Is there a more divisive holiday drink than eggnog? Made of cream or milk, sugar, and (yes) eggs—usually with a spirit stirred in—eggnog can be a cocktail of wonder…when made well. The right amount of spice, the perfect proportion of dairy to egg, and of course just enough sugar to bring it all together, can make a world of difference when it comes to making a luxurious batch of eggnog at home this holiday season (or y’know, anytime).
Creamy, thick eggnog has quite a, pardon the pun, rich history. The first recorded use of the term “nog” goes all the way back to 1693, (thanks Mirriam-Webster!) and most historians agree that eggnog as we know it derived from posset, which we know these days as a cream-based pudding, but historically refers to a hot drink of curdled milk, alcohol (like wine, beer, or other liquor and flavored with spices), often drunk medicinally or on special occasions. Though the hot toddy has perhaps conquered the market on warm drinks to sip when you’re under the weather, posset of yore—and its transition into today’s eggnog—certainly stuck around as a party drink.
According to Dr. Frederick Douglass Opie, a Professor of History and Foodways at Babson College, the word “eggnog” is a combination of colloquial words used by 18th Century colonists in New York, Boston, Charleston, and Mobile: “Grog,” which referred to rum, and “noggin,” a wooden mug in which grog was often served. The drink, which at this point consisted of milk, eggs, sugar, and liquor, was called “egg-n-grog,” and eventually, eggnog.
Since brandy and wine (typical additions to posset in Britain) were heavily taxed in the colonies, eggnog was made with Caribbean rum. None other than George Washington famously had his own eggnog recipe, featuring a more democratic (and potent!) blend of brandy, sherry, whisky, and rum—not to mention a full dozen eggs, and quart each of milk and cream. “Let set in cool place for several days,” say the instructions. “Taste frequently.”
Doesn’t quite sound like your cup of tea (or, eggnog)? The beauty of eggnog is that it is infinitely riffable, so you can mix it to fit your tastes. This week, Caroline Lange walks us through how to make eggnog at home—truly good, light, frothy eggnog.
You’re either in Camp Nog or you’re not.
I considered, when writing this, drawing the line there: Beware all ye who enter here! Back, eggnog skeptics, back! But I’m not going to, because no one deserves homemade eggnog more than eggnog skeptics—the ones who shy away from the sticky, manila-envelope-colored stuff from the grocery store. (Who can blame them? Can you tell I’m among them?)
Real eggnog is nothing like it. You don’t have to cut it with milk just to get it down the hatch. It’s not so sweet you get the sugar sweats. It’s light and frothy and yolky in the way custard is. It’s fresh-tasting and boozy.
Adjust it freely and to your liking: Play with the ratio of milk to cream; use coconut milk or rice milk or macadamia milk instead of dairy; swap out the sugar for maple syrup or honey; up the amount of nutmeg; play with the kind of booze you add (or omit it entirely). You can even make it vegan, in which case I’ll direct you here. If you want your eggnog to have eggs in it, though, keep reading.
Here’s what you’ll need for six servings. Scale up or down depending on how many are coming over! One more quick note, while we’re talking about entertaining: You can (and, I’d encourage, should!) make this a day or two in advance of your occasion. It’ll thicken up and get velvety—and more flavorful—as it ages, and it’s good for up for a week.
Gather these ingredients:
- 6 eggs, separated (1 egg per person)
- 1/3 to 1 cup something sweet (white sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, or a mix)
- 3 cups dairy of some kind or non-dairy substitute (I like a mixture of 2 cups whole milk with 1 cup heavy cream, for richness; you could also mix and match half-and-half, reduced-fat milks, coconut milk from a can, unsweetened coconut cream from a can, or nut milks of all sorts)
- Up to 1 1/2 cups booze (bourbon is traditional; rum, whiskey, cognac, or brandy all work, too—and feel free to mix and match these)
- Nutmeg, of course! (But also experiment with adding a vanilla bean, a shake of cinnamon…)
This may seem like a lot of information, but keep this in mind: Eggnog is pretty much entirely “to taste.” Adjust at will.
A couple of suggested pairings, to get you going on the riffing front:
- bourbon + maple
- rum + coconut milk
- whiskey + brown sugar
- cognac + honey
Then, make your eggnog:
To make your nog, carefully separate your eggs into two large bowls. Add the sugar or other sweetener to the egg yolks and whisk vigorously, until they’re light and creamy. Add the dairy, booze (if using), and nutmeg, and stir again to combine. Taste and see what you think: Is it too thick or too sweet? Add more milk or a little water. Not rich enough? A splash of cream will take care of that. If something just doesn’t seem quite right, add a little pinch of salt, which makes everything taste more like itself. When it tastes good to you, pop it in the fridge until you’re ready to drink it.
This is the part where I’m obliged to remind you about the potential risks of consuming raw eggs. It’s true. There are some associated risks—though, it should be noted, the presence of alcohol will pretty much kill any bacteria present. Even still, if you’re sharing this eggnog with very little kids, older folks, pregnant folks, or anyone who’s immuno-compromised, go ahead and do this instead:
Whisk your egg yolks and sugar together until pale and creamy. Meanwhile, heat your milk and any spices in a saucepan over medium-low heat, until steaming. Remove from heat. Whisking vigorously, temper the eggs by sloooooowly add a ladleful of the hot milk to the egg mixture. Add another ladleful, whisking all the while. When the egg mixture is hot and you’re certain you haven’t scrambled your eggs, add it back to the pot, whisk together until well combined, then let cool completely before stirring in the alcohol, if you’re using it. (Otherwise, you’ll cook off the alcohol, and we certainly don’t want that.)
Okay, now you have your extremely delicious eggnog base. If you’re not going to drink it today or tomorrow, stash your reserved egg whites in the freezer, and thaw the day you’re planning on serving.
When you’re just about ready for cocktail hour, whip up your egg whites into soft peaks. (Alice Medrich would want you to add a pinch of cream of tartar.) Pull the eggnog base out of the fridge, stir to incorporate, and gently fold in the egg whites. The result should be frothy and light—not dense.
Ladle into cups and serve cold, with a grating of fresh nutmeg.
If you want to serve your eggnog hot, omit the egg whites and add milk to taste and to loosen the mixture; you’ll want to wait to add the booze until you’re ready to serve, too.
Grate some extra nutmeg on top, if you please.
Are you in Camp Nog or not? Let us know in the comments below!
This piece was originally published in December 2016, but we’ve updated it for the holidays.
For those in Camp Not, here are some other options: