The first seasonal sighting of eggnog in the supermarket case has become a routine dialogue for my husband and I. I exclaim that I’m ready to stock our fridge (and bar), to which he retorts, “not until after Thanksgiving.” He clarifies that if I start indulging in thick, creamy ‘nog in September, my love will be a thing of the past come Christmas when every holiday party we hit features a boozy bowl. And of course, it’d be tragedy not to sample the wares.
So every year I cave to his reasoning, not because I let him call all of the shots, but because deep down I know he’s right. Despite my soft spot for ready-made eggnog, I admit that it’s a bit over the top, more reminiscent of dessert than beverage. Perhaps if I developed my own version I could scale back the heaviness without sacrificing the classic flavor.
Standard homemade eggnog is made by first making a cooked-custard base of cream (or half-and-half) and egg yolks. Just before serving, egg whites and sugar are whipped until stiff and folded into the chilled custard for a light, frothy texture. Though I’ve eaten enough raw cookie batter for my unlucky salmonella card to be pulled, I’ve managed to escape it and I’d rather not push my luck with a recipe that requires raw eggs—I’ll bypass the whipped whites in my ‘nog.
Pull out a stand mixer and fit it with the whisk attachment, and whip the room temperature yolks at a fairly high speed. A light eggnog begins with incorporating air into the egg yolks. You’ll know they’re aerated when they’ve thickened and become lighter in color. Though a hand-held mixer could do the job, I think having your hands free is well worth the steeper price tag. Not to mention that KitchenAid models, my first choice, seem to last forever. My mother-in-law has been married for nearly 40 years and still uses the one she received as a wedding gift.
Now the yolks have developed enough structure to support the heavy granulated sugar. With the mixer running, slowly add the sugar over the course of a couple of minutes. This gradual addition ensures that the yolks won’t deflate and that the sugar will be completely dissolved.
Once the sugar is fully incorporated the mixture will be nearly white and glossy and will hold a ribbon-like outline for several seconds when drizzled back and forth in the bowl.
Set aside the yolk-sugar mixture for future use and turn your attention to the stovetop. As I mentioned earlier, eggnog’s custardy base is typically made with a high proportion of heavy cream. Scaling it back to a 3:1 ratio of milk to half-and-half provides the lightness I like with a silky texture. Using a flexible, sauce-style whisk for the saucepan’s hard-to-reach corners, whisk the dairy mixture over medium heat just until you see a few bubbles appear.
If possible, transfer the hot dairy to a large liquid measuring cup. The pourable spout will make the next step—tempering the egg yolks—much easier. With the mixer running, slowly add the dairy to the reserved yolk-sugar mixture. It’s important that the motion of the whisk is continuous and that the stream of dairy is gradual to ensure that the egg proteins don’t scramble. Also, all of this whipping will add much needed lightness to the final eggnog since you won’t be folding in raw whipped egg whites.
Though the hot dairy has nearly heated the egg yolks to a safe 160 temperatures, it isn’t quite there. Transfer the mixture to the now-empty pot and return it to heat. According to the USDA, eggs should be heated to 160 degrees for safe consumption. Once the custard mixture hits this mark, remove it from the heat.
Adding the bourbon (my preference) to the custard mixture just before serving the ‘nog will leave you breathing fire, while adding it on the heat will dull its smoky burn a bit too much. Stirring it in just off the heat strikes the perfect balance.
Much like the bourbon, the nutmeg and vanilla will be too muted when added on the heat, so stir them in after the alcohol.
Though not essential, I prefer to cut the heat of the eggnog before putting it into my refrigerator. Fill a large bowl with ice and cover it with another large bowl, making sure the top bowl is resting on the ice.
Add the eggnog to the top bowl of the ice bath and, stirring occasionally, cool it for about 10 minutes. Next, refrigerate it until chilled, about 1½ hours.
A final hit of freshly grated nutmeg is the last touch to this “light” eggnog. Can you blame me for wanting to enjoy this year round?