Holiday Traditions | 'Wassail, Wassail, All Over the Town...'
Wassail (from the Middle English Waes thu hael, “Be thou hale [well]“): One word, two ways to enjoy a venerable holiday tradition! In the old days in the U.K. and Ireland, revelers would go “wassailing” at Christmastime — singing traditional holiday songs from house to house. Inside, the family of the house would have prepared a warming punch (a “wassail bowl”) to cheer the carolers at the door. Here’s a hearty version that my husband, who used to live in Ireland and went “a-wassailing” there on many a Christmas Eve, prepares every holiday season.
For more on wassail festivities and old English wassailing carols, including traditional favorites “Wassail, Wassail, All Over the Town” and “Here We Come A-Wassailing,” visit:
Holiday Wassail Bowl Recipe
Total time: about 35 minutes; Hands-on time: about 35 minutes
For the baked apples:
6 Granny Smith or other green baking apples
3 tablespoons butter, divided
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided
1/2 cup water
For the wassail:
12 12-ounce bottles brown ale (such as Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale or Newcastle Brown Ale), divided
2 teaspoons nutmeg
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon mace
6 allspice berries
4 cinnamon sticks
2 pounds granulated sugar
1 750ml bottle Madeira (or cream sherry)
1/2 cup cognac (or brandy)
12 eggs, whites and yolks separated
Note: This is a party recipe. If you’re planning a smaller celebration, halve the yield: Use just 3 or 4 apples, 6 bottles of ale, a half-bottle of Madeira, 1 pound of sugar, and 6 eggs. (You may leave the spice amounts as they are.)
Instructions to make Christmas Wassail Bowl
- First, prepare the apples. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Core apples. Pack 1/2 tablespoon butter and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon into each empty core. In a baking pan, stir water and remaining 1 teaspoon cinnamon together. Place apples upright in the pan and bake about 25 minutes. (Make sure they don’t get too soft and break apart in the pan.)
- While apples are baking, prepare the wassail. On the stovetop over low heat, pour 2 bottles ale into a 12-quart pot. As ale begins to warm, stir in spices. Increase heat to medium and add remaining ale, 2 bottles at a time, stirring as you go. Then add sugar, stirring as you pour. Increase heat to medium-high and stir in Madeira (or sherry).
- While wassail is heating, beat egg yolks and whites separately in two small mixing bowls; whites should be fairly stiff but not hard. When wassail is hot (but not boiling), pour beaten yolks into a large punch bowl; then fold whites in gently. Set aside for a moment.
- Now add cognac (or brandy) to the hot wassail (remember, don’t let it boil) and take it immediately off the stove. (Wait until the last moment to add the cognac, to prevent spirits from burning off and evaporating.)
- Ask a guest to help you with this next step. Pour hot wassail slowly into the punch bowl through the folded egg mixture, as your helper stirs the mixture, gently, in a circular motion. (Avoid rapid, choppy stirring, which will disrupt the smooth, creamy effect you’re going for.)
- Remove apples from oven; scoop up each one with a large spoon and float on top of the foaming brew. Ladle wassail (topped with frothy head) into sturdy ceramic mugs and serve hot.
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