Don’t buy ready-mixed eggnog. Make what they served at Mount Vernon.
By Francine Maroukian
For a few short days every year, it is perfectly acceptable to drink creamy, booze-laced punch from a dainty cup. Especially if it’s a version of the creamy, booze-laced punch George Washington used to serve over the holidays at Mount Vernon, his plantation house in Virginia. If you think you don’t like eggnog, that’s probably because you’ve had only the overly sweetened commercial variety. “The true version takes time and patience,” says Brooks Reitz (pictured), founder of Jack Rudy Cocktail Co, which makes iconic cocktail ingredients with a Southern point of view. “But it will blow you away.”
Eggnog was a British custom transported to the colonies and favoured by settlers who remained devout Anglophiles. Reitz uses a recipe from those times, passed down (through his “Nonnie”) from George Washington, who also had a large distillery at Mount Vernon and whom Reitz’s family proudly recognises as an ancestor.
“We are members of the National Society of Washington Family Descendants, and my great-grandmother was very keen on lineage and traditions,” he says. “Every Christmas, my family unearths our silver punch bowl and prepares eggnog to serve at our house, same as the year before. Everyone is invited. Making it correctly is a rite of passage.” We asked him to walk us through how to do just that.
• 7 eggs, separated
• 7 jiggers (1 1/3 cups) bourbon
• 2 cups milk
• 7 tbsp (heaping) sugar
• 450 ml heavy cream
• nutmeg, grated, to float on top of each cup
Step 1: Using a standing or handheld mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks until they are a lemon colour.
“I grew up in an agricultural family in western Kentucky, so there was always integrity to our ingredients – a rural wholesomeness found in real eggs and nice fresh dairy from the farm, not the factory,” Reitz says.
Step 2: Gradually add bourbon to egg yolks, beating vigorously until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. At a lower speed, whisk milk into the mixture until it resembles loose custard.
“Although I don’t know the science, my family says the alcohol cooks the eggs. The finesse is how we add the bourbon. We pour it into a Pyrex measuring cup, then drizzle it into the yolks tablespoon by tablespoon, incorporating it very well with each addition.”
Step 3: In a separate bowl, beat egg whites till stiff. Add sugar. Continue beating. Add to yolk mixture. In another bowl, beat cream till stiff. Add to mixture, folding in gradually. Store in refrigerator until serving time.
“When the eggnog is done, we transfer it to a Tupperware pitcher and store it in the refrigerator until the next day. You can drink it the same day you make it, but the next day the eggnog will have a luscious density with a foamy, meringue-like top, easily reincorporated by stirring with a wooden spoon. Never add ice. Always nutmeg.”
About 8 servings: To serve more friends – you need two batches. Don’t just double the recipe. Make one batch, clean the utensils, then make a second.
Eggs, alcohol and salmonella
High-proof alcohol can cook an egg by causing a chemical reaction with the protein, although the process takes hours. (Bacteria hide in the fat of the yolk for protection, says food scientist Harold McGee.) But the egg doesn’t need to be cooked to keep you from getting salmonella. For one thing, the chances of a washed egg you got at the supermarket carrying salmonella are very slim.
If you’re still worried, McGee recommends placing the eggs in a 60˚C pot of water for two hours. It won’t cook the egg, but will kill any festivity-crashing bacteria.