Despite being 100% of the tribe, I grew up with a Christmas tree firmly implanted in our living room every December. And while we’d dutifully light the Chanukah candles eight nights in a row, Christmas was the ‘real holiday’ in my mind, as that was the day when I received all the best presents; not just wooden tops, foil-wrapped waxy chocolate coins, and small tokens of affection, but stuff I actually wanted.
While Christmas may have lost the glory of childhood (i.e. receiving dozens of gifts from your entire adoring family without the stress of reciprocating with anything better than school-made macaroni-and-paper tree ornaments), there is one aspect of the holidaze in which being an adult is preferable: boozy beverages. This is the one time of year when one can drink spiked cider, wassail, glügg, mulled wine, hot buttered rum, Irish coffees, and anything else you can get your lushy mitts on with impunity. Isn’t that what the holidays are really about?
I quite enjoyed eggnog as a kid, and really, what isn’t to like? Essentially melted ice cream flavored generously with nutmeg, it goes down easy, and I recall even being allowed to drink it for breakfast. Now that’s a holiday tradition I can get behind.
For our pastry school holiday party several years ago,though the culinary students got to have it at their party earlier in the day,Tante Marie unfairly wouldn’t permit us champagne. As I considered this unacceptable, I devised a clever plan and asked my teacher, Claire, if I could make eggnog for the party. She happily agreed under the condition that I spike it heavily.
I used Cook’s recipe that first time, and remember it being wonderful. Eggnog is traditionally made with uncooked eggs, but the thought of drinking raw eggs gives many folks (myself included) the heebee jeebees. Cook’s tested versions with both uncooked and cooked eggs (made similarly to ice cream base or crème anglaise), and preferred the mouthfeel of the cooked kind.
When I went to make it this year, though, I found it overly eggy, at 3 eggs and 1 yolk to 2 cups of dairy. The nog also tasted overly salty, and the flavor of the nutmeg too muted and one-dimensional. I found a formula from Simply Recipes which called for yolks only, but since I have issues using up excess whites, I compromised, using 2 whole eggs and 2 yolks for 3 cups of dairy, in a sort of mash-up of the two recipes. I used the allspice berries that Elise called for, and added vanilla bean to the hot milk for depth of flavor. Instead of heating the nutmeg with the milk, I added it to the cold cream, as per Elise’s instruction (which seemed to preserve its peppery-floral flavor better).
Whipping the eggs, yolks and sugar to a thick foam before adding the hot dairy not only helps the nog cook faster, it also creates a velvety mouthfeel, without having to fold in whipped whites (raw – yucky) or whipped cream to the final drink. If you get your milk hot enough (just below a simmer) you may not even have to cook the custard at all if the mixture reaches 160º or above.
A tipple of brandy, which I found blended better with the flavors of the nog than did dark rum or whiskey (yes, I tried them all – it was rough), turns this into grown-up after dinner beverage. A nutmeggy gold rum, such as Four-Square, would be another good choice, and then you can impress your friends by calling it Rompope, which is the Mexican version of eggnog.
With its judicious sweetness and light, creamy texture, you could even enjoy this drink for breakfast; it is the holidays, after all. And you likely won’t have to ask your parents’ permission. Whether you try this beverage spiked or virgin, for breakfast or dessert, American or Mexican-style, I hope it will become a favorite tradition; more so even than macaroni Christmas tree ornaments. Or dradels.
One year ago:
Makes 1 generous quart, 6-8 servings
Be sure to use freshly grated nutmeg here; it has a much more vibrant flavor than the pre-ground stuff. To measure, grate onto a creased piece of paper, then slide it into the measuring spoon.If you must use pre-ground, try reducing the amount to 3/4 teaspoon.
2 cups whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
10 whole allspice berries, lightly crushed
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
2 eggs, at room temperature
2 egg yolks, at room temperature
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup brandy or gold rum
extra nutmeg, for grating over the top
In a large saucepan, combine the milk, vanilla pod and scrapings, and allspice. Heat over a medium flame, swirling occasionally, until bubbles form around the sides and the milk is steaming. Cover and steep for 20 – 30 minutes.
Place the heavy cream and nutmeg in a large bowl or measuring cup and place a fine-mesh sieve over the top.
In another large bowl, vigorously beat together the eggs, yolks, sugar and salt with a sturdy wire whisk until thickened and pale, 3 – 5 minutes (this is easier the warmer the eggs are, and doing so helps the nog cook faster, and gives it a thicker, more voluptuous mouthfeel). When the milk has finished steeping, heat it again until steaming, then slowly dribble into the eggs, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the pot and cook over medium-low, stirring constantly with a heat-proof rubber spatula, until the mixture reaches 165º on an instant-read thermometer, 3 – 5 minutes. (Or, if your milk was hot enough, you may not need to cook it at all.) Immediately strain into the heavy cream.
Chill the mixture over an ice bath until cold, then stir in the brandy and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least an hour.
To serve, pour into small glasses, and grate a bit of fresh nutmeg over the top. The eggnog will keep in the refrigerator for 3 or 4 days.