There are many variations of eggnog for holidays

Eggnog is a traditional treat during the winter holiday season.
December 31, 2011

Have you made your plans for New Year’s Eve? Restaurant options range from elegant dinners capped with a champagne toast at midnight to large venues with live bands and loud crowds dancing until the ball drops. And, speaking of “drops,” if you’re interested in the offbeat, several nearby towns have scheduled all sorts of family-friendly celebrations: a muskrat drop in Princess Anne, a crab drop in Easton and a horseshoe drop in Chincoteague.

No matter where we go, we usually try to return home early enough to share a glass of eggnog and watch the Times Square festivities that ring in the new year. One of our traditions is an annual purchase of Lewes Dairy eggnog. This year, after reading the nutrition label, I wanted to create a lower-calorie option so I could drink more than just one-quarter of a cup.

As I researched recipes, I discovered concoctions weighing in with more calories than the original, as well as some with dubious ingredients like pudding mix, cornstarch and artificial sweeteners. Along the way, I learned a few fun facts about the history of eggnog, which seems to have its origins in alcohol-laced milk punch often used as a health tonic or sleeping aid.

Beginning in the Middle Ages and through the 16th century, these early versions combined milk and spices with ale or wine. Without refrigeration, alcohol in the beer and wine not only fortified the drink, but also kept the milk from spoiling. Although often used interchangeably in many descriptions, the European dishes known as possets and syllabubs are not the same as our eggnog.

Syllabub is cold custard made from cream and wine, while posset is a warm dessert made from cream, eggs and wine. Also called sack posset (for the specific sherry that replaced wine) a perfectly executed version has an upper layer of foam, a middle layer of spicy custard and an alcoholic liquid pooled at the bottom. It’s best served in a posset pot, a decorative bowl designed with a wide mouth to spoon out the first two layers and a narrow spout to drink the last. I don’t think Lady Macbeth went to the trouble to serve Duncan’s guards their poisoned possets in so fine a vessel.

Serving eggnog at the holiday season has been popular in this country since the 17th century when the drink found its way to the colonies. The one change Americans made was the substitution of readily available rum for the more costly brandy. Tradition holds that George Washington had his own recipe for eggnog, notable for the variety and quantity of spirits included.

Many countries have versions of an alcoholic milk punch, from the German eierlikor (egg liquor) made with grain alcohol, to the Mexican rompope with hints of almond and lots of egg yolk. My favorite was the eggnog in Quebec, labeled lait de poule (hen milk).

The remaining puzzle was how this drink became known as eggnog. One thought is that it evolved from the combination of “nog” an English term for beer, “grog” a sailors’ term for rum, and “noggin” a small, carved wooden cup used in taverns. Perhaps it’s the compression of egg-and-grog-in-a-noggin that shrank into the less complicated name, eggnog.

I’ve included several recipes for eggnog, including George Washington’s version from the Old Farmers Almanac. He’s quite precise about the alcoholic ingredients, but didn’t specify the number of eggs; I’d estimate he used a dozen. In any recipe for eggnog, be sure to use superfine or confectioners sugar; granulated sugar will not dissolve completely and may sink to the bottom. In the unlikely event of leftover eggnog, fill a buttered pie pan with cubes of crustless raisin bread and pour in enough eggnog to cover; bake for about 25 minutes in a medium oven for a potent dessert.

Now that we were well versed in eggnog, we turned to Lewes Dairy once again this year and brought home a bottle of their wonderful nog. Happy New Year!

George Washington’s Eggnog
1 qt cream
1 qt milk
12 T sugar
1 pint brandy
1/2 pint rye whiskey
1/2 pint Jamaica rum
1/4 pint sherry
12 eggs

Mix liquor first, then separate yolks and whites of eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, mix well with liquor. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently.

Traditional Eggnog
12 eggs
2 C superfine sugar
1 pt brandy
1 pt rum
1/2 pt apricot brandy
6 C milk
2 C cream
1/4 t grated nutmeg

Separate the eggs. Pour egg whites into a clean bowl; cover and refrigerate. Combine the yolks and sugar in a large mixing bowl; beat until thick. Slowly pour in the brandy, rum and peach brandy, stirring constantly. Add the milk and cream; stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least three hours. When ready to serve, pour into a punch bowl. Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold gently into the eggnog. Sprinkle with grated nutmeg.

Cooked Eggnog
6 eggs
2 egg yolks
4 C light cream
10 T confectioners sugar
1 C rum
1 T vanilla
1/2 t nutmeg

Pour the cream into a large saucepan. Whisk in eggs, yolks and sugar; stir until thoroughly combined. Place saucepan on the stove over the lowest possible heat. Cook for 25 to 30 minutes, whisking continuously until the mixture reaches 160 degrees and will coat the back of a spoon. Line a strainer with cheesecloth and place it over a large mixing bowl. Pour the mixture through the strainer to catch any pieces of cooked egg; discard the cheesecloth and any collected solids. Stir in the rum, vanilla and nutmeg; cover and refrigerate for at least four hours. When ready to serve, whisk with an immersion blender to ensure a creamy consistency.

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