I just looked at the calendar and realized that the time for wintry merrymaking is coming closer. While I'm staunchly against Christmas creeping forward every year (seriously, retailers, can we at least wait until after Halloween before putting up Christmas decorations?), there's one piece of Yuletide cheer that is best started before Thanksgiving: eggnog.
I'm not talking about adding a lot of rum to eggnog from a grocer's dairy case. That stuff is, quite frankly, hideous. In lieu of eggs, dairies add all manner of thickeners and flavorings and try to pass it off as real eggnog. I'll pass, thank you.
The solution is simple: Make your own eggnog. It's easy enough. There is a decision to make, though. Do you cook the eggnog before serving? Quite a few people cook their nog because it gives a thicker texture, but more because it skirts the issue of potentially giving your guests a case of salmonella poisoning.
There's an even better way: Age your eggnog in the refrigerator for a few weeks before you serve it. The wary among us are likely recoiling at the thought of mixing two highly perishable products and letting them sit for some time before consuming. Good news: There's less risk than you think.
Aging eggnog has a bit of science on its side. Dr. Rebecca Lancefield was a prominent microbiologist at The Rockefeller University in New York City. Every year for decades, she would bring in a batch of eggnog before Thanksgiving and let it "mellow" in the back of the lab fridge for a couple of weeks before serving it at the lab Christmas party.
A few years ago, the NPR show Science Friday visited the lab to do an experiment with the eggnog: How would a batch intentionally tainted with a dozen eggs' worth of salmonella turn out? Check out Science Friday's clip to find out.
It turns out that aging has quite a positive effect on the nog. The significant amount of alcohol took the level of salmonella in the batch to zero after three weeks in the refrigerator. There's taste benefits, too; the flavors meld and improve after an extended stay in the refrigerator.
It is worth noting that from a scientific standpoint, this is far from conclusive results. This was just one lab test, and while these microbiologists have been consuming it for 40 years, it's still anecdotal evidence that counts for absolutely squat. But, as far as anecdotal evidence goes, it's pretty compelling evidence.
While the risk of food-borne illness here is almost nonexistent, there's still a non-zero chance. It's a good idea to play it safe; If someone has a compromised immune system, they probably should pass on this eggnog. Also, keep an eye on it while it's mellowing; the alcohol should keep bacteria at bay (and indeed should sterilize the mixture given enough time), but if it starts to look or smell weird, pitch it and start again.
Eggnog (based on Dr. Lancefield's recipe) 1 dozen eggs 2 cups sugar 1 quart half-and-half 1 750-ml bottle gold or dark rum 1 750-ml bottle bourbon 1 quart heavy cream Nutmeg to taste (at least 1 teaspoon)
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Beat eggs in a stand mixer until frothy and light. While mixer is running, gradually add sugar until fully dissolved. With mixer still running, add half-and-half, then slowly add bourbon and rum. Transfer mixture to a large bowl.
Whip heavy cream to soft peaks, and whisk into eggnog mixture. Add nutmeg and more sugar to taste. Store covered in the refrigerator at least 3 weeks before serving.
Serve in small glasses, garnished with a sprinkle of freshly grated nutmeg.