2 Ways to Rich, Frothy Eggnog

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[Photographs: Vicky Wasik. Video: Serious Eats Video]

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I’m not a festive person, but I love the holidays for the simple fact that I can shamelessly drink mugfuls of what's essentially the equivalent of melted ice cream. I’m talking, of course, about eggnog. The best eggnog is creamy and frothy, and should give you a swift kick in the pants from a generous splash of booze.

Around the holidays, the dairy aisle in your local supermarket is probably locked and loaded with a whole array of premixed eggnogs, from dairy-free almond-milk-based concoctions to pumpkin-spiced potions. But most store-bought versions can’t hold a candle to the stuff you can make at home. Luckily, homemade eggnog is only five ingredients away, and the simple base can be customized any way you choose.

Here are two methods for making your own delicious version of this holiday classic.

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Rich and Frothy Eggnog

If you want to make a large batch of eggnog that has a foamy head and lighter mouthfeel, then reach for your stand mixer, hand mixer, or even an immersion blender. This eggnog is made especially frothy and light with whipped egg whites and thick, ribbon-y yolks.

I start by separating the eggs and placing the whites in the bowl of my mixer. (You can also do this by hand with a whisk, a bowl, and some elbow grease—it will take longer, but there will be eggnog to quench your thirst after you’ve worked up a sweat.) I whisk the whites until they’re frothy before slowly adding sugar, continuing to whip them until they're thick enough to form soft peaks. Then, I transfer the meringue to another bowl and set aside.

Next, I place the egg yolks in the original bowl, along with additional sugar, and beat the yolks until they’re thick and pale before pouring in the milk, cream, and alcohol. Rum or brandy is a traditional addition to eggnog, but whiskey also works, and a splash of allspice dram adds some spicy bite. A few dashes of Angostura bitters can help balance the sweetness of the sugar and heat of the alcohol.

Once everything is whisked together, I gently fold in the whipped egg whites to lighten up the mix. You can serve the eggnog right away, or age it in the refrigerator for months; as it ages, new and complex flavors will develop, which some people find especially delicious. (Kenji taste-tested eggnog that had been aged for one year to see if it was all it was cracked up to be—you can read all about his findings here.) If you don’t serve the eggnog right away, much of the lighter egg white foam will rise to the top over time—just be sure to give it a good shake or stir to redistribute the froth. I like to garnish each glass with freshly grated nutmeg just before serving.

If you’re worried about consuming raw eggs, research has shown that as long as the eggnog contains at least 20% alcohol, the mix will become sterile after 24 hours. But if you’d rather avoid any risk, or if you prefer to leave your eggnog un-spiked, you can also either use pasteurized eggs or cook the egg and sugar mixture over a water bath.

To do this, combine the whole eggs and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer, and warm them over gently simmering water, stirring constantly with a flexible rubber spatula. Once the mixture reaches 155°F (68°C), return the bowl to the stand mixer, and whip until it’s thick and fluffy before adding the milk, cream, and alcohol. Cooking the eggs denatures their proteins, allowing them to whip readily without being separated, so this method is just as quick and easy as making a raw eggnog. The texture will be every bit as light, but the nog will have more of the deep flavors of a custard.

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Smooth and Creamy Eggnog

If you don’t care much for fluff, or need a drink for one (don’t worry, we’ve all been there), this cocktail-shaker method is an easy way to make single-serving batches of velvety eggnog.

In a cocktail shaker, I combine two eggs with milk, cream, sugar, and alcohol before giving it all a dry shake. A dry shake is the process of shaking a drink without ice; most cocktails containing egg or cream get a dry shake before they’re shaken with ice (or sometimes after, depending on the bartender) to ensure that all the ingredients are thoroughly emulsified. After giving it a good shake, you can strain and serve right away, or shake it again with ice if you prefer your eggnog extra chilled.

If you want to break from tradition, we’ve got enough variations on the drink—including coconut eggnog, Nutella eggnog, and maple bourbon eggnog—to keep you tipsy through all 12 days of Christmas. All that cream and sugar might put some winter weight on you, but don’t worry—that’s what ugly holiday sweaters are for.