A little eggnog

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A nutmeg-spiced custard which is light enough to drink, several of my favourite things in one mug.

The first time I had eggnog was last year, when Mary and I made up a big frothy bowl of it for Christmas using Alton Brown’s recipe. It’s always a delight to try something new and delicious with a friend. The making of it called to mind one of the origins of eggnog, the flip, specifically a passage in Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith where Mr. Ibbs fills seven glasses with eggs, sugar, and rum, heating each with irons hot from the fire.

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‘Heating the flip was like setting fire to the brandy on a plum pudding–everyone liked to see it done and hear the drinks go hiss,’ says Sue, the protagonist and narrator of the novel. Of course, we two were not in Victorian London, and thank goodness for that: contemporary Sheffield had a perfectly warm and efficient electric fireplace, a marmalade cat, and a Christmas tree, and we happily put together a sweet, creamy drink in the kitchen.

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It is very worth making eggnog for one. The weekend was a stretch of lonely gloom which, in my view, required sweet hot milk with spices. Eggnog making was completely necessary, you do see…

Nutmeg is another favourite of mine: it’s warm and toasty, but there’s also a trace of pine which is curiously fresh and cool. Such a unique fragrance should be the star of this drink, and it is–but I fully encourage a good amount of vanilla, because the child in me loves custard, also a little mixed spice in a supporting role because it tastes like Christmas.

Eggnog isn’t as much of a tradition in contemporary Britain as in North America–we tend to go for mulled wine–but I welcome it completely, because it’s like a drinkable custard tart. It’s certainly a new holiday tradition in my household.

ONE MUG OF EGGNOG

Makes 1 small mug of eggnog. Adapted from Christina Lane’s two mugs o’ eggnog. Easily scaled up, of course.

The cooked eggnog (sans whipped egg white) will keep for 3 days, chilled, very well covered. Once the eggwhite is mixed in, consume within 24 hours.

alcohol: I go for virgin eggnog, but I’ve read recipes for alcoholic eggnog with great interest and happily pass on the suggestions of those more knowledgeable. Both Alton Brown and Christina Lane suggest bourbon, while Felicity Cloake’s perfect eggnog has you infuse bourbon or rum with smashed nutmeg, which is later joined by an equal amount of sweet cream sherry or madeira. There’s about 50 ml booze per serving in Cloake’s recipe, but I understand that you may generally add it to taste.

spices: Try adding ground or stick cinnamon, cloves, or other complementary spices in amounts which won’t overwhelm the unique fragrance of nutmeg.

ingredients

1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg, plus about 1/8 to sprinkle on top
A dash of mixed spice (optional)
120 ml/1/2 cup milk
4 tbsp/1/4 cup double cream
1 egg yolk, any size
1 1/2 tbsp sugar  (I used vanilla sugar)
1/4 tsp vanilla extract (you probably won’t need this if adding alcohol)

for the egg white foam, if using:
1 egg white, any size
1/2 tbsp sugar

instructions

Put the nutmeg, mixed spice, milk, and cream in a small saucepan, ideally one with a pouring lip. Set over a medium-low heat and gradually bring up to a simmer. Watch carefully while you beat the egg yolk and 1 1/2 tbsp sugar in a small bowl with any sort of hand whisk until it is pale and thick.

Once the milk mixture is bubbling at the edges, remove from heat and pour a little into the beaten egg yolk, whisking well. Continue to slowly stream in the hot milk as you whisk, stopping when either half the milk has been added or the bowl is full.

Pour the mixture back into the pan and set over a low heat, continuing to whisk until slightly thickened to a spoon-coating consistency–71 degrees C/160 F, if temperatures are helpful. This will take a good few minutes: cautiously adjust heat as needed, keeping the mixture nice and steamy but never bubbling.

Once thickened, whisk in the vanilla extract. You can serve this eggnog immediately, if you like.

For the egg white foam, put the egg white into a small mixing bowl and beat with an electric whisk (or balloon whisk, if you’re strong) until nearing stiff peaks, then add 1/2 tbsp sugar and whisk until absolutely stiff. Scrape all egg white into the warm pan of eggnog, mixing in gently with your hand whisk until you have a pan of really light, fragrant, rich foam.

However you like it, serve eggnog in your favourite mug or glass, sprinkled with a good amount of nutmeg.

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