If you were to rank Yuletide peculiarities of otherwise reasonable people on some sort of oddness scale, the seasonal demand for rich, eggy, booze-laden beverages is situated several points below the desire to wear a reindeer sweater adorned with shiny, jingly things, and the genuine conviction that anybody honestly wants a scented candle as a gift. Still, there it is, every year–even before Thanksgiving, the cartons of eggnog are stacking up in the supermarket cooler next to the two-percent, and you know that at some point before New Year, willing or not, you’re going to wind up with a cup of nog in your hand. And, most likely, it’s gonna suck.
But while we own up to the inevitability of eggnog, we should also embrace it. This year, instead of drinking the carageenan-thickened crap they peddle down at Safeway, spiked with a slug of Jim Beam, make an early New Year’s resolution to mix up a batch of your own. Sure, it has raw eggs in it, and cream, and whole milk, and a good dose of booze–but a little hint of danger makes the holiday that much more exciting. Besides, if you’re going to actually consume a cardiologist’s nightmare this season, you might as well get some exercise mixing up the drink yourself–with the heaping scoop of saturated fat each mugful of cheer contains, you need all the help you can get.
Open most any general cookbook or bartending guide and you’ll find an eggnog recipe. This one, from David Wondrich’s Esquire Drinks, is the one I’m thinking about using to upholster my guests on Christmas, unless I have a change of heart and decide to make Tom & Jerrys.
(Jiggle the amount based on your number of guests; this recipe makes–oh, hell, a lot):
- 1 dozen eggs, separated
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 pint cognac
- 1 1/2 pint full-bodied Jamaican rum
- 1 pint milk
- 1/2 pint heavy cream
- grated nutmeg
Separate the eggs; beat the yolks strenuously, slowly adding sugar and continuing until the sugar is completely dissolved. Slowly add the cognac, stirring the entire time. Repeat with the rum–and yes, keep stirring. Add the milk and cream, and keep going with the stirring.
Ready for a break? Too bad–using a clean whisk, beat the whites to stiff peaks. If you don’t cook that often and thus don’t know what this means, keep beating.
Fold the whites into the mixture. then stir in the grated nutmeg. Finally, pour some in a mug and go sit next to the fire. Don’t let the kids get at it, unless you want it to be the story that keeps going around everytime everybody gets together for Christmas.
Bourbon freak? No problem–just swap some bourbon for the rum, or the brandy, or the rum and the brandy, and see what happens.
But if eggnog just isn’t your thing, or if you can’t get past that raw egg bit, consider this concoction, which has even more of a holiday connection than the old nog: the Tom & Jerry.
To be fair, this probably belongs in my Gettin’ Jerry With It category of Jerry Thomas beverages, perhaps more than any other drink (the ‘Jerry’ in the name being Thomas, and the ‘Tom’ being…get it?) On its surface, the Tom & Jerry resembles a hot eggnog, but with the formula tweaked a bit, and it tastes like a much different creature. Ubiquitous at Christmastime for around a century (it faded away sometime during the Eisenhower years), the Tom & Jerry is a very agreeable holiday companion, one with a warm character and a cheerful reputation (there’s an old Damon Runyon story, the name of which I of course can’t recall, about a group of guys spending Christmas in a speakeasy, drinking Tom & Jerry’s with prescription rye–no point in bringing this up, other than to say it’s a great story and the next time I make a batch, I’ll be sure to reach for some bonded Rittenhouse or some Van Winkle Family Reserve). I made these last Christmas for folks to enjoy while opening presents, and they were greeted with polite comments, but not outright enthusiasm. I’ll probably give them a pass this season in favor of eggnog, but there’s always the chance I’ll change my mind on Christmas morning and decide that the best formula for the day involves a mug or three of steaming boozy goodness.
As with the eggnog, the T&J takes a bit of work, but it’s honest labor, and sometimes that’s needed in a drink. Many recipes call for this to be made with hot milk, but that can be kind of heavy; a mixture of hot milk and water may be preferable. Thanks to the New York Times Style Magazine, I understand that Audrey Saunders is serving these at Pegu Club in New York; below is her recipe.
Tom & Jerry
- 12 eggs
- 3 tablespoons vanilla extract
- 2 ounces Bacardi 8 rum
- 4 dashes Angostura
- 2 pounds sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
For the drink:
- whole milk
- Bacardi 8 rum (or use another full-bodied rum, like Appleton Extra)
- Courvoisier or other cognac or decent brandy
To make the batter: separate the eggs. Beat the yolks, then add vanilla, rum, bitters, sugar and spices. In another bowl, beat the whites until stiff. Fold the whites into the mix until it has the consistency of pancake batter. You can refrigerate this–and should, if you’re not using it right away–but use it the same day.
To serve: heat the milk, and boil some water. Stir your batter, then pour 2 ounces of it into a toddy mug. Add 1 ounce rum and 1 ounce cognac. Fill the mug with equal parts hot milk and boiling water. Dust with freshly ground nutmeg.
** As with eggnog, bourbon also works well here, in place of the rum, or the brandy, or the rum and brandy. If Damon Runyon is right, rye should work, too. Report back on your findings.