Eggnog has been around since at least Elizabethan times, and American colonists continued the tradition thanks to the availability of dairy products and easy access to rum and whiskey. No one knows the exact origins of the word nog. Some historians speculate that it comes from the word noggin, meaning a small wood mug. Others say nog refers to a strong variety of beer, which was used in Old World versions of the beverage. Regardless of the history, eggnog today includes these basic ingredients: milk and/or cream, eggs, sugar, nutmeg, and often a liqueur such as brandy or rum.
Just as there is a dramatic taste difference between homemade ice cream and the purchased variety, there is a difference between homemade eggnog and the stuff sold in cartons. A batch of eggnog takes about 15 minutes to make; it can be prepared a day ahead and chilled. Follow this classic recipe to get you started, or try the lower-fat or alcohol-free versions. One recipe makes seven (4-ounce) glasses of eggnog and is easy to double for entertaining. You can also use eggnog to flavor other foods.
1. How to Make Classic Eggnog
Eggnog is basically a thin custard sauce thickened with egg yolks.
- In a large heavy saucepan stir together 4 beaten egg yolks, 2 cups milk, and 1/3 cup sugar. Cook and stir over medium heat until milk mixture just coats the back of a metal spoon. To test this, dip the metal spoon in the egg mixture and swipe your finger across the back. Your finger will leave a mark when the mixture is done (see photo above). Do not let the egg mixture boil. Remove the pan from the heat.
Tip: If the egg mixture gets too hot or boils during cooking, the eggs can scramble or curdle. If this happens, pour it through a fine-mesh sieve and continue as directed.
- Place the pan in a sink or bowl of ice water, and use a wooden spoon to stir for 2 minutes. Stir in 1 cup whipping cream, 2 tablespoons light rum, 2 tablespoons bourbon, and 1 teaspoon vanilla.
- Cover and chill for 4 to 24 hours. Serve in small glasses. Top with freshly grated or ground nutmeg.
Lower-Fat Eggnog: Prepare as directed above, except omit whipping cream and use 3 cups milk. You can use a lower-fat milk, if desired. Another way to cut the fat is to substitute evaporated skim milk for the whipping cream.
Alcohol-Free Eggnog: Prepare as directed above, except omit the rum and bourbon and increase the milk to 2-1/3 cups.