Tidings of Comfort and Joy
How on earth did this happen? Last I looked it was November, and now it’s Christmas Eve. I have no idea where the month has gone. Or the year, for that matter.
Many of us are resting for the season. Some are wrestling with the season. For all of you, I bring you tidings and tastiness to while away your weekend (and if you don’t have the ingredients on hand, there’s still time to slip out to the shops to grab what you need).
Cocktails of the Season
Christmas is a season known for imbibing. The range of cocktails that exist associated with this time of year are impressive indeed. From peppermint-flavoured confections to mulled wine (heavy on the cinnamon sticks and spices) there’s a flavour profile to delight (or seriously challenge) a broad range of palettes.
Much of this is a product of the endless rounds of holiday parties that used to punctuate most weekends (and many weekdays) of most of the month of December. For the time-challenged host, cocktails made in large batches (from punch bowls filled with ice to pots simmering on the stove) made things altogether more easy to manage than being consigned to bartending date for the duration.
Of course, some of us like making cocktails, but I recognize that is simply not everyone’s jam.
Appreciating that we are well through the month, and many of us are now cocooned in our caves—hopefully with those we love the most—something a little bit more interesting and intimate was in order.
Going with Tradition
My cocktail for December is a reconnection with the tradition of the Christmas season. It’s a popular enough drink, although many of us don’t actually think of it as a cocktail, per se. In fact, many of us don’t really think of it as something to be made. The much greater tendency is to go out to the store and buy it by the carton.
From there, it is used in many ways. Some pour it in their coffee. Some use it as the basis of a latte. Others drink it neat. Some of us mix it with rum, a scattering of fresh nutmeg over the surface. It has even been known to show up as an ingredient in French toast.
I want to get back to the basics. For our drink for December is… eggnog.
Eggnog is yet another drink about which there is a great deal of debate regarding its origins. It is suggested by some that it started life as a drink of the British aristocracy, and derives from what was known as ‘posset’, which was used to treat colds and the flu, and included hot milk, wine or ale and spices. Early references also exist to the use of eggs. The aristocrats brought this upmarket by using brandy or sherry rather than wine or ale.
There is a great deal of reference to eggnog in the US colonies in the 1700s, where over time it began to be associated with a Christmas season. It has always involved milk, eggs, sugar and some sort of liquor. Often this was rum, although this was less a choice of taste than the fact that it was taxed at a cheaper rate than brandy or sherry. A recipe by George Washington apparently included rum, whisky and sherry.
Over time, it has evolved from a warm drink to one served cold, although heat is still involved in its making. If you’ve only ever tried the store-bought version, I strongly recommend trying your own. You might never go back.
What You’ll Need
A pot (yup, we’re cooking!)
A wooden spoon
A whisk or electric mixer
One medium and one large bowl
Small bowl or storage container
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp nutmeg (fresh if you have it)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Rum (golden or dark rum recommended, white rum somewhat frowned upon)
Separate the eggs, reserving the egg whites in a storage container.
Beat the eggs until frothy, and whisk in the sugar until yolks are pale in colour.
Heat the milk and nutmeg in a pot until just starting to steam (you don’t want it to boil, although you may just start to see the formation of bubbles).
Slowly add hot milk mixture to the egg yolks in batches (you want to do this slowly so that the eggs don’t cook).
Return the mixture to the saucepan, and cook over medium heat until slightly thickened (it should coat the back of a spoon). Target temperature is 160ºF.
Stir in the cream and vanilla extract, and refrigerate until chilled (at least an hour).
Just before serving, whisk the egg whites with a mixer until the whites from stiff peaks. Gently fold and stir the egg whites into the eggnog mixture. (This step is optional and ommitted by some out of a concern for consuming raw egg; if this is you, you can omit this step. Lighten up the eggnog by whisking it again before serving).
Stir one part rum to three parts eggnog mixture in the glass (you can use ice, but you don’t have to). Lightly grate nutmeg over the top.