Eggnog is one of the most evocative treats for this time of year, but almost nobody makes it from scratch these days. That’s a real shame: It takes very little time to prepare and actually improves with age, should you be disciplined enough to keep a container in the refrigerator for more than a few hours. Plus, the fresh, custardy flavor and light, satiny texture are a huge improvement over grocery store versions. Those often include high-fructose corn syrup and stabilizing additives and tend to be thick, heavy and cloyingly sweet.
The drink has its roots in an English posset (a very old restorative that consisted of hot spiced milk curdled with wine or ale and enriched with eggs), and its name may be derived in part from grog, the rum-and-water concoction introduced into the British Navy in 1740. During the 18th and 19th centuries, eggnog was among several similar drinks that were served in taverns throughout the year, but now it’s generally prepared in large quantities for holiday revelers.
I’ve tried many variations, but my go-to recipe is one I picked up during my years at Gourmet magazine. It is delicious with booze (bourbon and brandy) or without, especially when you seek out great-tasting eggs from a small-scale producer. Because the eggs are cooked instead of raw, you don’t have to worry about food safety issues. And although you can serve it after a few hours of chilling, it gets even better when the flavors have had a chance to intermingle for a day.
So here’s what I do. For 6 to 8 servings, 1. Bring 3 cups whole milk just to a boil in a heavy saucepan. 2. Meanwhile, whisk together 7 large eggs and 1 cup sugar in a large bowl. 3. Add the hot milk in a steady stream, whisking constantly. 4. Pour it all back into the pan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture is thickened slightly and an instant-read thermometer reads 165°, 6 to 7 minutes. 5. Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a (clean) large bowl. 6. Stir in 2 cups heavy cream, 1/3 cup bourbon, 1/3 cup cognac or other brandy, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, and ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg. 7. Let the eggnog cool completely, uncovered. 8. Then refrigerate until it’s very cold, at least 3 hours.
Before serving, transfer the eggnog to a pitcher and serve in small cups or glasses, sprinkled with a little more nutmeg.
In a perfect world, we all would have the time and energy to plan ahead and have a batch of eggnog ready and waiting in the fridge for an impromptu holiday get-together. But life being what it is, it’s a good idea to have a Plan B. My eggnog hack happened by accident years ago, when I left a pint of vanilla ice cream out on the kitchen counter so long it transformed itself into a cold sauce — wonderful on bread pudding, as it happened. And even though it won’t have as much of the eggy flavor you get in a traditional version, eggnog made with ice cream will still be rich and delicious as well as staggeringly simple. For 8 servings, you’ll need 3 pints of your favorite super-premium vanilla ice cream. Working with 1 pint at a time, microwave it until softened but still cold, about 1 minute at high power. Spoon the ice cream into a blender and add about ½ cup bourbon or rum and a little freshly grated nutmeg to taste. Blend until smooth and refrigerate until ready to serve.
This story was originally published in the November 2017 issue of northforker magazine