My father is a very clever man. Long ago, as a Christmas Eve was coming to a close and we were preparing to plate up our milk and cookie offering to Santa, my dad stopped us with a suggestion. Arguing that, because our name was near the end of the alphabet, we were going to be one of the last houses Santa visited. Therefore, the jolly old elf would be very cold and tired of milk. Instead, we should leave him some bourbon to warm him up. It didn’t take long for our young minds to realize that a warmed up and happy Santa was much more likely to leave us better loot. As it happened, Dad had some of Santa’s favorite bourbon (parents know these things), which by amazing coincidence was also my dad’s favorite. I would hazard to say that this was the creation of our family’s traditional Christmas drink: alcohol.
In the spirit (or spirits) of my family’s holiday tradition, this post is going to celebrate my personal favorite Christmasy holiday drink: eggnog.
The origins of eggnog are much debated, but one thing is certain…there has always been and should always be alcohol in it. I am including two different recipes for eggnog here. The first is for the eggnog that we are all probably most used to. This is essentially a custard* known as crème anglaise. As well as making a delicious holiday drink, crème anglaise is also a common sauce in desserts and, when frozen, becomes ice cream. The thing that separates eggnog from melted vanilla ice cream…wait for it…bourbon and nutmeg. This is what gives eggnog that distinct eggnog flavor. In your store-bought versions, it is not real bourbon and nutmeg, but flavorings that have been added to imitate the flavor. I say, if it is going to taste like bourbon, it might as well have some bourbon in it. Whipped cream is folded into the eggnog at the end to create lightness and body.
The second recipe is for a much more traditional version of eggnog and actually includes an aging process. The aging is not completely necessary, but does let the flavors blend and develop as well as thickening the mixture. We won’t worry about the fact that the egg in this version is not cooked or that we end up folding in raw egg white or that the recipe tells you to let dairy produces sit and age for up to six months. Why? Because there is so much alcohol in this sucker that you couldn’t grow bacteria in it if you wanted to. I have made this before and aged it for a full six months and, yes, it was absolutely worth it.
So, liven up Santa’s fair this year and maybe save a bit of that liquid Christmas cheer for yourself. HAPPY HOLIDAYS!
*If you are interested in the science of making custard, see my post on Crème Brûlée.