Monday, December 5, 2016

Gluhwein: A taste of Bavarian Christmas

The crowd gathered for the Lighting Ceremony
Last weekend, I went to Leavensworth, WA with my family. It was a very well planned strategic move from me and my daughter, aimed at the true-blue homebodies- my husband and son. In order to drag them out anywhere, it takes a great deal of tact, energy and an innate resistance to overpowering charm and puppy eyes.
Now, Leavensworth was worth all that effort. It is a charming small city in Chelan county in Washington state. The entire town is designed after a Bavarian village with quaint barn-style roofs and cobblestone sidewalks and murals depicting the countryside and culture on walls. It is pleasant and charming year round but we were told that this town was magical during the Christmas season. Besides, it was the 50th Annual Christmas Lighting Ceremony. Friends who visited there, assured us all these combined, it would be extra-magical! (They also know I am a sucker for magic and magical things. Haha!)
And guess what? It was! The smiling faces, the food, the cheer in the air, the views and the was magical. We ate Bratwurst and Sauerkraut, snacked on roasted chestnuts and once the temperatures dropped, we had a delicious mulled wine called Gluhwein with huge, sweet cookies.
The Lights. It is so much better in person!

Now the wine got me. I have made mulled cider in the past but this potent wine was like putting on a soft, warm sweater made from the finest pashmina. It warmed us up, right from the toetips to our scalps, as we waited out in the cold for the official lighting ceremony to start.
My husband described the taste of the wine as full-bodied and flavoured like an "arishtam" or an ayurvedic tonic, with distinct notes of whole spices. Since we both loved it so much, I had to come home and make it before my memory of it faded. Not to mention the Gretchen, one of the very friendly event workers there who took a liking to me after I told her about my food experiments, and gave me a recipe to get me started.

Mulling the wine. I used a Zinfandel. 

"People dont cook daily anymore. They dont realize their kids have no smells to come home to or to remember special days. We as kids could smell the air as we walked inside and say what our Mom was cooking and for what occasion", she reminisced. 
I agreed. I wonder about these things too. But that is for another post.
Coming to the recipe, this is very simple to make but can really make a great impression on whomever you serve it to. From my personal experience, any wine can be bettered by making it mulled. And the last tip: serve it warm. But if you have leftovers, they taste so yummy at room temperature too.
So here goes the recipe to Gluhwein:
(serves 4 responsible adults)

Peel of 1 orange (Rinse and gently scrub away first in warm water to get rid of any pesticide residue or protective wax on it)
20 cloves
4 sticks of cinnamon
5 whole pods of cardamom
1 tsp of freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup of packed brown sugar
750 ml of your favorite dry red wine
1/2 cup brandy or Kirsch
In a enamel pot (avoid steel, aluminum or unseasoned cast iron) heat the brown sugar, nutmeg and the whole spices in wine.
Ensure the mixture doesn't boil. It needs to simmer gently. Stir occasionally. Do it for 30 minutes. Then let it cool on the stove-top and steep for a couple hours for a minimum of 3 hours.
Right before serving, reheat, filter and stir in the brandy or Kirsch. Divide into glasses and sip away and you might experience a tiny bit of the magic we felt on that beautiful winter day at Leavensworth. 
My home-made version of Gluhwein.

Serve it with a nice warm cookie on the side or like us,  a slice of plum-cake.