Feuerzangenbowle isn’t just punch, it is an event. Immortalised by a 1944 film of the same title, this mulled wine is served with a rum-soaked sugarloaf which is set on fire, dripping melting sugar (and some rum) into the concoction. A popular alternative to mulled wine, it’s a great way to round off a Christmas or New Year’s party – once the kids are in bed.
The film was made as part of the war effort, one of the last desperate efforts to keep German people upbeat despite heavy losses on all sides. Released in 1944, it is set in a nostalgic past, a pre-war high school, which the protagonist, a successful playwright, visits, disguised as a school boy, to make up for the fact that he had been educated by private tutors. Clearly he is not there for any educational enlightenment, but to create mayhem amongst the stuffy and old-fashioned teaching staff. The humour is very much in the vein of the ‘Carry On’ films, laugh-out-loud rather than deep and meaningful. From a cultural or historical perspective, however, I find it interesting to see how moviegoers in 1944 were encouraged to forget about the hardships around them and indulge themselves in the silly antics of the schoolboys – I would have expected heroic Aryans successfully attacking random enemies and thereby improving morale. One of the interesting anecdotes that surrounds the film is that they kept prolonging the filming to spare many of the young actors the trip to the front – another sign, perhaps, that people were very aware that they were fighting a losing battle.
The film starts and finishes at a party in which this punch is served: perched on a pair of fire-tongs, a cone-shaped sugarloaf (the way sugar was sold up until the 20th century), soaked with some potent rum, is set alight. In the strange light of the burning alcohol the plan for the school visit is hatched. To replicate the drink, you’ll need rum of at least 54% ABV, which is not easy to come by unless you happen to visit Austria, where Stroh-Rum (80% ABV, that’s 120 proof for my readers from across the pond) is openly available. I did get hold of some 57% stuff – legally, I hasten to add.
The second challenge is to get hold of a classic sugarloaf, like the one on the picture here; and something to suspend it on – you can get a metal ‘fire tong’ for this purpose. As students we used a pile of sugar lumps on a flat grater, which looked less impressive but tasted just as nice. The advantage of the smaller lumps is that you can adjust the quantities: with a whole sugar loaf, this is a bit more complicated and usually involves a saw.
Once you have managed to get hold of all the hardware, assembling the punch is easy, starting with a classic Glühwein base.
Feuerzangenbowle – Fire-tong Punch (makes 2.5l and serves at least 8)
Heat up 2 bottles of red wine (not too cheap, otherwise the next day will be agony) over a medium heat. Add the juice and zest of 1 orange, the juice and zest of 1 lemon, 2 cinnamon sticks, 4 star aniseed and 4 whole cloves, but make sure it only heats up nicely – you don’t want it to boil!
In a separate pot, heat up 300ml rum (54% or higher), with a ladle to pour it over the burning sugarloaf. Never use the bottle, unless you are looking for a dramatic solution for your monobrow.
Place the pot with the heated wine over a réchaud (if you have one), put the fire-tongs and your sugar loaf in place and get your matches out.
Pour a little of the warm rum over the sugar and let it soak in; repeat, then light the sugar with your matches. Keep at it – you might have to re-light it a few times – until the sugar is completely melted.