If you are looking for an interesting beverage for your Halloween party, gentle reader, or indeed any evening when the air is chilly, allow me to suggest a Catalan concoction which is not only extremely tasty, but also very festive. Along the Costa Brava in Catalonia, fishermen gathered around the fire on the beach in the evenings came up with a rather strong brew called a “rom cremat”, which literally means “burnt rum”, but is more commonly simply referred to as a “cremat”. Dating from the 19th century when Catalonia was heavily involved with business dealings in Cuba, the drink was easy to prepare outdoors, warming, and potent enough to lubricate the vocal cords for the singing of sea shanties known as “habeneres” after La Habana – which are usually about immigration to Cuba, pretty girls left behind in port, adventures during the Spanish-American War, and so on.
The cremat is a mixture of rum, espresso, cinnamon, sugar, lemon peel, and coffee beans, at minimum, although there are optional additions such as brandy (which I add), aguardiente, and so on. The preparation is fairly straightforward, but involves setting the drink on fire for a considerable length of time; culturally speaking, this is in keeping with the Catalans having a thing for pyromania. Naturally, dear reader, this would make a very fitting and impressive display for your Halloween party. Just make sure to do this outside, away from anything flammable, and keep an eye on it with a garden hose or bucket of water handy.
Below follows a pretty basic recipe that I particularly favor. Those interested in the variations available should be able to find numerous English-language versions of how to make cremat on the internet. NOTE: when choosing the alcohol for the dish, do not get the top shelf stuff; this is a burnt drink, so you want a high alcohol content, and any subtleties of flavor in the unadulterated liquids will be completely lost during the burning process.
– 1 bottle of dark rum
– 1 bottle of brandy
– 1/2 cup of espresso
– 1/2 cup granulated sugar (to taste)
– 3 cinnamon sticks
– the peel of 1-2 lemons
– 6-8 coffee beans (optional)
BE SURE TO DO THIS OUTDOORS!!! BE SAFE!!!
Add everything EXCEPT the espresso into a shallow earthenware casserole dish (you can also use a stockpot or Dutch oven if it is flameproof and not coated with a non-stick material), and warm it on top of the stove until the mixture is fairly warm, like bath water temperature. You need to do this or the sugar will not melt and the liquor will not ignite. Taste the mixture and add some more sugar to taste, if you wish.
Now take the dish off the stove, take it outside, and set the mixture alight. You may need to use several long matches or a long kitchen lighter to get it going. Do NOT leave the mixture unattended. EVER.
Purists believe you should allow the mixture to burn for 10 minutes: no more, no less. This allows the flavors to develop through caramelization. You may stir from time to time if you wish, but use a metal spoon or spatula with a long handle to keep you away from the flames.
Practically speaking, apart from the 10-minute rule, when the mixture has reduced in volume about 1/3 to 1/2 it is ready to serve. Put out the flame quickly by smothering it with a metal saucepan lid or, if you have big lungs for it like I do, just blow out the flame. Then add in the espresso, stir, and ladle the finished drink into cups.