This year, I’m doing my best to get into the holiday spirit — or at least to curb my inner Grinch. I have resolved to stay away from those end-of-the-year triggers that traditionally set me on edge: the malls, the peppermint lattes, and those supermarket-side bell-ringers whose infernal tintinnabulations plague my shopping.* And I’ve decided instead to embrace those customs that actually do inspire cheer.
So I’m making my list (and checking it twice). I’m baking desserty treats filled with warm winter spices. I’m listening to Jethro Tull’s “Ring Out, Solstice Bells” (beware, video!). And I’m mixing up experimental batches of eggnog.
Yes, I said eggnog.
In former years, I fear that I’ve given eggnog short shrift. I fear it has gone in my lump-of-coal category, along with Celestial Seasoning’s Gingerbread Spice Tea and Satan’s (Santa’s?) own baleful, brimstone breath. It’s been a surefire Grinch trigger. But in previous years, I’ve always envisioned eggnog as a beverage that comes on grocery stores’ refrigerated end-caps, sporting insipidly cheerful red-and-green packaging that is meant to conceal some kind of highly processed, slightly sludgy, Christmas-spiced glue. Soylent gray, perhaps?
What’s changed this year is that I’ve been making the eggnog myself. And homemade eggnog is another thing entirely. It is a Christmas tradition that should be relished, not spurned. It’s cause for ho-ho-ho-ing and hark-the-herald-angels-singing. No heaving or horking anywhere in sight.
But then — I shouldn’t be surprised. Real eggnog is, after all, an honest-to-goodness, no-doubt-about-it health food. Just ask anybody who lived before the twentieth century. They’ll tell you.
In the 1895 edition of the Annals of Hygiene Miss Helen Louise Johnson writes that eggnog is a therapeutic beverage for treating all kinds of ills. It works wonders where a person needs considerable nourishment, and no less where a patient needs a stimulant. And to bring down a fever, cold eggnog is very desirable.
While in the December 24, 1898 edition of the Cincinnati Lancet-Clinic, Dr. Edmund C. Brush of Zanesville, Ohio says that it makes excellent fare for feeding the injured:
Granting that the patient is past the shock, and that the stomach has in a measure regained its tone … eggnog or egg beaten up raw with milk, without any liquor, are palatable preparations.
Now — I wouldn’t recommend ever drinking eggnog without the liquor. But then, neither would Dr. Brush. Not really. He goes on to say that it can be omitted, but that it needn’t. And that whiskey — sensible doctor that he is — can indeed be therapeutic, too.
Which brings me to this week’s recipe: therapeutic whiskey. Er — um — eggnog.
Eggnog is actually really simple to make at home. Basically, it’s a drinkable custard, like a slightly thinner version of creme anglaise. Any stovetop custard, cooled, with brandy or bourbon added would make a perfectly serviceable — and even delicious — eggnog. And that’s more or less what this is. With one significant addition.
The difference in this recipe is that I tell you to separate your eggs, beat your egg-whites to medium peaks, and then whisk the foam back into the beverage. What that does is modify the texture of the eggnog such that it is at once both richer and lighter, and such that — when it is ladled into glasses — it gains a nice foamy head.
The trade-off, of course, is that with this recipe, you get a certain amount of raw egg in your drink. But it’s not like I haven’t instructed you to eat raw eggs before. If you use fresh eggs and are not immunocompromised, there’s really not that much danger. And there’s a considerable measure of whiskey, anyway, to kill off any stray germs.
So if you’re looking for a little bit of homemade Christmas cheer, or if you’re looking to bring down a fever, or if you’re looking for some great pap with which to nurse your wounded relative back to health — look no further. This eggnog is Twice Cooked tested, and (apparently) doctor approved. So you know it’s got to be good.
3 Eggs, separated + 1 Egg Yolk
2 cups Whole Milk
1/2 cup Bourbon or Brandy (I like the bourbon)
1/3 – 1/2 cup Heavy Whipping Cream
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp Granulated Sugar (generous)
2 tsp Vanilla
1/4 tsp Ground Nutmeg (generous)
1/4 tsp Ground Allspice
In a small bowl or Pyrex pitcher, beat your egg yolks. Combine the milk and cream, nutmeg and allspice, and a quarter of a cup of sugar in a saucepan over a low-medium flame, and allow the mixture to heat until it starts to steam. When the dairy is steaming, pour about a third of it into the yolks while whisking vigorously to temper. And then pour / scrape the whole thing back into the saucepan.
Cook, whisking continuously, until the mixture thickens such that it coats the back of a spoon. Then remove from the heat, pour through a strainer into another bowl or pitcher, and chill for at least an hour in the refrigerator.
While your custard is chilling, whip the egg whites in a separate (meticulously clean) bowl, preferably using an electric beater. When the whites are foamy, add the last two tablespoons of sugar, then continue whipping until they form medium peaks.
When your custard is cold, it’s time to make the eggnog. Add the custard, the booze, and the vanilla to a pitcher, and mix well. Then whisk the egg whites in thoroughly.
Serve your eggnog in festive mugs or wine glasses, topped with a light sprinkle of ground nutmeg. If there’s enough left over for a second round, make sure to stir it before you pour. The liquor will settle to the bottom.
This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled for holiday gatherings. But I wouldn’t recommend making more than you can drink in one night. I doubt that it would keep very well in the fridge.
* If you’re interested in why I object to the bell-ringers — and to the Salvation Army more generally — check out this post over at My Sex Professor by my brilliant and conscientious friend Jeana.