As part of the antipodean inhabitants of London, I’m among that small group that actually doesn’t dream of a white Christmas. Nor do I crave hunks of slow-roasted meat, sausages wrapped in bacon or buttery greens. Instead my bones ache for platters of glistening oysters, large Atlantic prawns and slithers of cold meats while men in singlets grip cold beers in stubbie holders and rest an idle leg on their eskie.
Christmas is your childhood, and no matter how long London has been home, it simply isn’t festive without a little sunburn.
My British mother, on the other hand, would start to feel Chrismassy in July. As the temperature plummeted and we dusted off the woollen component of our wardrobes she would put on Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift For You and start to rummage around for the brandy, the cream, eggs and sugar – all while humming along to Darlene Love’s rendition of Winter Wonderland.
Some years we’d even have a full Christmas in July, with crackers, silly hats, neighbours, pudding and Eggnog. The very idea of the day without the stuff…well it just wouldn’t have been Christmas in July.
Years later I swapped the Northern Beaches for East London and suddenly Eggnog on Christmas Day – the actual December one – started to make a lot more sense.
Of course, I wasn’t the first to stumble across this global (well, northern-global) truth. Our first recording of Eggnog causing strife on December 25th dates to 1801 in America when a certain inebriated judge “ordered egg nogg to be made; upon tasting it he swore and damned so horribly that the whole family were terrified at his profaneness and all this merely because the egg nogg had not whiskey enough in it.”
To be fair, there are many a family Christmas where more whiskey might help, so lets not critic the man too harshly. Yet before we happily hand the invention of this festive treat over the yanks (who can claim far too many cocktails as it is) let’s not forget the ancestor of Eggnog: possets.
“Eggnog has existed under various guises for at least 500 years,” writes Tristan Stephenson in The Curious Bartender. “A very early English version, known as a posset, dates right back to the Middle Ages. It combined boiled milk with spices and ale or mead. Later, in the 16th century, recipes included the addition of eggs.”
Our history of drinking this tasty number is even recorded in Shakespeare – Lady Macbeth drugged the possets of her husband’s guards to put them to sleep.
And on that bright note… if it simply isn’t Christmas without a heady mixture of cream, egg, spirit and a healthy dash of nutmeg, then here are some inspiring recipes to get you started. From the traditional, to the egg and dairy-free, it truly is a drink that will put a smile on the face of anyone dreaming of a white Christmas.
TRADITIONAL: BALTIMORE EGGNOG
For a party of 15, recipe taken from Imbibe by David Wondrich, originally published by Jerry Thomas in 1862.
Difficulty: Low, as long as you remember to keep the whites of the eggs and beat them into a froth before you start. Totally possible to achieve after a few merry sherries.
Directions: Take the yellow of 10 eggs and 100g of sugar, and beat them to the consistency of cream; to this add two-thirds of a grated nutmeg and beat well together. Then mix in 150ml of cognac, 85ml of rum and 120ml of Madeira wine. Have ready the whites of the eggs, beaten to a stiff froth, and beat them into the above-described mixture. When this is all done, stir in six pints of good rich milk. There is no heat used.
MODERN TWIST: BALTIMORE EGGNOG
For an individual serving. Taken from The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manuel by Sean Muldoon, Jack McGarry and Ben Schaffer and inspired The Gentleman’s Table Guide, 1871.
Difficulty: High, this has a lot of small measurements, you have to shake twice and you’ll need to make a vanilla syrup before starting (or just buy one… we won’t tell). Make this before you start swilling back the vino.
15ml vanilla syrup (made by heating 2 cups of sugar with 2 cups of water and vanilla seeds from one pod until all the sugar is dissolved and then allowed to rest for 15 minutes before being strained and bottled.)
1 large egg
45ml single cream
10ml Jamaican rum
10ml aged rum rum
10ml Cruzan Blackstrap rum
45ml 12 year old Irish Whiskey
30ml Pedro Ximénez sherry
fresh nutmeg, grated, for garnish
Directions: Add all the ingredients, except the garnish, to a shaker and shake. Add ice and shake again vigorously. Strain into a wine glass and garnish with the freshly grated nutmeg.
For an individual serving. Taken from The Savoy Cocktail Book, by Harry Craddock, published in 1930.
Difficulty: Low, although the ingredients were written as ¼ curacao and ¾ brandy but it doesn’t say ¾ of what measurement. So we’ve guessed…
1 fresh egg
¼ pint of fresh milk
Directions: Shake well and strain into long tumbler. Grate nutmeg on top.
For a party of 4. Taken from The Curious Bartender, by Tristan Stephenson.
Difficulty: High, this involves heat and a lot of whisking. Be prepared to concentrate and for a proper workout for your wrists.
2 eggs, separated
100ml whole milk
50ml double cream
grated nutmeg, to garnish
Directions: Begin by whisking the egg whites to soft peaks in a heatproof bowl and with an electric hand mixer, or in a stand mixer. Then bring half a saucepan of water up to the boil and place a stainless steel bowl on top. (Make sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water – it needs to be warmed by the steam only). Add the egg yolks and sugar to the bowl and give them a good whisky until the sugar is dissolved. The add the cognac and continue to whisky – it’s really important that you don’t allow the liquid to boil, that is unless you want alcoholic scrambled eggs! Next, add the milk and cream and stir everything together. Check the temperature with a thermometer or probe, it should be around 60°C. Finally, pour the warm mixture into the egg whites, whisking as you go. Pour into glass mugs and grate some nutmeg over the top to serve.
UNCLE ANGELO’S EGGNOG
For a party of 6. Taken from The Craft of the Cocktail, by Dale Degroff. This really is his Uncle Angelo’s recipe.
Difficulty: Low. There is much less whisking and beating in the recipe.
6 eggs, separated
¾ cup sugar
1 litre whole milk
150ml spiced rum
1 whole nutmeg, for grating.
Directions: Beat the egg yolks well until the turn light in colour, adding ½ cup of the sugar as you beat. Add the milk, cream and liquor. Then beat the egg whites with the remaining sugar until they peak. Fold the whites into the mixture. Grate the fresh nutmeg over the drink.
For a party of 6.Taken from Drinks by Tony Conigliaro, in which he says he inherited the recipe from Dale Degroff who we met in our previous Eggnog concoction. Here Tony swaps bourbon and rum for cider brandy and cider.
Difficulty: Moderate. Easy measurements but plenty of whisking. It’s also worth noting that the cider will make the mix fluffy.
6 eggs, separated
300ml single cream
600ml whole milk
150ml Breton cider
150ml 5-year Somerset cider brandy
Freshly grated apple and nutmeg, to garnish.
Directions: Beat the egg yolks with the sugar to form a batter. Add the cream and milk and whisk thoroughly. Continue whisking while slowly adding the cider and cider brandy. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold the whites into the batter mix. Serve in a large bowl and ladle into small cups or glasses. To garnish, grate the fresh apple over the drink and top each sup with a sprinkling of grated nutmeg.
GENERAL HARRISON’S EGGNOG
For an individual serving. Originally this appeared in the original 1892 edition of Jerry Thomas’s How to Mix Drinks. This exact recipe is, however, taken from Dale Degroff’s The Essential Cocktail from 2008.
Difficulty: Low. You’ll need a shaker, but without all that cream and milk this is one of the easiest Eggnogs to make.
115ml fresh apple cider
1½ tsp sugar
Pinch of ground cinnamon, for garnish
Directions: Assemble the bourbon, cider, egg and sugar in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake very well to completely emulsify the egg. Strain over ice into a large goblet and top with the pinch of ground cinnamon.
CLYDE COMMON EGGNOG
Makes 3.8 litres. Taken from The Bar Book by Jeffery Morgenthaler. This is the eggnog they serve at Jeffery’s bar, Clyde Common, in Portland, Oregon, and which has been immensely popular for years. The combination of sweet anejo tequila with dry amontillado sherry is a gorgeous pairing.
Difficulty: Moderate. There’s big amounts of booze and dairy here to deal with but you’re using a blender, which makes life a whole lot simpler.
12 large eggs
360ml añejo tequila
450ml amontillado sherry
1 litre whole milk
720ml heavy cream
Freshly grated nutmeg for garnish.
Directions: In a blender or stand mixer on low speed, beat the eggs until smooth. Slowly add the sugar and blend or beat until all of it is incorporated. Slowly add the tequila, sherry, milk and cream. Refrigerate overnight and serve in small chilled punch glasses. Dust with fresh nutmeg before serving.