Agog over eggnog
December 16th, 2010
07:00 PM ET
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Sam Meyer is an editor at CNN and blogs about cocktails at The boy knows his 'nog. December 24 is National Eggnog Day.

The holiday season is far too often a contentious time: which set of relatives to visit, who to host, how to navigate schlepping to all the parties, white or colored lights, whether you put a star or an angel on top of the tree. For my money, one of the most divisive issues is that of eggnog.

Yes, eggnog. It can vary wildly in textures and flavors. Everyone’s familiar with the annato-colored, too-thick, pasteurized sludge sold in cartons in the grocery store. When I bought that stuff, I would cut it with milk, as I kept envisioning that goo going straight into my arteries, exactly the same consistency as it came out of the carton. It didn’t actually make it any healthier, but it wasn’t quite as gooey. We’ve heard about the history of eggnog, but what’s the best recipe for making your own as well as all the equally tasty variations?

In one corner: my favorite recipe for eggnog. Cocktail blogger and ace bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s recipe is simple, fairly light in texture and has an intense, eggy flavor tempered with brandy and spiced rum. You make it in the blender, and it’s a snap to put together. Just don’t use a commercial blender, as it can heat the contents. Sweet scrambled eggs don’t make a tasty holiday treat.

In the other corner: my mother. Her favorite recipe is from Mary Meade’s Kitchen Companion by Ruth Ellen Church, published by the Chicago Tribune in 1955. (My mother used to work for the Trib's food section, and many of our favorite family dishes come from the recipe files there.) This is heavier and rich, and the orange liqueur really brings out a nice spin on the traditional eggnog taste. You also want to plan ahead with this one, as it’s best when made 24 hours in advance:

Old-School Eggnog

6 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1 cup rum
1 cup orange liqueur (I’d use Grand Marnier, as it’s made with a Cognac base)
1/2 cup Cognac or other brandy
1 1/2 quarts milk
3 cups whipping cream, whipped
6 large egg whites, beaten stiff but not dry
Nutmeg to taste

In a large mixer bowl, beat egg yolks until very thick, light, and lemon-colored. Gradually beat in sugar. Gradually beat in rum, orange liqueur, and Cognac. Refrigerate 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry and beat whipping cream. Add milk slowly to egg yolks. Fold in whipped cream and beaten egg whites. Store covered in refrigerator at least 1 day before serving. Fold risen whites and cream through before serving and sprinkle with nutmeg.

This business of separating the egg whites from the yolks is an old one, going back to the 19th century at least. In the 1862 edition of How to Mix Drinks, or the Bon-Vivant’s Companion, the first American bartending book, ur-bartender Jerry Thomas gives a recipe for Tom & Jerry, which he refers to as his own invention. However, as beverage historian and mixologist David Wondrich points out in his book ‘Imbibe!’, similar recipes saw print as early as 1827, and there are multiple references to Tom & Jerry throughout the 1830s and 1840s in various New England publications.

But what is Tom & Jerry? Let’s let Damon Runyon describe:

This hot Tom and Jerry is an old time drink that is once used by one and all in this country to celebrate Christmas with, and in fact it is once so popular that many people think Christmas is invented only to furnish an excuse for hot Tom and Jerry, although of course this is by no means true.

Tom Jerry

This hot eggnog variation was all the rage throughout the second half of the 19th century. As Wondrich puts it in ‘Imbibe!’:

From after the Civil War until the late 1880s, come the cold weather in October or November, every saloon worth wrecking with a hatchet would get down the china Tom & Jerry bowl . . .and the newspapers would start making spavined jokes about Thomas and Jeremiah, 'two well-known sports' who had just showed up in town and 'whose acquaintance should not be cultivated too deeply.'

The drink fell out of favor eventually, and the New York Sun declared it “to have vanished as absolutely as the dodo” by 1902. (The Sun was wrong, incidentally - people still drink Tom & Jerry in parts of the Midwest, and you can even get premixed versions in Wisconsin.)

As noted above, you separate the yolks and whites and make a kind of batter with the yolks, sugar, spices, and booze. Then you beat the whites and fold them into the batter. To serve, dollop a generous teaspoon of the batter into a mug, add rum and brandy and top with not-quite-boiling milk. A lot of work? Sure. Festive? Indubitably. I like the “Tom & Jerry & Audrey”, the variation by Audrey Saunders of New York’s Pegu Club. (I’d also follow Jerry Thomas’s recommendation of adding some cream of tartar to stabilize the egg whites – a teaspoon per batch should do it.)

There are many other variations on eggnog: Melissa Clark recently published a Butterscotch Scotch Eggnog in the New York Times, and a custard version. The Times also compiled some more variations here.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention coquito, a Puerto Rican eggnog-like drink made with coconut milk. (I don’t even especially like coconut, but must admit to appreciating the old Pepsi bottle full of coquito that one of my girlfriend’s colleagues sneaked her last year.) Coquito is a big deal in some places – the International Coquito Federation, together with El Museo del Barrio in New York City, is even hosting its 9th annual Coquito Tasting Contest this Saturday, where they will confer the much-sought-after title of Coquito Master.

And it’s not a nog, but there’s the thick, creamy Middle Eastern beverage sahlep (aka salep or sahlab), which is made with milk and powdered orchid root. Street vendors in Istanbul sell servings of sahlep from backpack-mounted hammered-copper tanks, and the hot, sweet, cinnamon-y concoction is just the thing on a cold day. You can find sahlep powder in Middle Eastern specialty stores.

Another variation combines a couple of holiday tastes: eggnog and mulled cider. It sounds odd, but none other than President William Henry Harrison was reportedly a fan of an egg shaken up with hard cider and a bit of sugar. The combination is surprisingly good, with the egg adding richness to the cider’s acid bite. A couple of years ago, I tinkered with the ingredients a little while keeping the egg and cider underpinnings, and came up with the festive Tippecanoe Sparkler:

Tippecanoe Sparkler

1/2 oz. rum
1/2 oz. brandy
1/2 oz. allspice dram
1 large egg
2 dashes aromatic bitters
Sparkling cider

Shake all ingredients except the cider with ice, and strain into a chilled flute. Top up with cider and stir gently, and garnish with grated nutmeg or star anise.

And, I’ve saved the best, or at least one of my favorites, for last. My grandmother didn’t make eggnog, but she did make Southern Boiled Custard. (Custards differ from classic eggnogs in that the eggs are cooked.) This custard is a beverage, not a set custard as in a custard pie, but it’s still rich and wonderful.

Grandma Bonnie’s Southern Boiled Custard

2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp flour
1 quart milk

Beat eggs well; add sugar and flour and mix together till smooth. Stir in milk and cook very slowly over low heat (a double boiler is great if you have one large enough) until mixture almost boils and thickens. Add dash or two of nutmeg and whiskey to taste. (when my late grandmother served this to me as a kid, there was needless to say no whiskey included. I was surprised to discover it in the recipe now!) Serve warm in glass or cup, and optionally top with whipped cream.

Incidentally, all of these festive holiday drinks benefit from some freshly-grated nutmeg sprinkled on top. And you don’t even have to worry about the hallucinogenic properties thereof – just make the portions reasonable.

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soundoff (50 Responses)
  1. jj

    Being from the Midwest and having had Tom and Jerrys as recently as last Christmas, I had no idea that it was outmoded. I do prefer eggnog, however.

    December 24, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
  2. Betty Wolf

    Managing diabetes is simple if you are willing to invest a lot of time...attention...effort and planning...and by strictly sticking to your diet regimen. All it takes is some small changes in your everyday habits such as what you eat for lunch and what you do with your free time.

    December 25, 2010 at 5:27 pm |
  3. mmmhealthyfoodie

    As a person who loves to cook and bake , I would offer a recommendation if your are trying to make eggnog at home. When making egg-based recipes, such as those for eggnog, or any which leaves some part of the egg raw, try pasteurized shelled eggs. Only reason I say this is because I am concerned with what I eat. I know some may think that the odds are too large to be affected, but when you use 6 eggs in a recipe or make more than one batch, the odds are greatly reduced. Plus, with all these recent egg recalls, you can never be to sure. You should check them out.

    December 19, 2010 at 10:06 pm |
  4. Bozzie Boy

    I like to mix a jigger of Jack Daniels into my egg nog(low-fat) & then roll up a fat joint of grade A reefer. Talk about decking the halls.....yo, dog!

    December 19, 2010 at 10:51 am |
  5. sabrina

    When using rum – I suggest Bacardi Gold or Select

    December 18, 2010 at 10:27 am |
  6. Sandra LeVin

    It's alright to drink the raw egg because the alcohol kills any possible pathogen? Is that true? Anybody?

    December 17, 2010 at 10:26 pm |
    • Sam Meyer

      I've made tons of drinks using raw eggs - mostly the whites, for froth in shaken cocktails, but also the entire eggs, such as the nog and the Tom & Jerry - and have never gotten sick. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that roughly one egg in every 20,000 is contaminated with salmonella, so perhaps I've just gotten lucky.

      I'm sure the alcohol has an antibacterial effect as well: This video ( from NPR's Science Friday, suggests that the alcohol in their given recipe (which, I hasten to add, is not the same as the ones given above) actually kills off salmonella while the eggnog ages for more than three weeks.

      It also suggests that if you drink the nog right away, the alcohol wouldn't have time to kill the bacteria, which means you should be careful if you're concerned. You can get powdered eggs that are certified salmonella-free (though I've never attempted to make nog with them and can't speak to how they turn out), or you can buy pre-pasteurized salmonella-free eggs. Also, some discussion in the comments at Jeffrey Morgenthaler's eggnog recipe page centers around quickly washing the eggs in a 10% bleach solution, which Jeffrey asserts has no effect on the flavor of the eggs. I'm not sure I'd try that, as eggshells are porous.

      What I do? I continue making egg cocktails, and I try to use eggs from normal sources, and use them fairly quickly after I've bought them. I figure that even if I get sick once in every 20,000 egg drinks, those are acceptable odds to me. Your mileage may vary, however.

      December 18, 2010 at 11:07 pm |
  7. W

    Eggnog with a shot of Van Gogh Double Espresso Vodka is delish.

    December 17, 2010 at 7:54 pm |
  8. Maggie

    My later grandmother made the BEST boiled custard, and not just for Christmas. If one of us was sick, she would send over a large glass jar full of warm custard, and it was HEAVENLY!

    December 17, 2010 at 3:32 pm |
    • BB

      later than what?

      December 18, 2010 at 6:08 pm |
  9. The Hermitage Hotel

    Many of our guest really enjoy the orange flavor from this cocktail.

    December 17, 2010 at 1:59 pm |
  10. Cousin Nogg

    If you are not a fan of eggnog, try a Syllabub. A cousin to the eggnog, this dessert drink was popular in 16th centutry England. Traditionally the syllabub is made with wine and heavy cream. We make ours utilizing our Hand Selected Jack Daniels Single Barrel, Cointreau and whipped cream that contains a little orange juice. Enjoy!

    December 17, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
    • Evil Grin

      Sounds interesting.

      December 17, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
  11. Simon and Gar Farkel

    @Rodin stop already with the cookbook – its gotten old and trite. I've never been too much of a fan. My mother would make eggnog for the holidays. I do like the suggestion of the eggnog martini though – that might soothe it over for me since I've always thought the drink to be a bit rich and thick.

    December 17, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
  12. Janet

    i'm really glad to see such luv for eggnog! my dad made it – with booze – every Christmas when i was growing up and it's one of the things i miss most now that he's passed on. thanks for the recipes :)

    December 17, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
  13. jman

    How can you write a thousand word artical about Christmastime and avoid the word Christmas?

    December 17, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
    • Sam Meyer

      Deliciousness is nonsectarian.

      December 17, 2010 at 2:06 pm |
    • Llama Llama Duck

      Author probably didn't figure on a reader so touchy about such a slight oversight that they'd sit down and start counting the words on the screen...

      On the behalf of poor abused Sam:
      "Christmas"... "Christmas"... "Christmas"... "Christmas"... "Christmas"... "Christmas"... "Christmas"..."Christmas"

      Happy now, Scroogie McPants-in-a-Twist?

      December 17, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
      • Admirer@LLDuck

        Laughs! So funny!

        December 17, 2010 at 2:14 pm |
      • George

        or maybe he figure people like you will be offended if he written "Christmas"

        December 20, 2010 at 10:24 am |
      • George

        or maybe he figure people like you will be offended if he written "Christmas"...I was referring to the hairy duck

        December 20, 2010 at 10:25 am |
  14. The Fashionably Bombed Girls

    We made a similar version of Eggnog on our blog, but we harvested the eggs ouselves! We're very interested in trying the Tom & Jerry next!
    Flannery & Katherine

    December 17, 2010 at 1:04 pm |
  15. foodie

    A really good French vanilla ice cream thawed is a (sometimes) acceptable substitute for the custards. Pour them warm over cubed pound cake as a parfait and top with whipped cream. Alternately, the custard recipe here can be changed with the addition of two more eggs and somewhat less flour. The eggs provide the thickening action.

    December 17, 2010 at 12:55 pm |
  16. Alicia

    Love eggnnog, with or without alcohol. But, the coolest part of this article is that I ahve some of those mugs. I had never seen them before.

    December 17, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
    • Sam Meyer

      The Tom & Jerry mugs? Got 'em on eBay. Love 'em. Wish I had more.

      December 18, 2010 at 10:50 pm |
  17. Josh

    Trader Vic's of Tiki Bar fame has a decent premixed version of the Tom and Jerry as well. We could always find a jar of the thick stuff at our local San Diego Albertson's, although often dust covered and aged past perfertion. Extra brandy or spiced rum always brings the viscosity back though...

    December 17, 2010 at 12:35 pm |
  18. The Dude

    Variation on a White Russian.......Instead of cream or milk, add eggnog. Wonderful!

    December 17, 2010 at 12:23 pm |
    • Georgia Peach@The Dude

      That sounds delicious!

      December 17, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
      • The Dude

        We call it the Feliz Navidude.

        December 17, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
    • diana

      On the list!

      December 17, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
    • diana

      HoHoHo! We just made a couple, great drink!

      December 17, 2010 at 9:01 pm |
    • Martha

      Mmmm...not THAT sounds delicious! Thanks for posting! :~)

      December 19, 2010 at 7:57 pm |
    • Martha THAT sounds delicious! Thanks for posting! :~)

      December 19, 2010 at 7:57 pm |
  19. Meggie

    Eggnog is great, but adding alcohol (to me) just ruins it. Sorry, but all alcohol smells and tastes like gasoline or lighter fluid. Where are the virgin eggnog recipes?

    December 17, 2010 at 12:03 pm |
    • Sam Meyer

      Meggie, you can make any of these recipes and leave out the alcohol - they should work just fine. I've made the Southern Boiled Custard, the General Harrison's Cider Nogg, and Jeffrey Morgenthaler's egg nog recipe all without booze. And the "Old School Egg Nog" recipe should work well too, though you may need to add a touch more milk to that one. I probably wouldn't bother with the Tom & Jerry, though, as the Old School Egg Nog is pretty similar in preparation. Jeffrey Morgenthaler's is faster, too, since you're not separating the yolks and whites and treating them separately - just throwing things in the blender.

      December 17, 2010 at 12:08 pm |
      • Meggie

        Thanks Sam! I'll give it a try!

        December 17, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
    • Alan


      3 eggs (separate the whites to whip and fold in at the end if you want foamy thick eggnog), 1 cup of 1/2 &1/2, 1/4 cup of sugar, tiny splash of vanilla extract (no more than 1/8 tsp.), and nutmeg to taste. Blend in a mixer or a blender. Easy, fast, and delicious.

      December 17, 2010 at 5:48 pm |
  20. Darwin ate some

    Hooray Nog is news!

    w/Crown yum!

    December 17, 2010 at 11:07 am |
  21. Dr. G

    I love eggnog, but alas am lactose intolerant and I can only very rarely find lactaid eggnog in the grocery store. I would make my own, but every recipe always calls for milk, which I could use lactaid milk, and also cream which I have never found a lactose free variety of. I'm quite excited to try this southern boiled custard, using lactaid of course. I hope it will be a reasonable substitute for eggnog. Cheers!

    December 17, 2010 at 10:59 am |
    • eggnooooog

      Just so you know, Silk (soymilk) makes a "Nog". It's not too bad, actually. I usually cut my regular eggnog with the Silk brand.

      December 17, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
    • Sam Meyer

      I definitely plan to try a batch of the Southern Boiled Custard with soy milk (though I'm sure it would offend the memory of my grandmother.) I haven't cooked at all with it, though, and wonder if it thickens properly.

      December 17, 2010 at 12:11 pm |
  22. diana

    Where is the edit function. I really can spell eggnog.

    December 17, 2010 at 10:47 am |
    • Maggie

      I wouldn't have caught the typo if you hadn't pointed it out! Anyway, 'eggnong' sounds like something made with eggnog.

      December 17, 2010 at 3:05 pm |
  23. diana

    My fave, the eggnong martini. Cut the thickness of the carton eggnog with alcohol! One shot of vodka, a shot of amaretto, and one or two shots of eggnog. Nutmeg. Cheers!

    December 17, 2010 at 10:46 am |
    • Rodin

      I always give some sort of culinary gift to the hostess when i go to holiday parties.. and bringing these cocktails would be great to bring as a hostess gift..I also found this hilarious, politically incorrect cookbook that I am giving to everyone too! It is called.. well.. I won't tell you the name of it her cause some of you will freak, but if you google "whipped and be aten culinary works" you can find it.. best part is it was under $15! but be warned. if you dont have a good sense of humor.. this one probably isn't for you!

      December 17, 2010 at 10:53 am |
      • Queen of Everything

        hey Rodent, we don't want your damn cookbook!

        December 17, 2010 at 11:00 am |
    • Lynntak

      Sounds great!!! It's five o'clock somewhere, right??????

      December 17, 2010 at 12:55 pm |
    • Kathy

      This Chicago Tribune recipe is the best in the world. I am so happy that you could share this with others. I have been making this recipe for 40 years. It's killer!

      December 22, 2010 at 3:36 pm |
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