For me, the best part of Chanukah is always having a crowd of people around to celebrate. I come from a large family, and I love to invite all of my friends over to enjoy the holiday. I’m a bit of an overzealous planner; I always envision myself cooking at least three different kind of latkes, plus numerous dips, spreads and other from-scratch bites. There was also that year where I made fresh jelly doughnuts on the spot and to order. (The doughnuts were awesome. The cleanup and the oil smell that was stuck in my clothing and furniture? Not so much.)
No matter how grand my plans are, something always falls by the wayside as the party approaches. I can plan my schedule out to the minute, but I’ll always run out of steam for something as the party draws near. That’s why I love making this punch. Everything happens ahead of time, and there’s almost no way to screw it up. It can be made up to a full day in advance, and it’s almost entirely hands-off. You’re only limited by your creativity with the spices and herbs you choose to include. You can even leave them out entirely and just stick the tea, if you want!
Here’s the method—feel free to mess around with it and experiment. The only rules are that every good punch needs something strong (alcohol), something sweet (sugar), something weak (tea) and something sour (lemon juice). Beyond that, it’s all about deciding what kind of ratios to use and what flavors you’re chasing. Here’s my favorite version:
Step 1: Peel three lemons and place the peels into a quart-size plastic container with one cup of sugar and mix well. Let that sit for at least an hour (or even overnight), shaking every so often to keep things mixing. Separately, juice the lemons and save the juice for later.
Step 2: After the sugar mixture has sat for at least an hour, brew four cups of tea using three teabags. At this point, you can add any whole spices you like, such as a handful of cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, star anise for a licorice flavor or even herbs such as rosemary and thyme. Add any of the spices to the sugar mixture; don’t worry about small pieces—you’ll strain this all later. Pour the hot tea into the sugar mixture, and stir well to dissolve the sugar. Add the lemon juice from earlier. Let that cool and then strain out the solids.
Step 3: Then add either a 750-milliliter bottle of dark rum (not spiced rum, just a good aged, dark rum) to the tea mixture or whiskey or brandy. You can put the entire thing into a big punch bowl with an ice ring if you have the space. I like to keep it simple and throw the entire thing into a large pitcher and pour each drink over ice just before serving.