Almost nothing elicits stronger opinions than eggnog, with views ranging from “gross” to “like angels roller-skating on my tongue.” (The first quote is from a friend. The second quote is all my own, just so you know where I stand on the subject.)
Like many treats enjoyed around the holidays, eggnog is a centuries-old invention. It likely originated with posset, a hot drink of milk mixed with ale and spices thought to relieve symptoms of the common cold. By the 13th century, monks, those progenitors of many delicious culinary creations, were drinking posset with eggs and figs. In the 1700s, the English drink crossed to Colonial America and rum was added to the mix. George Washington was famously fond of nog, and created his own recipe, featuring a quart of cream, a quart of milk, an unspecified quantity of eggs (though likely a dozen) and a whopping 2¼ pints of rum, brandy, whiskey and sherry.
There are also eggnog-type beverages in other cultures, like Mexican rompope (with ground almonds or other nuts) and Puerto Rican coquito (with coconut milk). Although rum is featured in many classic eggnog recipes, other spirits such as cognac, sherry, bourbon, whiskey or amaretto work just as well. Eggnog is an easygoing, add-your-favorite-tipple kind of drink.
I’ve drunk gallons of eggnog in my life, but I’ve only had homemade eggnog once, at a Christmas party in the early ’90s. The hostess was well-known for her talents in the kitchen and her legendary spiked nog did not disappoint. It occupied pride of place on the table, a frothy, nutmeg-sprinkled lake next to a mountain of chocolate rumballs. I poured many ladles of the concoction into my cup over the course of the evening and felt very merry indeed.
I’ve never forgotten that eggnog and this year, I’d like to try my own hand at nog-making. Because I know I can’t precisely re-create the Nog of Christmas Past, I’ve developed my own recipe for nog-induced joy. It’s a nonalcoholic nog but it does feature my favorite nog partner, coffee. You can skip the coffee in favor of the booze of your choice, or you can go for the gusto and add both coffee and liquor for a veritable Hallelujah chorus of flavors. I’ve made a small batch for this article, but the recipe can easily be doubled for a larger crowd.
Next, let’s talk about eggs. Martha Stewart’s eggnog, for example, features raw eggs, but comes with a warning about dastardly pathogens. My mother’s recipe for “Mount Vernon Eggnog” calls for 12 raw eggs. However, I strenuously advise against that risky route. George Washington might have had intestines of steel but you might not.
For my coffee eggnog, I was able to cook the yolks without scrambling them, but I was not so successful with the whites. To be safe, I recommend using 1 cup of pasteurized liquid whites instead. You can also use whole pasteurized eggs, but before you go searching, you should know that I called many local grocery stores and had no luck. It might be easier to find whole pasteurized chickens. (Note to local chickens: Calm down. I’m just joking.)
Separate 6 egg yolks from the whites. Beat the yolks until they’re thick, then gradually beat in ½ cup sugar, ¼ cup honey, 1 teaspoon vanilla, ½ teaspoon almond extract and ¼ teaspoon nutmeg.
Heat 3 cups of milk and a couple dashes of salt to a low simmer. Traditional recipes rely on whole milk, but since richer versions of this drink can weigh in at 400 calories a cup, I would not look askance at a lesser percentage of milk fat. (I used 1 percent in my nog. That surely knocked off about 12 calories.) Pour the milk slowly into the yolks. Pour the yolk-and-milk mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat for at least five minutes, long enough to thicken it slightly but not so long that it becomes pudding (but on the upside, pudding!). For coffee-flavored eggnog, add a heaping tablespoon of instant coffee and stir until the crystals are dissolved. Let it cool to room temperature.
Whip 1 cup heavy cream to a light froth but don’t let it thicken. Stir into the cooled yolk-and-milk mixture. If you want a more, ahem, festive eggnog, stir in ½ to 3/4 cup of bourbon, whiskey, rum or amaretto. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.
Before serving, beat 1 cup of pasteurized liquid egg whites on high speed with a hand mixer until very soft peaks form. You’ll have to whip them longer than unpasteurized whites, but it can be done. Fold them into the nog, sprinkle with extra nutmeg and be very merry indeed.