Put down that bloody mary. Say no to the mimosa. If you want to day-drink like an authentic Mardi Gras reveler, you need to start off the big day the way they do in the Big Easy — with creamy, boozy milk punch.
The classic New Orleans eye-opener is usually made with dairy (milk or cream), sweetener (simple syrup or powdered sugar) and alcohol (traditionally brandy, but also bourbon or rum). Add a grating of fresh nutmeg, and you’re ready to sip on a cocktail that’s at once incredibly simple in its milk-fed sweetness, but also deeply serious in terms of the punch that can be packed in such an unassuming package.
“It’s just the perfect breakfast cocktail,” New Orleans food celebrity and “Drag Queen Brunch” cookbook author Poppy Tooker told HuffPost. Tooker lives in a town where late-night celebrations can often extend well into the next day, especially during the Mardi Gras season. In New Orleans, a morning cocktail would never be considered out of place at a celebratory breakfast — and in this city, there’s always something to celebrate.
Calling it “a great choice for an entry-level cocktail,” Tooker said milk punch is great for first-time imbibers as well as inveterate tipplers. “I think the sugar content provides a lift to the system. It’s good for you! It’s so benign you don’t even think you’re drinking.”
Tooker prefers her eye-opener milk punch made with brandy. “I think that’s a little easier on your system first-thing than a shot of whisky, but whatever floats your boat,” she said. While other mixologists use simple syrup to sweeten the punch, she believes confectioner’s sugar provides more body and offers a foamier head. “Everyone should have a milk mustache on Mardi Gras morning.”
The night before Mardi Gras, Tooker whips up batches of her special recipe (see the recipe below) and funnels the milk punch back into half-gallon milk jugs. While people gather for parade-watching, she gives the jug a last-minute shake, then pours the frothy, foamy-headed concoction into cups. “Add in a few of my signature deviled eggs, made with butter instead of the traditional mayonnaise so they’ll keep at room temperature, and you’ve got yourself a breakfast of champions,” she said.
Tooker noted that Mardi Gras parade food and drink must be easy to make, serve and consume, since participants want to spend most of their Mardi Gras energy creating elaborate costumes instead of cooking up complicated food.
Tooker isn’t the only one who makes milk punch in New Orleans. Year-round, you can get frozen bourbon milk punch at Bourbon House, a French Quarter restaurant owned by Dickie Brennan & Co. But it’s only between Jan. 6 and Lundi Gras (the Monday before Mardi Gras) that you can order up a King Cake Bevvy (recipe below), whose name comes from the slang word for “beverage” that’s come to refer to any alcoholic drink.
“Ten years ago, we started thinking we wanted to create a seasonal Mardi Gras drink,” Bourbon House spokeswoman Wesley Noble told HuffPost. “Since king cake is something we only eat this time of year, we tried to recreate those flavors in what we call our ‘adult milkshake.’” She said there was quite a bit of tinkering needed to get the recipe just right. In a shift from the traditional brandy or bourbon, the culinary team opted instead for a local spirit. “We use Old New Orleans Amber Rum, which is made here in the city, right over on Frenchmen Street. The king cake flavors lend themselves beautifully to the rum.”
In the true Mardi Gras spirit, the drink even comes with a baby-shaped cocktail stirrer, a nod to the plastic baby that’s traditionally baked inside a king cake. “It’s an incredibly popular item on our drinks menu,” Noble said. “We estimate that we’ve sold more than 25,000 King Cake Bevvy cocktails since it was introduced in 2010.”
If you’re making the recipe at home, take Noble’s advice and use only top-quality vanilla ice cream. And while your cocktail will be delicious, it will lack what she calls the “ridiculously creamy” texture of the ones served at Bourbon House. “We put the ice cream base into a daiquiri machine, and that removes all the ice crystals,” she revealed. “But that’s OK — come to New Orleans and have one with us.”
Check out each of the aforementioned recipes below.
Poppy Tooker’s Milk Punch
1 cup (8 ounces) brandy or bourbon
2 1/4 cups half and half
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste
1. Mix all ingredients together in a blender. (Note: “Don’t overfill the blender, because it foams quite a lot and you don’t want a big mess on your hand right before you have to leave for the parade,” Tooker warned.)
2. Blend until frothy. If making the night before, pour through funnel into plastic milk jug and store in refrigerator. (Note: Be sure to mark the milk jug properly. One Mardi Gras morning, Tooker awoke to find a houseguest serving her children breakfast cereal topped with brandy milk punch.)
3. Right before serving, shake jug vigorously to reenergize the foam.
4. Sprinkle with nutmeg and serve, either straight or over ice, preferably while costumed magnificently, watching a parade from your own little patch of neutral ground.
Bourbon House’s King Cake Bevvy
1 cup vanilla ice cream
1 3/4 oz. rum
1/2 oz. cinnamon syrup
1/4 oz. orgeat (non-alcoholic, almond-based syrup
1/4 oz. orange juice
Powdered cinnamon (for garnish)
Tri-colored sugar in purple, green and gold (for garnish)
1. Blend ice cream, rum, cinnamon syrup, orgeat and orange juice in a blender until smooth.
2. Garnish with cinnamon and tri-colored sugar