EGGNOG: Get into the Holiday Spirit
It’s that glorious time of year again. Fill the fridge with cream and eggs, and stock your bar with your favorite bourbon, rum, or brandy: it’s eggnog season. That mysterious, thick, sweet egg based delight that appears in early December and then vanishes off the face of the earth come the new year. Love it or hate it. There is no denying that eggnog has become an essential part of the holiday season—and it’s most popular here in the US. But why did such an unlikely drink like this come to symbolize Christmas?
A Brief History Lesson
While its exact provenance can be debated, most historians agree that eggnog originated from an early British drink called posset. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the drink was “a drink made of hot milk curdled with ale, wine, or the like, often sweetened and spiced.” In the Middle Ages, posset was used as a cold and flu remedy, and recipes for the concoction are known from as early as the mid-1400s. In the early 17th century, the drink was served socially in specialized, spouted vessels, called posset pots. The milk curdled and rose to the top, and the spiced wine was drunk from the straw-like spout on the side of the pot.
The first recipe to mention adding eggs to the drink appeared in The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened: Whereby is Discovered Several ways for making of Metheglin, Sider, Cherry-Wine, &c. by English courtier and philosopher Sir Kenelm Digby, published in 1669:
My Lord of Carlisle’s Sack-Posset
Take a pottle [half a gallon] of Cream, and boil in it a little whole Cinnamon, and three or four flakes of Mace [nutmeg seed covering]. To this proportion of Cream put in eighteen yolks of eggs, and eight of the whites; a pint of Sack [fortified white wine]; beat your eggs very well, and then mingle them with your Sack. Put in three quarters of a pound of Sugar into the Wine and Eggs, with a Nutmeg grated, and a little beaten Cinnamon; set the Bason on the fire with the Wine and Eggs, and let it be hot. Then put in the Cream boiling from the fire, pour it on high, but stir it not; cover it with a dish, and when it is settlede, strew on the top a little fine Sugar mingled with three grains of Ambergreece [a waxlike substance that comes from the intestines of a sperm whale], and one grain of Musk [a substance secreted by the male musk deer], and serve it up.
Eggnog Comes to Colonial America
Given the price of dairy and eggs in Britain, the drink was primarily consumed by the aristocracy. When it crossed the pond to America, it’s popularity skyrocketed because of our easy access to dairy products, eggs, and inexpensive liquor. Since many Americans had their own chickens and dairy cattle, whipping up a batch of eggnog was no problem. The drink was so popular that none other than George Washington himself wrote a recipe for it:
One quart cream, one quart milk, one dozen tablespoons sugar, one pint brandy, 1/2 pint rye whiskey, 1/2 pint Jamaica rum, 1/4 pint sherry—mix liquor first, then separate yolks and whites of eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, mix well. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently.
I’ve given you some fun history, but I’m guessing that most of you who clicked on this post were expecting a usable recipe. So, here are the best ones around.
• 4 egg yolks
• 1/3 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
• 1 pint whole milk
• 1 cup heavy cream
• 3 ounces bourbon
• 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
• 4 egg whites
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. Add the milk, cream, bourbon, and nutmeg and stir to combine. Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat to soft peaks. With the mixer still running gradually add the 1 tablespoon of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Whisk the egg whites into the mixture. Chill and serve.
• 6 eggs, separated
• 3/4 cup superfine sugar
• 2 cups whole milk
• 3 cups heavy cream, plus more for garnish
• 1/2 cup bourbon, preferably Maker’s Mark
• 1/4 cup dark rum, preferably Mount Gay
• 1/4 cup Cognac, preferably Remy Martin Grand Cru
Beat yolks in a very large bowl until thick and pale. Slowly beat in sugar. Whisk in milk and 2 cups cream. Mix in bourbon, rum, and Cognac. Cover, and refrigerate for up to 1 day. Just before serving, beat whites until stiff peaks form. Fold whites into eggnog. Whisk remaining 1 cup cream until stiff peaks form, and fold into eggnog. (Alternatively, you can fold half the whipped cream into eggnog, and top with remaining half.) Sprinkle with nutmeg.
• 3 cups whole milk
• 1 cup heavy or double cream
• 3 cinnamon sticks
• 1 vanilla bean pod, split and seeds removed
• 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, plus more for garnish
• 5 eggs, separated
• 2/3 cup granulated sugar
• 3/4 cup Bacardi Dark Rum, or bourbon
In a saucepan, combine milk, cream, cinnamon, vanilla bean, vanilla seeds, and nutmeg. Bring to the boil over a medium heat. Once boiling, remove from the heat and allow to steep. In a large bowl or stand mixer, beat egg yolks and sugar until combined and thick ribbons form when the whisk is lifted. Slowly whisk in the milk and continue to mix until the mixture is combined and smooth. Add bourbon or rum, and stir. Refrigerate overnight or for up to 3 days. Before serving, beat the egg whites in a large bowl or stand mixer until soft peaks form. Gently fold into eggnog until combined. Serve and garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.
Wrapping Things Up
This holiday season, as you sip on your merry glass of eggnog, keep in mind that you are partaking in a tradition that has been around for generations. Stop by any one of our six locations and our knowledgeable staff will help you stock up on everything you need to make this holiday season the best one yet.