Homemade eggnog infinitely better than store-bought stuff

Homemade Eggnog tops off holiday celebrations.
(SHNS photo by Jeremy Wadsworth/The Toledo Blade)
Story by Daniel Neman
(Toledo Blade)
Fri, Dec 7, 2012
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It’s the season of joy, of good will toward men. Chestnuts are roasting on open fires, sleigh bells are ringing (well, not in the last century or so) and a sense of festivity covers everyone and everything like a light snow.

You’re in the mood to celebrate. So why celebrate with a glass of guar gum, carrageenan, and mono and diglycerides?

That’s what you get when you drink store-bought eggnog. And that’s the good stuff. If you buy a carton of eggless, dairy-free nog, you’ll also get a healthy dose of whey powder, corn syrup and sodium caseinate.

Nothing says the holiday spirit like a glass of phosphoproteins, am I right?

But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can make your own eggnog that is infinitely better than the glop you buy at the store. People have been making their own eggnog for hundreds of years, possibly as far back as medieval England. And you know no one ever said, “Guinevere, fill my chalice with eggnog, and make certain it has plenty of diglyceride.”

Making your own eggnog is a little bit of a hassle, but the results are well worth it. And it isn’t even much of a hassle if you use mixers to whip everything together and you don’t insist on doing it by hand.

The basic idea of eggnog is simple: Blend as much egg as you can with as much cream as you can, and sweeten it with sugar. A little vanilla never hurts, and neither does a dusting of nutmeg, particularly when it has been freshly grated. Although eggnog is great on its own, it is also a particularly good medium to blend with alcohol.

We made eggnog several different ways: uncooked, cooked, frozen into an ice cream, in a large quantity for a party, low-calorie and in a Puerto Rican version called a coquito. All of them, except the coquito, follow the same general formula.

First, beat together egg yolks with sugar. Next, add dairy products, often a combination of milk and heavy cream. This would be a good time to add alcohol, too, if you are so inclined. Then, beat the egg whites with a little sugar until they form stiff peaks, and gently fold these into the yolk-and-cream mixture. Finally, chill it and serve it, preferably with a bit of nutmeg on top.

The only questions are about which alcohol to use, if you are using it, and how much.

In America, the traditional high-test additive is bourbon, but that is purely a matter of taste. Brandy is also popular, and so is rum. The recent resurgence of rye also makes it a likely candidate for nogging.

The traditional way to make eggnog is with raw eggs, which yields an exceptionally smooth and rich drink. But, if we can use a scientific term, the thought of eating raw eggs creeps some people out. And there is the health issue to worry about, especially for infants, young children, pregnant women, older people and people with weakened immune systems. Salmonella is no laughing matter; if you decide to use raw eggs, be sure to wash the shells thoroughly before cracking them.

If you prefer to cook the eggs, that works, too. What you are actually doing is making a thin creme anglaise, a custard that also serves as the basis of creme brulee. All you have to do is heat the yolks and sugar gently with the cream, stirring all the while, until the mixture starts to thicken. But even this method does not cook all of the eggs. Eggnog requires that the raw whites be whipped until they are full of body and then folded into the yolks and cream. Cooked egg whites cannot be whipped.

The ice-cream recipe came about more or less by accident. I was making the recipe Paula Deen attributes to her mother, and the last instruction is to “chill in freezer before serving.” So I did. Because the instructions did not say to take it out of the freezer after an hour or so, I left it in overnight. Voila! Eggnog ice cream. And that makes sense, because ice cream also often begins with a base of creme anglaise.

To make a richer-tasting ice cream, I’d recommend using half the amount of milk (a total of one quart) but all of the cream (one pint) that Deen suggests for her version. Using an ice-cream maker would result in a treat that is lighter in texture and have a more velvety mouth feel, but it isn’t necessary.

The eggnog I made for a crowd is perhaps my favorite method of making it. It comes straight from the seminal “Joy of Cooking” cookbook and it makes enough to feed a small army, provided the army is thirsty and full of the holiday spirit. It calls for a dozen eggs, a pound of confectioners’ sugar, a half-gallon of whipping cream and anywhere from four to six cups of alcohol.

Frankly, that’s ridiculous. “Joy of Cooking” was first published in 1931, two years before the repeal of Prohibition, and my version dates back to 1964, in the heyday of hard-drinking “Mad Men.” I put just two cups of bourbon in mine -- just -- which gave the right amount of flavor and a bit of a kick, but not enough to knock you out for the week.

Even without the alcohol, eggnog is a fattening proposition. Eggs, cream and sugar -- you aren’t going to lose any weight with those. So in the interest of science, I decided to create a low-calorie version. Or, at least, a lower-calorie version.

Instead of egg yolks, I used a store-bought egg substitute -- it’s actually just egg whites that have been colored yellow and given a little extra flavor. Instead of cream, I used whole milk (I couldn’t bring myself to use skim). I did use sugar instead of a sugar substitute, because I wanted none of the fake-sugar aftertaste. A little bourbon added much-needed flavor.

The result was definitely eggnog lite: a pale imitation of the real thing, but drinkable.

For a little switch (as it turns out, it is indeed possible to have too much eggnog), I made the Puerto Rican version, coquitos. This drink uses cooked egg yolks and no egg whites, but the real difference comes from the dairy products. Instead of cream or milk, it calls for evaporated milk, condensed milk and coconut milk. The recipe I used calls for cream of coconut instead, but I chose the coconut milk because cream of coconut is so spectacularly rich and fattening (though the condensed milk is actually worse).

Adding to the coquitos’ holiday feel is its use of cloves and cinnamon, and of course the Puerto Rican alcohol of choice, rum. It’s a little bit Christmassy, a little bit tropical.

And entirely delicious.

EGGNOG IN QUANTITY

  • 12 eggs, separated
  • 1 pound confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 cups dark rum, brandy, bourbon or rye, or to taste, optional
  • 2 quarts whipping cream
  • Nutmeg, preferably freshly grated

Cook’s note: The original recipe calls for up to 4 cups more alcohol. Use your own discretion.

Beat the egg yolks separately until light in color. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar. Beating constantly, add the alcohol very slowly. Cover and let stand 1 hour to dispel the “eggy” taste.

Add the whipping cream and refrigerate, covered, for 3 hours.

Beat 8-12 of the egg whites until stiff, but not dry. Fold them lightly into the other ingredients. Serve sprinkled with nutmeg.

Yield: About 1 gallon

-- “Joy of Cooking,” by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker

COOKED EGGNOG

  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1/3 cup sugar PLUS 1 tablespoon
  • 1 pint whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3 ounces bourbon, optional

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg yolks until they lighten in color. Gradually add the 1/3 cup sugar and continue to beat until it is completely dissolved. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan over high heat, combine the milk, heavy cream and nutmeg and bring just to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and gradually pour some of the hot mixture into the egg-and-sugar mixture, stirring constantly. When you have added about a cup or more of the hot mixture and the temperature of the eggs has risen, return everything to the pot and cook until the mixture reaches 160 degrees -- the mixture will thicken. It should be thick enough that you can drag a finger through it on the back of a spoon and none of the mixture will drip back into the clean path you just made. Remove from the heat, stir in the optional bourbon, pour into a medium mixing bowl, and set in the refrigerator to chill.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat the egg whites to soft peaks. With the mixture running, gradually add the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Whisk the egg whites into the chilled mixture.

Yield: 6-7 cups

-- Alton Brown, via Food Network

UNCOOKED OR FROZEN EGGNOG

  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 3/4 cup sugar, divided
  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 2 quarts milk (see cook’s note)
  • 1 cup bourbon, optional
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • Nutmeg

Cook’s note: If making ice cream, use only 1 quart of milk.

In a bowl, beat the egg yolks with 1/2 cup sugar until thick. In another bowl, beat the egg whites with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar until thick. In a third bowl, beat the cream until it forms stiff peaks. Add the cream to the yolks, fold in the egg whites and add the milk, bourbon, vanilla and a pinch of nutmeg, if desired. Chill before serving. If making ice cream, freeze the mixture according to manufacturer’s directions or merely place in freezer for several hours.

Yield: 8-10 servings

-- Paula Deen, via Food Network

RELATIVELY LOW-CALORIE EGGNOG

  • 4 tablespoons egg substitute (such as Egg-Beaters)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup bourbon, brandy, rum or rye
  • Dash salt

Beat the egg substitute with sugar (or sugar substitute) until the sugar is well incorporated. Slowly beat in milk, alcohol and salt.

Yield: 1 serving

COQUITOS

  • 2 egg yolks, beaten
  • 12-ounce can evaporated milk
  • 14-ounce can coconut milk
  • 14-ounce can unsweetened condensed milk (see cook’s note)
  • 1/2 cup light rum
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cook’s note: Unsweetened condensed milk can be hard to find. You can use sweetened condensed milk, but it makes a drink that is (authentically) very, very sweet. If you use sweetened condensed milk but you don’t want it that sweet, thin out the drink with milk.

In the top of a double boiler, combine egg yolks and evaporated milk. Stirring constantly, cook over lightly simmering water until mixture reaches a temperature of 160 degrees. The mixture should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Transfer mixture to a blender and add coconut milk, condensed milk, milk (if using), rum, water, cloves, cinnamon and vanilla. Blend for 30 seconds. Chill overnight.

Yield: 10 servings

-- Adapted from allrecipes.com

eggnog, Food, recipes
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