My uncle Ken first introduced me to real eggnog. His has a voluptuous body that stays on the tongue long after it goes down the hatch, and an alcohol content that expands one’s stomach to two or three times its natural capacity before a holiday meal begins. It also ensures a swift transition to the napping portion of Thanksgiving Day, which is a relief for me when football is on. (Tryptophan, my ass.)
Each year, my husband and I spend Thanksgiving with my family. (We do Christmas with his.) The Howe clan isn’t huge on tradition, so the week invariably involves a certain amount of confusion, and some travel, and often revolves around skiing. We rarely eat the same thing from year to year. We spent last year in New Orleans, the year before that on Cape Cod, and the preceding years, in backwards chronological order, in San Francisco, Park City, Sun Valley, and Vail.
Or something like that.
What does usually stay the same is the audience – there’s my immediate family, and my father’s brother, Ken, and his wife, Alexis, and often my grandparents from that side – and the eggnog. My paternal grandparents made it when my dad and Ken were kids, and somehow, a few years ago, Ken was crowned eggnog captain. He stirs and whisks and emails the recipe across the country, if necessary, and on Thanksgiving, we all get good and tipsy.
Years ago, we planned Thanksgiving 2007 in San Francisco again, but work took Ken to Hong Kong for the year. While I’m unclear why we didn’t all hop on a plane and skip the Pacific to join him (that’s only now occurring to me, now, after he’s been emailing us about his culinary adventures for three months), I’m happy we’re still going to San Francisco, and very excited to celebrate with a new crowd.
Only this time, without Ken there, we can’t be sure there will be eggnog.
This recipe falls under the same category as the beer. That is, it’s a recipe whose success depends on both time and luck, and thus isn’t entirely predicable at the time it’s made. Too bad for you.
But last night, we tasted the beer. Frank came over with Red Mill burgers, and it was a most fortunate pairing, especially for me. (I love light beers, but am perpetually embarrassed by that fact, so a beer that looks like a hoppy, sassy IPA but tastes rather like a Hefeweizen is right up my alley.) So the nog has a chance.
Now, my husband would never attribute the quality of his beer to luck. He’d attribute it to skill, natch. But that’s getting off-topic.
For eggnog, I’m gonna stick with luck. See, eggnog is really just raw eggs, sugar, dairy, and liquor, left to “mature” for a few weeks, then fluffed up with egg whites and a quick sprinkle of fresh, fragrant nutmeg. (My sis called me a few weeks ago to ask what it is – there you go, honey.) It may taste a bit different each time, depending on which liquor you choose, or how heavy you go with the milk or cream, or how much sugar you add. No matter what, it’ll taste sharp and offensive when you make it, but it will improve with age, mellowing and softening from week to week.
And for me, no matter what, there’s always this tiny, lurking worry in the back of my brain: Will this kill me? It is made with raw eggs, after all.
So yeah. Luck.
If you’re lucky, it won’t. If you’re lucky, you’ll know a good farmer you can trust, and you’ll be able to buy eggs from him or her, and know the chickens are healthy. If you’re lucky, you’ll have two (clean!) gallon-sized crocks just for the occasion, with seals on the lids, and space in a refrigerator somewhere to keep them cold, so you don’t have to worry about the S-word. And if you’re lucky, you’ll make the nog ahead of time, so it’s ready a month later, just in time for Christmas, if you believe in that sort of thing, or for, say, a giant Solstice party.
If you’re less lucky, you’ll panic about the raw eggs, and you won’t make this. (You’re probably also the type that stopped eating beef after the Mad Cow scare, and swore off spinach forever last summer. Suit yourself – more for the rest of us. But stop driving, too, while you’re at it.)
And if you’re a little cavalier, like we were until The Perfect Eggnog Crocks revealed themselves at TJ Maxx a couple years ago, you’ll stir everything up and store it in whatever you can find, and just keep it in the coldest part of your basement, like my grandparents did. And you probably won’t get sick.
Unless you’re extremely unlucky. In that case, don’t say I didn’t warn you. God knows what could happen inside that thing over the course of four weeks.
Ken’s Eggnog (PDF)
Recipe 323 of 365
Based on my uncle Ken’s recipe, this eggnog is the real stuff. We favor a combination of dark rum and cognac, but I think Ken used half rum and half brandy. No matter – just make sure you mix it up at least three weeks before you plan to drink it (four weeks is best), as the flavors mellow and blend over time. And the farther ahead you make it, the more opportunity you’ll have to taste it. As Ken says, “Stir and taste, every day, if you can. Consequent shrinkage may argue for doubling the recipe.”
This recipe is an excellent excuse/rationale for owning two bowls and two whisks for your stand mixer.
TIME: 30 minutes active time, plus regular stirring and four weeks aging
MAKES: Almost two gallons
12 extra-large egg yolks
1 pound confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cognac
1 quart (about 4 cups) dark rum
3 quarts half and half
6 extra-large egg whites for nog, plus 6 more for serving
Nutmeg, for serving
In the work bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg yolks on medium speed until light, about 2 minutes. With the machine on low, slowly add the confectioners’ sugar, and mix until blended. (No need to sift the sugar.) Add the salt and cognac, whisk to blend, and use a rubber spatula to scrape any sugar off the insides of the bowl, whisking on low and scraping until the sugar is totally absorbed into the liquid. Add the rum and one quart of the half and half (the liquid should come up almost to the top of the whisk), mix to blend, and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Clean and dry the bowl and the whisk.
Next, whisk six egg whites until thick and opaque but still soft (soft peak). Add the remaining 2 quarts cream, and whip again to mix. Transfer half of this mixture to each of two gallon-sized vessels. (I store my eggnog in two ceramic crocks with lids that seal closed.) There will be about 6 cups in each, including the foam.
Finally, stir the reserved mixture with the alcohol in it, and divide it between the two crocks, again about 6 cups into each. Stir to blend, and refrigerate for about one month, stirring (and tasting!) the eggnog once every few days, and ladling liquid from one crock to another, if you’d like the two crocks to taste identical.
To serve, whip 6 additional egg whites to soft peak, and fold into the eggnog. Serve cold, dusted with freshly grated nutmeg.