The most essential step isn't a brine or a gravy; it's a cocktail made for sharing that everyone can sip while you put the finishing touches on your feast. This batchable spiced punch will impress your guests before you even put out the cheese plate, and it's low enough in alcohol to keep the party going well after the pie's been served.
Since your stovetop will already be at capacity, make it easy on yourself and use a hot kettle to boil the water for your simple syrup. Then you can set the syrup aside to cool while you focus on prepping your other dishes, and when it's time to make the cocktail, it's as simple as throwing ingredients into a punch bowl.
Winter Spice Punch
Recipe from the Tasting Table Test Kitchen
Yield: 10 to 12 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes, plus cooling time
Cook Time: N/A
Total Time: 25 minutes
For the Winter Spice Simple Syrup:
1 whole star anise
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 cup raw sugar
1 cup water, just off the boil
For the Cocktail:
Two 750mL bottles pear cider (such as 2014 Poiré "Authentique," Bordelet)
½ bottle oloroso sherry
3 ounces winter spice simple syrup
1 ounce lemon juice
½ ounce fresh orange juice
8 dashes Angostura bitters
Peels from 1 orange
1 pear, thinly sliced lengthwise
1. Make the winter spice simple syrup: In a quart container, add the cinnamon, star anise, cloves and sugar. Add the hot water and stir with a fork until the sugar is dissolved. Set to the side for 20 to 30 minutes until completely cool, then strain off the liquid.
2. Make the cocktail: In a large punch bowl, add all of the liquids and gently stir to combine. Squeeze the oils from the orange peels before adding and float the pear slices on top. Ladle into ice-filled rocks glasses and serve.