Among the great tragedies of the holidays, nestled between fruitcake and unannounced visits from in-laws, is eggnog.
Every year by the time Thanksgiving comes around, grocery stores across the US are stocked with cartons upon cartons of premixed eggnog on their shelves. But the sweet, gluey mess that comes out of these quart-sized containers hardly resembles the rich, creamy, deliciously-spiced and lightly sweet spiked punch that was the holiday drink of our forefathers.
Eggnog originated in England, where it was a drink for nobles, as the milk and eggs used to make it were in short supply. When the colonists traveled to America, they brought the recipe with them, possibly naming it Egg and Grog, which was eventually shortened to eggnog. Unlike their London-based brethren, the colonists had no shortage of milk and eggs, making it much more accessible to the common folk.
When the English crown levied taxes on brandy and wine those colonists, who enjoyed a “wee dram” every now and then, found their access to eggnog to be quite handy, as it allowed them to do an end run around the King. Brandy and wine were the winter drinks of choice at the time, so the new taxes forced these enterprising proto-Americans to make do with rum. According to several accounts, they would spike batches of eggnog to mask and “civilize” the harsh liquor for consumption. This provided a little warmth and festivity during the frigid colonial winter without running afoul of the tax man.
All this colonial history makes one thing clear, good eggnog, like bourbon, tobacco and apple pie, is the birthright of every American. Since the homemade stuff not only tastes better, but is easy to make, somewhat healthier, and mixes with liquor better, there’s not really any reason to suffer through the store-bought stuff.
This is especially true when you want to impress a crowd, or at least a date, with your bartending skills. Despite the simple recipe, people are always amazed when someone goes through “all the trouble” to make homemade eggnog. Best of all, like most punches, you can make it in advance in large batches, so there’s no need for the host to take a break from socializing to mix yet another drink.
The eggnog recipe below will serve about 30, and can be scaled up or down to suit any size party. As tradition dictates, it does a spectacular job of smoothing out the harshness of any liquor, leaving only a lingering warm glow as it goes down. Traditional Holiday Eggnog > Recipe
12 eggs, yolks and whites separated
2 cups superfine sugar
2 pints rum
3 pints milk
1 pint heavy cream
Beat the egg yolks and sugar together until thick. Then stir in the rum, milk and cream. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled and pour into a punch bowl or pitcher. Beat the egg whites until stiff and stir into the eggnog. Stir in cinnamon and sprinkle the nutmeg on top.
It’s easy to change the recipe up as well. Add a little sophistication to the mix and stick it to the English by replacing the rum with brandy, celebrating the fact that all our liquor taxes now go to our own duly elected government. Or make it a truly American drink by using bourbon. The natural sweetness of Kentucky’s finest matches well to the creamy eggnog and adds a mellow burn to the cocktail. Plus, it adds a little testosterone to the drink. Given that few make it through a glass of eggnog without a milk mustache, it can’t hurt to man it up a little. Even if you’re a woman.
Other options include >
1 pint of coffee liqueur, such as like Kahlua, mixed with 1 pint light rum, which would result in a incredibly creamy coffee-flavored concoction on a par with the most delicious Frappucino of all time.
1 pint of pumpkin liqueur, such as Bols Pumpkin Smash, mixed with 1 pint bourbon, delivering a delicious, and drinkable, pumpkin pie.
2 pints of tequila with a tablespoon of cayenne pepper in place of the cinnamon and nutmeg, a spicy take on eggnog perfect for the tequila craze. Just make sure to use a good silver or reposado tequila, such as Don Roberto or Patron.
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for rolling
1 cup skinned hazelnuts, toasted, cooled and finely chopped (see note)
4 to 6 tablespoons honey
4 to 6 tablespoons rum or whiskey
Combine the ground gingersnaps, cocoa powder, 1 cup of the confectioners’ sugar and the toasted chopped hazelnuts in a large bowl. Add 4 to 5 tablespoons of the honey and 4 to 5 tablespoons of the rum or whiskey, stirring until the mixture is evenly moistened and slightly sticky and holds together when you squeeze a bit of it in your hand. (If the mixture seems too dry, add the remaining honey and/or rum or whiskey). With slightly damp hands, shape the mixture into walnut-size balls, then roll them in confectioners’ sugar. The rum balls’ flavor improves with a few days’ aging. Store in an airtight container between layers of parchment paper for up to 3 weeks.
Note > Toast the hazelnuts in a small, dry skillet over medium heat for about 4 minutes, stirring or shaking the skillet often, until they darken in color and become fragrant. Store the rum balls with or without the sugar coating, layered between sheets of parchment or wax paper in an airtight container and kept in a cool area for up to 3 weeks.
Makes 35 balls.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/2 medium yellow onion, medium dice
2 cloves garlic, small dice
1/2 Granny Smith apple, medium dice
1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped fine
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped fine
1/2 cup toasted pecans, chopped
Salt and pepper
1 cup fresh chanterelles, medium dice
1 tablespoon white wine
4 whole large eggs
2 cups half & half
5 cups brioche or challah torn into 1-inch pieces
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch ovenproof casserole with 1 teaspoon of the butter. Place a sauté pan over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon butter. Add onions when butter is melted and cook until almost soft, 4-5 minutes. Add garlic, apples, sage, thyme and pecans, and cook 3-4 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove to a bowl and reserve.
Add remaining butter to sauté pan and cook mushrooms until liquid is released. Season with salt and pepper and cook until liquid is almost gone. Add 1 tablespoon of white wine and reduce. When liquid is almost gone remove mushrooms from heat and add to onion mixture. In a separate large bowl, combine the eggs and the half & half. Blend well with a whisk. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon cracked pepper. Add brioche and cooled vegetable mixture to eggs and mix well. Pour complete mixture into buttered casserole. You may complete this much up to one day before to let bread absorb all the liquid. Keep refrigerated. Cover dish with foil and place in 350-degree oven. Remove foil after about 15 minutes and bake for a total of 35-40 minutes, until browned on top and hot and bubbly all the way through. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Chestnut stuffing can be made as a side dish for a turkey holiday dinner.
2 loaves (16 to 18 ounces each) country-style bread
2/3 cup plus ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 cup finely diced pancetta
2 small sprigs rosemary
¼ teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes
2 cups finely diced onion
2 cups finely diced fennel bulb
2 tablespoons thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup white wine
3 cups chicken stock or broth
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 jars (7 ounces each) peeled and cooked chestnuts, crumbled
2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Cut the crusts off the bread and tear remaining loaves into 1-inch pieces; put into a large bowl. Toss with 2/3 cup olive oil. Spread on 2 rimmed baking sheets. Toast on staggered oven shelves in a preheated 400-degree oven 12 to 15 minutes, tossing occasionally, until croutons are golden-brown and crispy on the outside but still a little soft and tender inside. Reverse baking sheets halfway through cooking time. Cool. Toast the fennel seeds in a small pan over medium heat 2 to 3 minutes, shaking the pan often, until the seeds release their aroma and turn a light golden brown. Coarsely grind the seeds with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Set aside.
Heat a large sauté pan over high heat for 2 minutes. Add remaining ¼ cup olive oil and the pancetta. Sauté 1 to 2 minutes. Turn heat down to medium, add rosemary sprigs and red-pepper flakes and cook one minute. Add onion, fennel, fennel seeds and thyme. Season with ¼ teaspoon salt and a few grindings of pepper. Sauté about 8 minutes or until the vegetables are lightly caramelized. If making ahead, cool and refrigerate vegetables. Otherwise, add to the croutons and set aside. Return pan to high heat and pour in white wine. Bring to a boil and reduce by three-quarters. Add chicken stock or broth and bring to a boil. Pour hot liquid over croutons and vegetables, tossing well to combine. Stir occasionally so that the liquid that settles in the bottom of the bowl can be redistributed. Wipe pan out with paper towels, and return to the stove over medium heat. Swirl in 4 tablespoons butter, and when it foams, add chestnuts. Sauté 4 to 5 minutes, until the chestnuts are golden and sizzling. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper; add to the stuffing. Stir to combine, and adjust seasonings if needed. Add eggs and parsley, toss well and put the stuffing into a 2 ½-quart casserole. Don’t pile it too high, any that remains can be put into a smaller casserole dish. Cover with foil and bake 40 minutes in a preheated 375-degree oven. Remove foil and top stuffing with remaining butter cut into small pieces. Cook uncovered about 15 minutes or until crispy on top.
Makes 10 to 12 servings.
Herbs, apple-cider concentrate, orange juice and lemon juice combine to give flavor to this turkey for your holiday table.
For the turkey >
1 (13-pound) turkey
1 onion, peeled and quartered
2 sprigs fresh rosemary plus 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, divided
3 sprigs fresh thyme plus 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, divided
2 cloves garlic, slivered, divided
For the cider baste >
¼ cup apple-cider concentrate
¼ cup orange juice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
¼ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
For the gravy >
2 cups defatted turkey drippings
1/3 cup apple-cider concentrate
1 ½ cups chicken broth, divided
3 tablespoons orange juice
4 tablespoons flour
To prepare the turkey > Remove the giblets from the turkey. Place turkey on a rack. Stuff with the onion, rosemary and thyme sprigs and 1 slivered clove garlic. Loosen the skin from the turkey breast; put the rosemary leaves, thyme leaves and remaining garlic under the skin.
To prepare the baste > Stir together the cider concentrate, orange juice, lemon juice, olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper. Roast the turkey in a preheated 325-degree oven, basting every 30 minutes with the cider baste, until an internal temperature reaches at least 165 degrees in the innermost part of the thigh, the wing and the thickest part of the breast. (Some diners may want the turkey cooked to a higher temperature).
To prepare the gravy > Pour the drippings out of the roasting pan; degrease. Combine drippings in a saucepan with the cider concentrate, 1 cup broth and orange juice. Bring to a boil. Whisk together the flour and ½ cup broth. Whisk into the liquid, reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Keep warm. Carve the turkey. Serve the sauce in a warm sauce boat. Makes 10 servings.
1 bag (12 ounces) fresh cranberries, washed, dried and picked over
¾ cup dried sour cherries
1/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup red currant jelly
2/3 cup water
¼ cup dark rum
In a large saucepan, combine cranberries, sour cherries, sugar, currant jelly and water. Over low heat, bring to a low simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes, or until cranberries begin to pop. (Cranberries should be tender but not mushy. You may cook the sauce to your taste, from firm whole cranberries to softer ones that give off more pectin and make a thicker sauce). Remove sauce from heat. Stir in rum. Refrigerate at least overnight to thicken sauce. Return to room temperature to serve.
Note > This sauce can be made ahead and refrigerated. The recipe can be doubled. Makes 3 1/2 cups.
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 bag (12-ounce) fresh cranberries
1 3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon powdered ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup molasses
1 large egg
1/2 cup water
Optional garnish: sweetened whipped cream or sour cream
Procedure > [see note on type of pan before beginning this cake]
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put the butter and sugar in the bottom of a well-seasoned 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat and stir until the butter is melted. Then cook undisturbed until the mixture is boiling and the sugar is melted, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat. Arrange the cranberries on top of the sugar mixture and let them stand off the heat while you make the gingerbread batter. Stir the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, allspice and salt together in a large mixing bowl. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the oil with the brown sugar and the molasses. Add the egg and water and whisk again until smooth. Stir the liquid mixture into the flour mixture and continue stirring until smooth. Pour the batter over the cranberries in the skillet and bake until the cake is puffed in the center and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes.
Let the cake stand in the pan for 5 minutes on a cooling rack then place a plate on top of the pan and, using two hot pads, one on the plate and one on the skillet, invert the whole arrangement so that the cake lands, upside-down, on the plate. Lift off the skillet and if any fruit remains stuck to the pan, use a silicone or rubber spatula to transfer it to the top of the cake. Let the cake cool to room temperature before serving.
Note > A well-seasoned cast-iron skillet is the key to preventing the fruit from sticking to the bottom of the pan. If no cast-iron skillet is available, cook the butter and sugar mixture in a saucepan and pour it into a 9-inch cake pan lined with a round of buttered parchment paper. After the cake is inverted onto a serving plate, peel away the parchment. Cranberries and gingerbread play well together in this easy family dessert. Dress it up with a dollop of slightly sweetened whipped cream or sour cream for a holiday dinner or enjoy it cold for breakfast.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.