While the holidays may have lost some of the splendor of childhood (i.e. receiving dozens of gifts from your adoring family without the stress of reciprocating with anything better than school-made macaroni-and-paper tree ornaments), there is one aspect in which being an adult is preferable:
This is the sole time of year when one can drink spiked cider, glà ¼gg, mulled wine, hot buttered rum, Irish coffee, Champagne (or all of those things mixed together in the case of wassail) with impunity. And when you wake up after having passed out on the floor/in a strange bed/at work, you can simply shrug and trill, “holidays!” and no one will even consider having an intervention for you.
As a child, I always looked forward to the store-bought, virgin eggnog my parents would buy around the holidays. 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 I can do (almost) anything I want, I’ve learned that there are two ways to make eggnog even better:
- Make it yourself with freshly grated nutmeg, vanilla bean, organic Strauss dairy and Eatwell Farms eggs.
- Spike it heavily with brandy.
I followed a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated the first time I made my own eggnog, several years ago. 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 a crà ¨me anglaise, and preferred the mouthfeel of the cooked kind.
But I found Cook’s nog excessively eggy, at a proportion of 3 eggs and 1 yolk to 2 cups of dairy. The nog also tasted salty, and the flavor of the nutmeg muted and one-dimensional. I found a formula on Simply Recipes, a recipe blog run by Elise Bauer, which called for only egg yolks. I dislike having excess whites sitting around so I compromise, using 2 whole eggs and 2 yolks for 3 cups of dairy, in a sort of mash-up of the two recipes. I use the allspice berries that Elise calls for, and add vanilla bean to the hot milk for depth of flavor. Instead of heating the nutmeg with the milk, I find that adding it to the cold cream, as per Elise’s instruction, helps to better preserve its peppery-floral flavor.
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 raw, whipped egg whites or whipped cream into the final drink.
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-holidays!), turns this into a grown-up,after-dinner beverage.
And if someone catches you drinking this nog for breakfast, well, you know what to do.
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. If you lack vanilla bean, add 1/2 – 1 teaspoon vanilla extract to the finished nog. 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 160 º or above (the temperature at which any harmful bacteria are killed).
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. Remove from the heat, cover the pot and let infuse 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 it 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 165 º 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.