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Bottoms Up: Five Hints for Tastier Holiday Eggnog

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It’s the creamy concoction that lurks in a punchbowl at every holiday party, and you either love it or you hate it. It’s eggnog, and while I myself am firmly in the anti-nog camp, many people enjoy a nosh around the holidays. 


Whoever came up with the idea for this bizarre beverage? Blame it on the Brits, because like many things in America, eggnog originated in England. It’s the modern-day descendant of a hot drink called posset, which was made with eggs, milk, nutmeg, and a spirit, such as beer or brandy. Although eggnog has been in existence since at least the seventeenth century, it didn’t become popular until the early 1800s, and even then, it was solely the province of the wealthy. 


Eggnog always contains the same basic ingredients, but many cultures have put their own spin on it, and it’s become a traditional holiday beverage in much of the world. When eggnog made its way to America, the colonists made one major revision of the recipe: they started using rum, which, due to their proximity to the Caribbean, was much cheaper than any other spirit. People in the South, however, now prefer to use locally-made bourbon. In Puerto Rico, eggnog is called coquito, with rum as the preferred liquor, and containing fresh coconut milk. Mexican eggnog, called rompope, is made with rum but spiced up with lots of cinnamon, and Germans make an eggnog-like soup called biersuppe


The Most Egg-cellent Nog
Since eggnog contains so few ingredients, it takes a little practice and finesse to make every one of them stand out. If you plan on augmenting this year’s holidays by making eggnog, there are some simple steps to take to ensure that your festivities are memorable … or at least as memorable as several potent glasses of nog would allow them to be. 


  1. Whether you serve traditional cold eggnog or hot custard-style eggnog, the most important thing is to use the freshest eggs you can find. Most nog experts recommend getting organic eggs from a local dairy, if possible, but at the very least, do the egg test to be sure that freshness hasn’t flown the coop. If you’re making cold eggnog (which utilizes raw eggs), you may want to get a pasteurized variety, to be sure that all harmful bacteria have been killed. 


  1. If possible, freshly grate your own nutmeg, because the sprinkles that come in a plastic jar can’t compare to the taste and aroma of nutmeg that’s been grated to order. 


  1. If you use vanilla in your eggnog, invest in real vanilla beans, or at least a high-quality, real vanilla extract. 


  1. Regular granulated sugar can lead to coarseness and grittiness, especially in cold eggnog. Instead, use a superfine sugar to get a smooth, creamy texture. (Using real heavy cream instead of low-fat milk helps too, but might drive the fat content over your personal level of comfort.) 


  1. Give your version some flair with special touches like a hint of peppermint oil, candy canes hooked over the glass’s edge, a sprinkle of cocoa powder, or a drizzle of caramel. Or if you want to kick it up a notch, try adding flavored liqueurs like amaretto, Frangelico, or anisette. 


Following these bits of wisdom will ensure that your nog is delicious, and that you won’t be stuck chugging the leftovers at the end of the night. Eggnog may be a drink with a long history, but there are many ways to keep it exciting and modern … even though after the third or fourth cup, nobody really cares.


Updated December 16, 2010

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