I don’t always have an appreciation for Dan’s analytical mind, but lately, he’s been rubbing off on me. Take this eggnog, for example. What began as a single experimental batch several days ago quickly became a multi-round quest to develop a beverage that was perfectly pleasing in both taste and texture. Ingredients, methods, and temperatures were put to the test, leaving me with a much better understanding of eggnog and custards in general.
Let’s talk about the concept for a moment: milk is infused with spices as it heats on the stove, then it is carefully whisked into egg yolks that have been beaten and sweetened with sugar. The mixture goes back on the heat where it cooks gently until it thickens. After that, cold heavy cream is added for richness and to stop the cooking process. A bit of nutmeg completes the nog, but before indulging, it’s off to the refrigerator for a good chill.
Okay, once I got a feel for the eggnog framework, I started looking for ways to save steps and time. Maybe warming the milk in the beginning isn’t really necessary, I thought, especially considering how easy it is to curdle the yolks if the milk is too hot or is added too quickly. Perhaps I could whisk the yolks straight into the milk instead of beating them separately. I tried both of these shortcuts, but in the end, the value of the classic recipe was proven. It turns out that lightened yolks and warm milk are key factors to creating a custard that is thick yet light and sure to please.
If you’ve never tried making your own eggnog at home, there’s no better time to give it a go. The taste is so fresh, and the sweetness isn’t cloying like the store-bought stuff. It’s really quite lovely.
The recipe below calls for a dozen egg yolks, so it begs to be asked, “What do you do with all those whites?” I posed this question on my Pepper Lynn Facebook page this week, and many of you responded with excellent ideas (thank you!). Angel food cake, Swiss meringue buttercream frosting, and egg white omelets were among the suggestions, as well as the option of freezing the whites in ice cube trays for later use (note that egg whites should keep in the fridge for up to 10 days; whites that have been frozen then thawed in the fridge should still whip up normally). What have I been doing with my extra whites? More recipe testing, of course! Be sure to check back next week for my rendition of chewy meringue cookies.
- 1 quart (4 cups) whole milk
- 8 whole cloves
- 2 3-inch cinnamon sticks
- 1 whole vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
- 12 large egg yolks
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup cold heavy cream
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg plus more to taste
- Place the milk, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and vanilla bean (split pod and seeds) in a large pot over medium heat, warming gently until the mixture just simmers (do not let it boil).
- Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks in a large mixing bowl until they are pale and thick (you can use a stand mixer, handheld electric mixer, or an old-fashioned wire whisk). Sprinkle in the granulated sugar, a little bit at a time, beating after each addition.
- Use a slotted spoon to remove the vanilla bean, cinnamon sticks, and cloves from the milk, and set aside (don’t sweat it if you can’t get all the cloves). While whisking continually, slowly ladle in a small amount of hot milk (about half a cup) into the beaten egg yolks to temper them. Add more milk, a ladle’s worth at a time, whisking after each addition. After all of the milk has been added, carefully pour the mixture back into the pot.
- Place the reserved vanilla bean, cinnamon sticks, and cloves back into the custard, and heat it over medium heat until it thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat, pour through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl to strain out the flavorings, then stir in the heavy cream and nutmeg. Taste and add additional nutmeg to taste.
- Allow the eggnog to cool at room temperature for about a half hour, transfer it to a pitcher if desired, and place in the refrigerator overnight. Serve chilled with an extra sprinkle of nutmeg.
Adapted from Martha Stewart.
Tips and Tidbits
- While this recipe provides a basic outline to making eggnog, you can vary the ingredients to your liking. Change the quantities of the spices, swap out some of the milk for more cream if you want it richer, or spike it with a good bit of spiced rum.
- Have leftovers? Oh, there are so many options! Use the eggnog to make caramels, substitute it for milk when making French toast, or – my favorite option – turn it into ice cream. Eggnog is quite similar in composition to a traditional ice cream base, just with more eggs, so you can toss it straight into your ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer’s directions. My two caveats with this are: (1) don’t try to churn boozy eggnog as the large quantity of alcohol will inhibit freezing, and (2) add a little extra ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves prior to churning since the flavors tend to mellow out after freezing. Serve the ice cream with a couple ginger snaps, and you’ll have yourself a classy holiday dessert.