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For me a great eggnog is unapologetically rich and simple, basically a boozy custard. I start by making a custard (crème Anglaise), which can be used for other tasty purposes also. Then all you need is the right spices and some holiday spirit.
2 cups heavy cream (try to find one where the ingredients are just cream)
1 cup milk
1/8 tsp salt
6 egg yolks*
2/3 cup sugar
6 parts crème Anglaise
1 part cognac (prefer a vanillin-heavy one like Larsen Aqua Ignis)
1 part aged rum (prefer Jamaican)
Add the cream, milk, and salt to a saucepot, open and scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean, and add both the pod and seeds to the pot. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until steaming and bubbling, but not boiling. If you have a thermometer you want it to be 180°F. Remove from heat and let stand.
Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until well beaten, the sugar will help break the yolks into finer pieces. Once the cream has cooled down a bit start whisking it a little at a time into the egg mixture until you've added it all. Adding it gradually will bring the temperature of the eggs up slowly so they don't curdle.
Pour everything back into the pot and heat over medium heat again, stirring constantly until the mixture has thickened and will coat the back of a spoon. If you have a thermometer this will be at 170°F.
Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a container with a lid (this removes any curdled bits of egg yolk and the vanilla pod).
Mix all ingredients except the nutmeg (you can now serve it warm if you like). Or chill and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months (the alcohol content and low temperature will keep it preserved, and it will only become tastier over time).
Serve either warm or cold in 3-4 ounce portions in small glasses, topping each with a grating of fresh nutmeg.
* Reserve the whites (make sure no yolk gets into them as you then won't be able to whip air into them). They can be used right away in a recipe like Halvaroons, or freeze them in a tightly sealed container and later use them to make pavlova (recipe coming soon).
‡ As a shortcut you can use 3 teaspoons of high quality vanilla extract. There will not be the pretty specks in the finished custard, but it will still be delicious.
• The basic crème Anglaise can be used as a warm sauce for any dessert, or once it's been cooled (for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight), can be churned to make a delicious vanilla ice cream.
• Conversely here's a lazy shortcut, you can melt a high-quality vanilla-bean ice cream and use it as the base for this cocktail.
Food images and recipe © Christian Leue.
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