Yet another “polar vortex” sweeping the Midwest is giving me a chance to write a post that I thought would have to wait until next winter. I meant to write it before Christmas, but then life got in between. So I relish this chance that Mother Nature has provided me with. Why could I only write this post in utter cold? Because of tradition…but let me begin:
If you type “Feuerzangenbowle” into Google, you will find a gazillion of hits for this term. Other bloggers, like John The Food and Wine Hedonist and Julian of Vino in Love, have written about it before, so I want to keep the intro part rather short. Feuerzangenbowle, usually translated as “Fire Tongue Punch”, is a German winter tradition. Most English-speakers are familiar with “Glühwein” aka mulled wine, and Feuerzangenbowle is an extension of mulled wine.
I never knew it existed until I entered University. One late November evening, my friends and I were talked into attending a screening of the movie with the same title. It’s a very ambivalent movie: It was shot and aired in 1944, a feel good movie to keep the German population distracted from the War, with one of Germany’s most popular actors Heinz Rühmann. It is set in the early 1900s and basically tells the story of an adult man going back to school in order to experience what school feels like. This in the day and age when German high school was pretty much the equivalent of American college…the movie is funny, and has become a classic. Why is it named Feuerzangenbowle? Because the idea to go back to school developed over an annual meeting of some older guys who love to reminisce about their school days while drinking the punch…you can read more about the movie on Wikipedia here.
Even without the movie, making Feuerzangenbowle is fun, and it is great to share with others. You need only a few ingredients, some of which are hard to get in the US: You need a bowl of mulled wine; alcohol (preferably rum) of over 100 proof; a fire tongue; and a sugar cone. While mulled wine and rum are easy to find, a fire tongue and a sugar cone are actually pretty hard to get. When we made it before Christmas, we borrowed the set that John owns which comes with a fire tongue which looks like this:
The other ingredient is the “sugar hat” or “sugar loaf”, which fits exactly on the fire tongue. It was the standard shape in which sugar was sold in Germany for the first half of the 20th century, and since the punch originated then it became the standard shape for Feuerzangenbowle. It looks like this:
But fear not, when I recreated Feuerzangenbowle in late December in Alaska, I had neither a fire tongue nor a sugar cone. Trust me, it is doable without these, so that should not stop you! Like I said, it is visually quite stunning and very tasty. The way it works is that the sugar sits on the tongue on top of the mulled wine. It gets drained with rum, then you light the sugar on fire. As the alcohol burns off, it melts the sugar which drips into the mulled wine. It seriously looks like Northern Lights when the flames drip into the wine. Keep adding rum to the sugar to keep it burning (watch out for the flames might go up higher than anticipated!), and don’t be shy. Some will burn off, the remainder will just make the punch better! :) Once the sugar is melted, just take off the tongue and start serving the mulled wine in cups.
This is what it looked like when John made it in 2012:
I replaced the tongue with a cooling rack for baked goods and made my own sugar cone. It wasn’t cone shaped, but rather shaped like the bowl I made it in, but it was ridiculously easy to make: I just combined a cup of sugar with four spoons of water for each 3 quarts of wine I had. Once the sugar is combined with water, set it aside and let it dry out over night. If your environment is too humid, you can put it in the oven at a low temperature (150 degrees or so) to dry it out quicker. Just don’t let the sugar glaze. And there you have your lump of sugar you need.
My mulled wine recipe is fairly simple: Combine a box of Franzia Zinfandel with 8 sticks of cinnamon, three oranges and three lemons cut in wheels, and some vanilla aroma. Heat, but don’t let boil (it will ruin the flavor).
Put the cooling rack on top of the pot, set the sugar on top, turn off the light, drain in rum, light, and there you go. See? It’s really easy and now you have no more excuses not to try it because I told you how to proceed without a fire tongue and a sugar cone. Give it a try while the polar vortex is getting us. I promise, it warms you from the inside like nothing else. But beware, it can be quite potent….and this is what it ended up looking like in Alaska: