This season, my inbox has been filled with all kinds of emails with similar subject lines saying, “Emergency! Delicious, easy Holiday Cocktail Please?!?!?!”
Well, friends, do I have the merriest cocktail recipe of all for you. It’s called the Sugar Plum, and it takes less than one minute to make if you have all of your ingredients chilled and handy.
The Sugar Plum came to fruition a few years back when I was visiting my dear friend Isis and her family for the holidays in Point Reyes, California. I was driving through the hills of Marin County on Christmas Eve and made a quick stop for prosecco. I filled my arms with as many bottles as I could carry, plus two very important, game-changing bottles of plum wine. Of course, I already had bitters in my overnight bag, so I knew I had the potential makings of something either very delicious or very, very weird.
I arrived to Isis’s house just in time to pop the bottles into the fridge, help polish the silverware, and witness an incredible roast coated in red peppercorns emerge from the oven – it was a vision! After dinner and a glass or two of red, and just before the dancing began, it was time to toast one another and the holidays and really begin to make merry. That’s when the Sugar Plum was born.
As it turns out, orange bitters, plum wine, and prosecco taste mind-bogglingly delicious together. I completed about 35 full cocktails in just 10 minutes with the help of a few friends who crafted tiny fresh thyme wreaths as toppers. The Sugar Plum has become something of a holiday tradition ever since.
This festive drink is a spin on the classic champagne cocktail, which is traditionally made with Angostura bitters, a sugar cube, and champagne. Older recipes call for a jigger of Cognac, but contemporary versions seldom include brandy and garnish with a twist of lemon or orange instead.
I prefer to use prosecco or a dry cava (Spanish sparkling wine) for cocktails and leave Champagne for the moments that require true Champagne goodness. And instead of using a sugar cube, I opt for plum wine as a sweetening agent, along with orange-flavored bitters for a lighter, less potent bite of spice.
Depending on the plum wine you choose, you can have a relatively dry or very sweet cocktail. I like Kiuchi Ume wine that’s not too sweet, has bright acidity, and offers a distinctive bread-like flavor that’s somewhere between brioche and herby buttermilk biscuits. Trust me, it’s delicious and unlike any other vermouth, cordial, or sweetening agent that I’ve encountered.
Make your tiny thyme garnish wreaths in advance and you’ll have even more time to hang out with your guests and enjoy the party. With no shaking, stirring, bar tins, or ice, you’ll wonder why you’ve ever done things differently.
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The Sugar Plum sparkling cocktail
1 ounce plum wine ( I <3 Kiuchi Ume)
3 dashes orange bitters
4 ounces prosecco
1 fresh thyme sprig (for mini-wreath garnish)
Make sure your plum wine and prosecco are fully chilled. Pour 1 ounce of plum wine into a champagne flute, add three dashes of orange bitters, and slowly add prosecco. Garnish with a tiny wreath of thyme and – cheers! – you’ve got a delicious and uniquely festive cocktail in your hand.
To make the mini-wreath:
Take a 4– or 5–sprig of fresh thyme and bend into a circle about the size of a nickel. Twist ends over one another to hold the shape in place. Admire how cute and tiny that wreath is then drop it into your glass!
Note: Each bottle of prosecco will yield about 6 cocktails.
Many thanks to Jill of Studio Choo East Florist for teaching me how to construct the real, full-sized wreaths in these photos.