Ponche de Crème or Ponche Crème is a Trinbagonian take on the Caribbean cream liqueurs typically made during the Christmas season.
What separates it from other similar home-made concoctions like coquito or rum cream is the use of light Trinidadian rum and generous dashes of Angostura Aromatic Bitters.
Whether your preferred recipe is a modification of Alton Brown’s eggnog recipe or a family method passed down over generations, these three tips are guaranteed to make a more enjoyable Ponche de Crème this Christmas.
1) Use a Cask Strength Rum
Rum that’s bottled at cask strength has less water added to it than a spirit bottled at the typical industry standard of forty percent alcohol. Less water means that there are more flavor molecules in the liquid leading to a richer aroma and taste.
While Forres Park Puncheon clocks in with some serious fire power at seventy-five percent, this fierce spirit is not aged so it does not benefit from the positive changes that rum undergoes when placed in a bourbon barrel. In a sense, it has the fire but it does not have the smoke since it lacks the creamy notes that come from charred American oak.
There are currently no cask-strength Angostura rums available, but there are many suitable cask strength Trinidadian rums bottled by other companies.
For example, Compagnie des Indies has released a sixteen year old Trinidadian rum at 63% that rum blogger and member of the International Sugarcane Spirits jury Ivaar De Laat describes as very intense with notes of spice and engine oil. Velier Caroni 2000 is similar in terms of age, aroma, and proof but the liquid instead comes from the now defunct Caroni distillery rather than Angostura.
There is a large range of other long-aged, high-proof Caroni rums from Velier and others, but they are more expensive, harder to find and it would be something of a waste to use it in a Ponche de Crème.
The Scarlet Ibis is possibly the best option. It was commissioned for an award winning New York City bar and designed for cocktails. As an unfiltered blend of rum aged for just over three years, it has less of the heavier notes of the previous two rums. They’re still there, but instead of dominating, they form a symphony with an orange blossom aroma typical of Fernandes VAT 19. Scarlet Ibis is not a barrel proof rum but it’s bottled at a nice and potent forty nine percent alcohol by volume that more than satisfies.
2) Make it in Advance
Countless casual tastings always come to the conclusion that eggnog improves after it’s allowed to mellow for some time. It’s described as rounder, smoother, and far more complex when compared to un-aged versions. While some suggest leaving your eggnog at the back of your fridge for up to two years, as little as three weeks is enough time for the complexity to develop.
There is little consensus on the ideal amount of time for ageing eggnog, but three weeks seems to be the balance between getting more complexity and taking up fridge space.
Ponche Crème is simply a Trinidadian take on eggnog, so all of the benefits of ageing will automatically still apply.
3) Caramelize the Condensed Milk
Condensed milk can be caramelized by submerging the entire can in a vessel of water and bringing the entire thing to a boil on a stovetop. Doing this effectively turns the runny condensed milk to rich Dulce de Leche.
Not only does it become darker and thicker, but the flavor changes considerably. In addition to the hydrolysis that happens during caramelization, the occurrence of the Maillard Reaction causes both the sugar and milk to change in multiple and to an extent mysterious ways.
This little understood phenomenon is the foundation of cooking food, and is essentially a series of chemical reactions that significantly modifies the chemical structure of protein and sugar as a substance is heated. The more heat, the more reactions; but an hour on the stove is ideal.
These three tips don’t propose anything radical like a shot of espresso or some dashes of Angostura Cocoa Bitters, because while that would undoubtedly be delicious; It will not be authentic traditional Ponche a Crème.
What these tip instead do is to focus on quality ingredients and allowing them to better interact with each other. Cheers, and Happy Holidays!