There's so much commercially available eggnog around that it's easy to forget you can make a fresh, thick, sweet and flavorful batch at home. Homemade eggnog has the advantage of being fresher than store-bought varieties, and you have the extra bonus of the wonderful aroma of eggnog permeating your kitchen. Eggnog is one of the signature drinks of the holiday season, and whether you like yours with a bit of brandy or a nip of rum, a cold (or warm) cup of this seasonal favorite is sure to give you the holiday spirit.
Until the advent of the Colonial family farm, dairy products were the sole province of the wealthy, and if you're inclined to feel a little guilty about indulging in a rich cup of eggnog, just think of it as paying homage to the days when being well off in America meant having a pantry full of winter preserves, a cow and a few laying hens. When you're pouring your mug full, go whole hog and add a little alcoholic refreshment to bolster you up for the cold winter days ahead. Rum was a favorite in Colonial times, but you can also use sherry, port or brandy. A lavish dollop of whipped cream on top wouldn't be amiss either.
There are two traditional approaches to making eggnog. One uses raw eggs, and the other uses a custard base to thicken milk or cream. Both make fine eggnog. If you like the raw egg variety, just be sure to choose pasteurized eggs for the process. Pasteurized eggs look and cook just like regular eggs, but they've been heated to kill harmful bacteria. If you're planning on serving eggnog to children, people with immune deficiencies, women who are pregnant or the elderly, it's important to avoid using non-pasteurized raw eggs in your recipe.
Eggnog Tips and Tricks
Most eggnog recipes use similar ingredients: eggs, cream or milk, granulated sugar, vanilla (sometimes), and nutmeg. Because there are so few ingredients, it's important to make every one of them count:
- For the best eggnog, regardless of the recipe you're using, make sure that the eggs and milk are fresh.
- Adding cream makes a richer finished product, but you'll have to determine for yourself if the extra fat is worth it.
- The nutmeg is important, too. A sprinkle of prepackaged ground nutmeg won't give you the best results. Nutmeg loses its potency soon after grinding, so you'll get the best flavor and aroma if you buy whole nutmegs and grind them yourself. Once you've tried nutmeg this way, you'll never go back.
- Invest in some superfine sugar. Superfine sugar will be easier to incorporate into whipping cream or eggs, which will help give you a smooth, even texture.
- When you prepare eggnog, take the whisking part seriously. You want to create loft and fluffiness. With this in mind, it's better to make a couple of small batches as you need them, rather than one large batch.
- If you're cooking the eggs to create a custard base, be sure to choose a heavy saucepan or double boiler, and use low heat. Check the recipe for richness. You'll get a more satisfying custard if the recipe calls for egg yolks as well as whole eggs.
- Although many eggnog preparations incorporate alcohol as part of the recipe, you can usually leave it out. That way, your guests or family can add a little libation, or not, as they see fit.
When the frost is on the pumpkin, the winter wind is howling in the eaves or snow is thick on the ground, there's nothing like a nice mug or glass of eggnog to make you glad it's winter.