Egg Nog

This recipe begins with a little side trip story about my Christmas tree which is still standing, a month after Christmas has come and gone. I’m contemplating leaving it in place year-round, something I debate about year after year. One year I held out until mid-March before I took it down. That was the year we had an early Spring. After spending most of the day outside in the sunshine, luxuriating like cats on the warm glow of the radiant granite steps, the children and I entered the house only to find the Christmas tree staring accusingly from its steel-gray north-exposure corner. “Mama”, my daughter said, “That tree feels too much like winter”. By bedtime, every ornament, light strand and branch was packed away, out of sight.

Special holiday foods, just like the Christmas tree, have their time and place, too. When my children sipped Christmas eggnog this year, eleven months having separated them from their last taste, they sighed with joy, enjoying the memory of its taste and texture. “Oh, now it tastes like Christmas”, my daughter said. “Yeah,” piped in my son, “and I wish we could have this every day of the year!”

Should I grant his heart’s desire, I would rob him of next year’s memories and first-taste, fully expecting him to respond, “Oh, no, not this again.”

The only trouble I have with the whole Holiday eggnog tradition is finding one that is “healthier” than the rest. We have one local dairy that keeps the chemicals and additives down to a minimum level, unlike Land O’Lakes junk, loaded with corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, mono and diglycerides, polysorbate 80 and carrageenan. The trouble with the locally-made healthier version is it is extremely difficult to find, a local storekeeper telling me that “everyone is trying to eat healthier food so the one without the additives flies off my shelves – can’t keep it in stock!”

It was my husband who came up with the solution, after having watched Alton Brown’s raw egg version, demonstrated on his television program, School of Hard Nogs. As attractive as the idea of raw eggnog was, its frothy whites providing a depth of rich texture, a good supply of farm-fresh properly-raised raw eggs in New England in December, was about as probable as spending Christmas Day sunbathing in 75-degree weather at a local New Hampshire beach.

Moving on to Plan #2, I searched through cooked versions for which I would use organic grocery-store eggs. At the very least, I knew organic food laws prohibited them from containing any arsenic (it’s in the feed!) unlike their non-organic counterparts.

Some recipes suggested using soy or almond milk as a substitute for real milk. Yuck! Yet others, possibly inspired by pseudo-foods generated by the food processing industry, called for corn syrup. Gross! Most contained far too much sugar.

A good egg nog recipe was the same as any quality, classic Creme Anglaise. Creme Anglaise, if we strip away all pretense, is nothing more than vanilla custard – wonderful spooned over hot molten chocolate cakes, drizzled over pumpkin cobbler, used as a base for any ice cream recipe, or with a little added arrowroot, used as a filler in my most often requested cake, Boston Cream Pie.

Just as I was preparing to experiment with a cooked Creme Anglaise, developing my own recipe for eggnog, my eye caught an article in the Pittbsburgh Gazette written back in 2002 by freelance food writer, Marlene Parrish, entitled, “Creme Anglaise makes holidays even sweeter” in which Parrish raved about an eggnog trick she’d learned,

…during a cooking demonstration given by Seattle chef Jerry Traunfeld of the Herbfarm. Early in his career, when he was a pastry chef at Stars, Jeremiah Towers’ restaurant in San Francisco, Traunfeld had to make gallons of creme anglaise every day. It took way too much time, he said, when he’d rather be creating pastries. So he developed a reverse-cooking method for the sauce that is risk-free and speedy. Instead of adding egg yolks to boiling milk, he adds the boiling hot milk directly into slightly pre-warmed egg yolks, which cooks them instantly with no risk and no timing involved. And the custard immediately coats a spoon, the standard test for the finished product. The sauce thickens as it cools in the fridge. Hard to believe until you try it.”

The recipe is every bit as amazing as Parrish promised. I doubled the recipe and reduced the sugar by 30%. Immediately after pouring the hot milk and sugar mixture into my slightly warmed and beaten egg yolks – this is where the magic happens! – I placed the mixture in an 8-qt Pyrex measuring glass container, covering it with a large plate, and then firmly planted the container into a snowbank for super-fast cooling. If I have to live in a cold, northern climate, I may as well take advantage of some freebies – an outdoor ice bath for cooling food.

A couple hours later, after dinner dishes were washed and put away, I went outside to retrieve my Creme Anglaise. All that was remaining in the spot I’d placed the hot container, was a large, dark hole.

Panicking, I quickly looked around the area, my mind wildly speculating that a wild woodland creature – fox, bear, coyote, skunk, racoon, porcupine – had pulled my Creme Anglaise mixture to its den or lair, and at that very moment was entertaining 50 of its closest furry friends….

Returning to reality, I noticed there were no telltale signs of an 8-qt container having been dragged through the snow, much less any four-legged footprints in the freshly fallen snow leading down my walkway. That’s when I looked d-o-w-n the hole in the snowbank, finding my container peacefully resting, its top several inches below the surface. It was none the worse for wear and the Creme Anglaise appeared to be the perfect consistency!

I join in with Parrish singing the praises of Chef Jerry Traunfeld’s creation,

“Called by either its French or English name, the sauce is wonderful served over apple dumplings or pie, strudel, bread pudding or desserts, such as baked pears. To kick it up a notch for company, substitute 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or Cointreau for the vanilla. With a little pinch of nutmeg and a glug or two of rum added to the custard sauce, you create a simple, homemade eggnog without the additives.”

Vanilla Custard Sauce (Creme Anglaise)

  • 6 egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup sugar (Original was 1/2-cup – too sweet for us)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups whole milk (we use grass-fed whole milk)
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla

Place the egg yolks in a warmed bowl and place over barely warm water in a larger bowl. You just want to take the chill off them. (Before proceeding to the next step, remove the yolk bowl from the water bath and dry the outside. This will prevent it from skidding on the counter.)

Add the sugar and salt to the milk in a medium saucepan. Stir constantly over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved and the milk is coming to the boil.

This next part happens VERY quickly, so keep a sharp eye on the milk once steam begins to rise from the top: As the boiling milk rises in the pan, immediately remove from heat and pour the milk into the ALREADY-WHISKED egg yolks, whisking briskly for the first few seconds. Once all the milk is in (about 20 seconds), do not continue to whisk vigorously. STIR to blend, and do NOT aerate or you’ll have Creme Foam instead of Creme Anglaise. The yolks will continue to cook, without further heating. Add vanilla.

Strain into a container to remove those thick, cord-like strands of egg white that anchor the yolk in the center of the egg. They are called chalazae. (Sharon’s note: Repeat several times as the eggs WILL continue to coagulate until the mixture has sufficiently cooled.

Refrigerate until ready to serve. The sauce will thicken as it cools.

For eggnog: Add 1/4 teaspoon fresh nutmeg 1 tablespoon rum or more to taste

Makes 3 cups of sauce, or 4 servings of eggnog.

Sharon’s Notes: This recipe EASILY doubles, and at the rate you’ll use it, I’d suggest doing just that!

It’s extremely rich! We served this 50% whole milk and 50% of the Creme Anglaise mixture which was still richer, smoother and creamier than any processed, packaged, commercial egg nog.

See that little notation in the recipe about the milk rising up the sides of the pan? THIS is KEY! THIS is the signal that the milk is ready to be added to the eggs. DO NOT PANIC and take the milk off the stove too quickly! My grass-fed whole milk raised to within an inch of the top of the pan before I removed it to add it to the eggs. Any less than that, you may not achieve the correct temperature!