logic became apparent rather quickly. The curds broke apart into an incredibly fine consistency and resulted in a liquid that remained opaque regardless of the various filters I ran it through. It was an unpleasant development and one which may have been met with some cursing.
I cleaned up the mess I made with the Buchner funnel pictured above. This device uses a paper filter and a vacuum to remove fine particles and resulted in an incredibly clear product. With mixtures this cloudy however it happens to take FOREVER. I pre-strained the punch through a gold coffee filter before the Buchner funnel but even then it took about 12 hours to process the whole batch. Fortunately, it maintains a good vacuum so you can set it, forget it and replace/wash the filter every now and then.
After the initial wave of frustration subsided and I could see that the punch was salvageable I wondered what impact other types of filtering would have on this style of punch. A few years ago I made Mary Rockett's Milk Punch from David Wondrich's Punch. The style of punch was the same - hot milk is added, curdled, then strained. A cloth filter was recommended for filtering that one and I seemed to remember it coming out well.
Round two ensued. This time with unpasteurized whole milk.
This one was coming out pretty good. I reread the notes accompanying the recipe in the book and there were instructions to squeeze the fabric once the liquid had passed through to extract as much as possible from the curds. I did this and the punch became considerably cloudier. The fabric I used may not have been fine enough.
I should add that both this punch and the similarly filtered Mary Rockett's eventually settled and achieved significant improvements in clarity when left alone, in the refrigerator, for at least several days.
At this point I felt required to try a version following the Drink recipe as closely as possible. Now running low on a few supplies and practically swimming in punch I scaled this recipe back to make a smaller batch.
Ah hindsight. Turns out things were moving along fine until I got in the way.
You'd want a bigger strainer for a full-sized batch but the cocktail strainer used above did the job nicely for this smaller version.
As you can see in the picture above, the initial version which was passed through the Buchner funnel came out the clearest. The cloth filter method came out the most cloudy with the fine strainer method detailed in the original recipe falling somewhere in the middle.
Taste-wise all three versions were very similar. It may have been psychological but there were slight differences associated with the various degrees of clarity. The clearer ones tasted cleaner and more direct. A touch brighter as well. In all examples the cinnamon and cloves register in the aroma and provide a nice spicy depth to the citrus and rum. In addition to it's impact on the overall color of the punch, the hibiscus plays off the acidity of the lime with it's own tartness while also contributing a distinctly bright but slightly bitter quality. Milk punches made in this manner (adding hot milk then straining the curds) have a unique taste and texture. The milk softens the effect of the citrus and contributes a very pleasant, almost silky mouthfeel. This punch is a keeper. Best made, or at least filtered, with a little patience. It's worth the effort. Even if it turns out cloudy though, it's still pretty great.
Rum Hibiscus Milk Punch - John Gertsen, Drink, Boston
1 bottle (750 ml) White Rum
1 Orange - peel only
1 Lemon - peel only
1 Tbsp Dried Hibiscus Leaves
2 cups Simple Syrup (1:1)
1 cup Lime Juice
2 cups Fresh Whole Milk (preferably unpasteurized)
1/2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Ground Cloves
In a glass or ceramic bowl add rum to lemon and orange peels, cover tightly and let sit for 48 hours. Add hibiscus and infuse for an additional 2 hours.
Strain into 1 gallon container. Add simple syrup and stir. Then add lime juice and stir.
Heat milk to 180 degrees and add to rum mixture. Add cloves and cinnamon, stir and let sit for 30 minutes.
Slowly pour mixture through a fine strainer into a pitcher. When it slows to a drip place strainer over a glass pitcher and pour the contents of the first pitcher back into the strainer. The flow should be slow but clear.
Bottle and refrigerate for up to 8 weeks.