Holiday Eggnog
A custard base provides well-rounded, creamy flavor, and combining the milk and eggs in several stages yields ultra-smooth texture.
The challenge: The eggnog recipes we gathered fell into two categories, uncooked and cooked. We had no bias toward one or the other when we began testing and were prepared to deal with the issue of using raw eggs if we liked the uncooked eggnog better. Nonetheless, we ended up preferring the custardy flavor and creaminess of the cooked versions. The thing to do now was to find the best one.

The solution: Starting with a standard custard recipe (6 eggs to 4 cups milk to 1/2 cup sugar), we tinkered around to find improvements. To enhance the custardís flavor and richness, we added two extra egg yolks; a little more sugar and a bit of salt also improved the flavor. Although we felt we had the right proportion of ingredients for the custard, we werenít sure we had the best technique for combining them; we werenít getting the completely smooth texture we were after. Many recipes, though not all, called for the milk to be added to the beaten eggs very gradually. Upon trying this, we found that it did indeed make for a smoother texture. Any remaining tiny lumps or grains could be removed by passing the custard through a strainer.
The custard base we now had was flavorful and thick, but it was not quite eggnog. Softly whipped heavy cream proved to be a crucial addition, as did some alcohol and the simple flavorings of vanilla extract and nutmeg.

HOLIDAY EGGNOG

Serves 12-16

Adding the milk to the eggs in small increments and blending thoroughly after each one helps ensure a smooth custard. To prevent curdling, do not heat custard beyond 160 degrees. If it does begin to curdle, remove from heat immediately and pour into a bowl set over a larger bowl of ice water to stop the cooking, and proceed with recipe. You can omit the brandy to make a non-alcoholic eggnog, but you should also decrease the cream to 1/4 cup in order to keep the right consistency. For the same reason, increase the cream to 3/4 cup if you choose to add another 1/2-cup alcohol for a high-test nog.

6 large eggs plus 2 yolks
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups whole milk
1/2 cup brandy, bourbon, or dark rum
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg, plus extra for garnish
1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks

1. Off heat, whisk eggs, yolks, sugar, and salt in heavy 3- or 4-quart saucepan. Stir in milk, one-half cup at a time, blending well after each addition. Heat slowly over lowest possible flame, stirring constantly, until custard registers 160 degrees on instant read thermometer, thickens, and coats the back of a spoon, 25 to 30 minutes. Pour custard through sieve into large bowl; stir in liquor, vanilla and grated nutmeg. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, at least three hours and up to three days.

2. Just before serving, whip cream in medium bowl to very soft peaks and gently fold into custard mixture until incorporated. Serve in chilled punch bowl or cups, garnishing with optional grated nutmeg.

November, 1997
Original article and recipes by Ann Flanigan and Anne Tuomey