Recipe #7: Traditional Gluhwein and Spice Biscuits


When I was very young, we had the most ridiculous Christmasses. Every year, my family would fly to Switzerland. My grandparents would pick us up in a white Rover and drive us into the Alps, where we’d ski, build snowmen and ramble through the frost-sparkling woodlands. I was too young to drink, but nothing takes me back to those glorious days quite like the smell of hot spiced wine, or gluhwein. (Actually, the smell of snow works too, but it’s hard to find snow to smell in South Africa.)

Gluhwein has become quite popular in South Africa lately, but, as I discovered last Christmas, it’s still relatively unknown in California – which shows that in SA we are ahead of the curve in some things. This is my mother’s recipe for gluhwein, presumably passed down through generations of mountain-dwelling, snow-schussing Swiss ancestors. (The brandy is my own addition, however. There was a bottle in the cupboard that needed to be finished.)

Gluhwein recipe


  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 bottle red wine (3 cups, if you’re using box wine, which is what I did)
  • 2 tots of brandy (I used Oude Meester VSOB)
  • 2 lemons
  • 3 sticks of cinnamon
  • A handful of whole cloves
  • 2 teaspoons of mixed spice or 20 whole all spice

What to do

  • Put the water, sugar, cinnamon and mixed/all spice in a pot and heat for about 5 minutes until it reaches boiling point.
  • Meanwhile, slice the lemons and stud the slices with cloves.


  • Take the pot off the heat, add the lemon slices and leave to stand for about half an hour. (You can make the biscuits in that time.)
  • Add the wine and heat very slowly until just before boiling point.
  • Serve with a ladle in heat-resistant glasses with handles or stems. You can choose to strain before serving, but I don’t bother.
  • This recipe only makes about 6 to 8 servings, so I’d double it if there are more than 2 or 3 of you.


Cunning plan

Refrigerate leftovers overnight and serve chilled as cocktails, with one part soda water, one part gluhwein and plenty of ice. Yum!

The hot version is perfect for chilly nights, but the cold version is terrific on sunny afternoons!

The hot version is perfect for chilly nights, but the cold version is terrific on sunny afternoons!

Food pairing suggestion


When I asked my mother what’s best to serve with gluhwein, she suggested spiced ginger biscuits and promised to send me her recipe for those too. Five minutes later, she realised that it was buried in boxes in the garage, so she’s spending all weekend looking for it. In the meantime, I went ahead and invented one.

Spice biscuits recipe


  • 1 cup sugar (brown or white, it doesn’t matter)
  • 1 cup self-raising flour
  • A chunk of butter (maybe around 1/2 or 1/3 cup? I can’t say for sure, I just plonked some in)
  • 1 egg yolk (save the white for an omelette or something)
  • 1 teaspoon mixed spice
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • Some raw almonds

What to do

  • Preheat the oven to 180 C
  • Put the sugar and butter in a bowl together. If the butter is hard, nuke it for a few seconds until it’s soft enough to blend with the sugar till it’s creamy.
  • Add the egg yolk and mix and then add the flour, spices and bicarb. Mix thorougly and squish together to form stiff little dough balls. Make them as small as possible – just large enough to put one almond on top of.
  • Bake for 15 minutes and leave to cool before serving.

You have to make them tiny to start with because they spread out quite a lot.

Dishes dirtied:

  • 1 pot
  • 1 chopping board
  • 1 knife
  • 2 wooden spoons
  • 1 cup measure
  • 1 bowl
  • 1 baking tray

Time taken:

  • Gluhwein: 10 minutes to make, 30 minutes for syrup to stand
  • Biscuits: 10 minutes to make, 15 minutes to bake