Sunday, December 8, 2013

Apple #654: Eggnog

One of the enduring mysteries of Christmas is egg nog.  I know it involves liquid eggs and the optional alcohol, and I've even drunk some a time or two.  But it was the stuff from the grocery store so I wonder, how representative of true egg nog is that?  What is the nog?  And how did someone come up with the idea of drinking eggs as a festive thing, anyway?

If the nutmeg on top of your eggnog looks like this, you have too much time on your hands.
(Photo from Why'd You Eat That?)

The Nog

  • Nog comes from an old English word that refers to a strong beer or ale.  There's also the word "noggin" which means "head." As in your noodle (brain) and your noggin (head).
  • It's possible that "noggin" and "nog" are related -- but not in the way you think (drink nog/strong ale and your noggin/head gets fuzzy).  "Noggin" actually means "small cup, or small drink."  Which means that the ale in your eggnog is strong stuff, so you'd better have only a little bit of it.
  • The ancestor of eggnog is something called posset, which is a mixture of eggs, milk, and ale or sherry. At first they made it like a drink, but as time passed and people got better at making it, they let it thicken and they added honey and breadcrumbs and possibly almonds.  The result looked a lot like creme brulee, except posset was thick enough to slice.  And then they added brandy.

Posset.  The name sounds totally unappetizing, but when you see it here with candied orange peel on top, you have an entirely different reaction, don't you?  This is the ancestor of eggnog.
(Photo from Why'd You Eat That?)

  • So maybe people thought, hey, posset is so good, I want to drink it.  And let's make it sweeter besides.  So eggnog's components are:
    • Eggs beaten with sugar
    • Milk or cream or both
    • Some kind of alcohol (in the US, this is often bourbon but back in the early days it was rum)
    • Most people in the US also add nutmeg.
  • Above all, eggnog is supposed to be rich and thick, and strong if you're going for the alcoholic version -- which is the historically accurate option.
  • Eggnog was first dreamed up in the 17th century.  No refrigeration.  Most people couldn't afford a lot of eggs, especially if they were city-dwellers.  If they saw one glass of milk, it was a rare month.  So, a drink that included multiple eggs and milk and cream -- whooee, that's the stuff for the uber-rich.
  • A fancy, expensive drink like this you wouldn't have all that often.  You would reserve it for special occasions.  Like Christmas.  Thus, eggnog for Christmas.
  • Apparently, the uber-rich back in the 17th century also liked to tie one on.  Because eggnog back then and now packed a punch (pun).

Store-Bought versus the Home Version

  • One mixologist says the eggnog you get in the grocery store is "so overly-pasteurized and full of preservatives that it would be anything but enjoyable to slug down at a Christmas party."
  • Ah, here are the ingredients in one grocery store eggnog: "milk, high fructose corn syrup, regular corn syrup, mono and diglycerides, tetrasodium phosphate, guar gum, carrageenan, artificial vanilla, egg base."  Yeah.  So pretty much any eggnog you make yourself might take you some more time, but is bound to taste better.
  • His recipe does sound good (his name is Jeffrey Morgenthaler).  He uses eggs and sugar (you're supposed to blend these together before you do anything else), add nutmeg, brandy, spiced rum, and whole milk and heavy cream. Yowza.  That would be one thick eggnog.  If you're trying to watch your dairy intake, this is not the drink for you.

Eggnog Safety

  • About that business of pasteurization.  It is kind of important, especially if you're going to be selling your eggnog to other people.  If you're going to make your own at home, it might be a good idea to take a few steps to protect yourself from possibly getting salmonella from the eggs. 
  • All commercially-raised eggs are washed with a special liquid that helps kill salmonella, but it's possible that trace amounts could slip through.  The CDC estimates that 1 in 20,000 eggs have some salmonella contamination.  Not many.
  • If you want to be extra-cautious with your eggnog, slowly heat the eggs and half of the milk together in a pan, stirring constantly, until the liquid reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit.  Then add the sugar, then chill. Once it's cooled down to refrigerator temperature, then add any other ingredients and the alcohol.

In this recipe, she combined her eggs, milk, and sugar, then heated to 170-175 F.  She said it took about 25 minutes for it to reach temperature.  And you must stir constantly.
(Photo from Tasty Kitchen)

  • You could also use eggs that have been pasteurized, or heat-treated, to kill salmonella.  If you use these, you don't have to worry about salmonella, and don't have to heat your eggs before making your nog.
  • But one cook says that he tried pasteurized eggs, and "they did not work. They didn't separate well and the whites did not froth up at all."  He said the next year, he used organic eggs, and they made the frothiest, foamiest eggnog ever. (His grandfather's eggnog recipe is available here.)
  • Alcohol will not kill salmonella.  Sorry, folks.

Versions of Eggnog

Another eggnog by Morgenthaler.  This one uses tequila and Amontillado sherry.  Yes, the stuff in the Edgar Allan Poe story.
(Photo from Jeffrey Morgenthaler)

  • Like any good food or drink, there are a million different ways to make eggnog.
  • Martha Stewart makes hers with whole milk and heavy cream, like Morgenthaler, but she uses boubon and rum and cognac.  I think Martha's going to get a little tiddly.
  • Elise at Simply Recipes makes hers with only the yolks, plus cloves, cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg, any kind of milk you prefer and cream, and bourbon + brandy or boubon + rum.
  • Emeril's recipe isn't all that unusual -- milk and cream, vanilla and nutmeg, bourbon and brandy. He also adds a pinch of salt, which is probably a good idea.

Eggnog for the beach: the nog plus vodka and Kahlua over ice.
(Photo and recipe from A Beach Home Companion)

  • Esquire gives a mixture of good and bad advice (also par for the course).  Their recipe uses cognac and rum, and they say to separate the yolks from the whites.  They mix the yolks with the sugar first and then the alcohol and they say, "Pouring the liquor into the yolks has the effect of cooking them more lovingly than any stove could," which besides being kind of ridiculous is a lie.  They add the eggs whites and nutmeg at the end. They say if it's too sweet, add more cognac.  That last bit is probably about right.
  • Charles Mingus' eggnog recipe "calls for enough alcohol to put down an elephant." One egg yolk, two sugars, one shot of brandy and one shot of 151 rum for each person, plus some milk and vanilla ice cream and a lot of nutmeg. Instead of rum, he might use rye or Scotch. "Depends on how drunk I get while I'm tasting it."
  • Gluten-Free Cate heats her eggs for safety, and she also heats her milk and vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, and cloves in a pot first.  I bet that would smell fantastic.  Plus nutmeg, bourbon, and rum.

Gluten-Free Cate's Laite de Poule (French for eggnog) with bourbon and rum and cinnamon.
(Photo from Girl Cooks World)

  • Bobby Flay makes his eggnog semi-Puerto Rico-style.  He uses whole milk and coconut milk and heavy cream, vanilla bean, cinnamon, nutmeg, and golden rum.

Puerto Rican eggnog, or coquito, is made with rum and coconut milk.  The coquito pictured here was also made with evaporated milk.
(Photo from Always Order Dessert)

  • Mexico's eggnog is called rompope and also uses rum (or else grain alcohol -- yikes!) and a whole lot of cinnamon.
  • In Peru, eggnog is called pisco and is made with Peru's pomace brandy.
  • Dutch eggnog is Advocaat, which uses eggs, sugar, and brandy.  Nigella Lawson doesn't make eggnog; she gets a bottle of Advocaat.
  • Japan's closest thing to eggnog is Tamagozake, which is sake with sugar and a raw egg. It's sometimes called sake-nog.
  • By the way, I've looked at some non-alcoholic eggnog recipes.  I thought they might say to add more nutmeg or something to make up for that missing flavor, but they don't seem to.  They seem the same as the alcoholic versions, just without the the alcohol.  So you could use a recipe that calls for alcohol and omit the liquor part.  You might want to double the amounts, though, so you have more of it to serve to your guests.

Non-alcoholic eggnog.  Pretty much the same but sans liquor.  How you make that little whipped cream castle, the recipe doesn't say.  Probably it's all in the wrist.
(Photo and recipe from

Online Etymology Dictionary, nog
Nanna Rognalvdardottir, History of Eggnog, What's Cooking America
Jeannie Nichols,, Make your eggnog safe
University of Minnesota Extension, Handle eggs properly to prevent salmonella

1 comment:

If you're a spammer, there's no point posting a comment. It will automatically get filtered out or deleted. Comments from real people, however, are always very welcome!