Which Came First: the Egg or the Nog?

During the holidays, there are two things you are certain to see and able to taste, whether you like them or not. The first, of course, is fruitcake—and if you hate it, just send yours to us. The regifting of fruitcake really does end here. And the second is that lush, creamy, boozy and arguably strange libation known as eggnog.

You sense it before you truly recognize it: the thick, slightly frothy yellow-white liquid filling the glistening silver bowl beneath a light dusting of ground cinnamon, with a ladle to transfer it into festive cups. Almost certainly, people will be milling around that table, filling and refilling their cups. Still, there’s one in every crowd—that man or woman who stakes out the eggnog bowl to regale friends and family alike with how much he or she hates eggnog. It’s just one of those things about the holidays, about good cheer taking over and no doubt letting the whiskey or rum in the eggnog help that happen.

Not surprisingly, we loved the flavor of eggnog years before we got serious enough to wonder about its story. Sometimes called an egg milk punch or even an egg flip, eggnog is officially a chilled, sweetened beverage made with milk and/or cream, with such spirits as whiskey or rum to give it a kick. Eggnog comes to us, like so many good things with Dickensian holiday overtones, from England—and not just generic England but the region called East Anglia. With origins in the Middle Ages, the idea probably took on the name—or just-plain “nog”—from the Middle English word “noggin,” not describing anyone’s head but the carved wooden cups used to serve alcohol.

By the late 1700s, visitors to the young United States wrote home about American travelers taking a hearty draught each, according to custom, of eggnog, a mixture composed of new milk, eggs, rum and sugar, beaten together. In Great Britain, as popularity spread out from East Anglia, the drink took on English-favored spirits like brandy, Madeira and sherry. These were harder to find across the Atlantic, especially away from major eastern seaports, so cheaper rum found its way into the recipe. Dairy products were produced on practically every tiny farm, so it was tough to beat eggnog for both convenience and affordability.

For generations, eggnog was simply and precisely that: a homemade beverage enjoyed in this country from Thanksgiving through Christmas—thus its nostalgic connection with all things holiday. Today, more and more people buy finished eggnog at the supermarket. We think that’s a bit of a shame and provide a recipe to show preparing eggnog is neither complex mixology nor rocket science. Plus, if we may boast within the spirit of the season, we don’t think you’re going to find a commercial eggnog this good.

Holiday Eggnog

Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup light rum
  • 3/4 cup whiskey
  • 2 vanilla beans, split and scraped
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
  • whipped cream and cinnamon sticks, for garnish

Instructions

Whip the egg yolks with 1/4 cup of the sugar until pale yellow. In a separate bowl or blender, whip the egg whites with the remaining sugar. Add the cream and milks, blending until incorporated. Add the whiskey, rum and spices, folding lightly into the milk mixture.

Pour the milk mixture into the bowl with the whipped eggs and sugar. Fold the two together until fully incorporated, whisking if necessary. Chill the eggnog for 4-6 hours until cool. When ready to serve, divide into chilled glasses and top with whipped cream and freshly grated cinnamon.

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