Recipe review: Clarified Punch or “Cup of Stars” from A Gothic Cookbook

I woke suddenly, already knowing the creature was in the room before I saw her. I kept my eyes closed, heart thumping, as the door squeaked open quietly and yet somehow with the impact of an orchestra of foghorns. The orange lamplight glow on my eyelids flickered as the beast crossed the window towards my bedside…

The stench about her was reminiscent of a city on a hot day. She stopped. I heard her paw the ground and imagined twisted claws as sharp as knives tearing through the carpet. The mattress bowed as she heaved her stinking form beside me which was when I finally mustered the courage to open one eye: Matted hair, eyes and skin and teeth glowing in the moonlight. She lunged towards me, mouth in a gaping open howl of an O and an ink-black throat that swallowed my own scream and mingled it with her wail:

“I need a pooooo!”

Okay, so it’s not going to win gothic of the year. But a terrifying midnight waking from a squitty child (mine, I should specify), a few nights ago did at least provide me with a decent opening into today’s creepy post, which comes courtesy of the creators of A Gothic Cookbook – a fully illustrated collection of recipes from some of the finest gothic stories in literature.

I was given the opportunity to try out a recipe and jumped at the chance with more excitement than Dracula at an open window. But before I reveal which recipe and book, here are a few words from Ella Buchan, one of the creatives of A Gothic Cookbook.

What is A Gothic Cookbook all about?

A Gothic Cookbook is, first and foremost, a celebration of food in Gothic literature. It’s about highlighting how authors in the genre, from the Romantic era to contemporary novelists, write evocatively about food. They use it, to varying degrees, to heighten tension, spotlight inequalities, highlight oppression, create a queasy unease, portend doom, reignite memories (warm or terrifying), or to warn of a greedy, gluttonous, dangerous nature.

So what can we expect to see?

Each of 13 chapters focuses on a Gothic tale, from Dracula and Frankenstein to Beloved and The Haunting of Hill House, and discusses how food manifests itself in that story before presenting the reader with recipes inspired by the text. From Rosemary’s Baby, for example, the mousse with the “chalky undertaste” becomes individual Chalk & Chocolate Mousses, with the dark dessert topped with peaks of white chocolate mousse and a walnut. We’ve recreated the Paprika Hendl that Jonathan Harker loved so much he jotted a note to “get recipe for Mina”, and our Rebecca chapter has chicken in aspic (from the ball) and the entire, lavish afternoon tea spread served each day (at half past four) in Manderley.

How do you decide what to include?

Each recipe is either based on a dish mentioned or described in the book, inspired by ingredients and themes that dominate in the story, or has a tale to tell about the author (such as a vermicelli dish galvanised with a lively herb sauce, in homage to Mary Shelley’s tale of being inspired by an experiment that saw a piece of pasta begin to move…)

The book will also include drinks and cocktails, from a breakfast-worthy hot chocolate (Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber) to a tangerine sour based on the “bitter” segments that tried so hard to warn the second Mrs de Winter not to become the second Mrs de Winter.

We’ve also created a beautiful cocktail booklet exclusively available via the crowdfunding campaign, with libations such as this “Cup of Stars” cocktail – a nod to the famous passage in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. We chose a clarified rum punch because it has an interesting history, dating back to at least the 18th century, because it’s milk-based (like the drink the little girl loved to sip from her cup of stars), and because it’s just really delicious.

Don’t do it, Eleanor told the little girl; insist on your cup of stars; once they have trapped
you into being like everyone else you will never see your cup of stars again; don’t do it…

Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House
Design by Ounce of Style

So there you go: today’s experiment is Clarified Milk Punch, or “Cup of Stars”, inspired by The Haunting of Hill House. This recipe comes from the cocktail booklet which accompanies A Gothic Cookbook. Thank you Ella for letting me loose on your creation!

Clarified Milk Punch or Cup of Stars


4-5 green or white tea bags
200g sugar
Cinnamon stick and star anise (optional)
600ml just-boiled water
3 lemons, zest and juice
600ml rum
500ml whole milk


1. Add tea bags, sugar and spices (if using) to a medium mixing bowl or saucepan, pour over boiled water, stir, and steep for around 5-10 minutes. Fish out the tea bags and spices and add lemon zest and juice.

2. Add the rum and stir well.

3. Pour the milk into a separate, large bowl and pour the punch mixture into it, stirring well. It will curdle, as it should.

4. Leave for half an hour to 45 minutes and strain through a sieve lined with muslin cloth. This can take a while, so leave to one side and let it work its magic.

5. Strain again (through the same sieve) and repeat until beautifully clear. You can reserve the curd-like remnants for baking, mixing into cheesecake recipes, or spreading on crackers.

6. Pour into sterilised glass jars or bottles and seal tightly. The punch will keep well, unopened, in the fridge for around 2 months.

7. Serve over ice and garnished with a lemon twist, ideally in cups with stars at the bottom.

In the absence of a cup with stars on the bottom, I strew sugar stars around the plate. Bit of a mistake; the combination of milk bottle, straw and cake decorations made my 3-year old daughter think this was all for her.


This recipe makes enough for about ten servings and suggests that it should keep refrigerated, in unopened sterilised bottles, for about two months. In all honesty my husband and I made it four days into the suggested two month shelf life before we’d finished it all, such was our greed.

I used dark rum which meant my Cup of Stars was slightly more golden than it would have been if I’d used white rum, though I think either type would work well. I’ll also admit that I was too impatient to continue straining the drink until it was “beautifully clear” – I made three cycles through a muslin cloth before my impatience got the better of me, forcing me to settle on “coquettishly murky” rather than gorgeous and translucent. No matter; it still looked and tasted fantastic and after a day in the fridge the remaining cocktail had cleared to a perfectly clear straw coloured liquid.

I’m not normally a liquor fan, but this cocktail might just convert me. It was light and sweet with a refreshing lemony twist, but the rum still caught the back of my throat with its spicy, molasses-tinged heat. Beware: this might look like an innocent drink (especially if you opt to serve it in a cup with stars at the bottom!) but it packs a punch (insert your own pun about ‘seeing stars’ here.)

For more gloriously gothic recipes you need to check out A Gothic Cookbook. At the moment the book is in production, but you can bag yourself a copy – with optional extra goodies – by supporting the crowdfunder on Unbound here. And if that wasn’t good enough you can use the code GOTHSTAILS10 for 10% off pledges up to £100. The code will run until midnight on 19th August.

Oh – and you can also follow the team at A Gothic Cookbook on Twitter here to get your fix of Frankensteinian food and Drac-tastic (not a word) drinks!

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