What Is Eggnog?
Learn how to make traditional eggnog, alcohol free eggnog and what to do with the leftovers when the party’s over. It’s so easy: make it once, and you’ll never go back to store-bought again.
By Fraya Berg for Food Network Kitchen
Fraya is a chef and a contributing writer at Food Network.
If you don't know what eggnog is (and by that we mean real, made from scratch eggnog), you're not alone! Eggnog has gone in and out of fashion, and it’s one of those things that you either love or don’t love: like cilantro. If you do love it, you’ll want to learn how to make eggnog and serve it at a winter gathering because it will be so much better than the store-bought stuff from the carton.
What Is Eggnog? And What Is Eggnog Made of?
Eggnog is a milk and egg drink traditionally served during the holidays at large gatherings. And you might just want to pull out the punch bowl you inherited from your great aunt for the occasion. In the old days, before we had electricity and refrigeration, eggnog was called milk punch and was a drink served only by the wealthy due to the expense of sugar and brandy. Since serving it was a sign of wealthy, toasts to long life and wealth were made when it was served.
In the 21st century, most people can easily make eggnog at home: it doesn’t require special ingredients that will break the bank. Eggnog is traditionally made with eggs, egg yolk, sugar, milk, heavy cream and vanilla extract. It's often spiked with brandy and topped with freshly grated nutmeg and/or cinnamon sticks.
What Does Eggnog Taste Like?
Eggnog has a sweet and creamy custardy flavor that's cut by the honeyed-sharp flavor of brandy. Thanks to the warm spices traditionally served on top (like nutmeg, cinnamon and sometimes even cloves or star anise), eggnog also often tastes slightly spicy and perfumed - like all the lovely holiday baking ingredients. The texture is thicker than a glass of whole milk, more akin to melted vanilla ice cream. Because the beverage is rich and undoubtedly a treat, it's often served in small crystal or cut-glass tumblers.
How to Make Eggnog
There are two ways to make eggnog - the cooked egg version and the raw egg version.
Either way, the basic premise is whisking egg yolks with sugar to increase the volume of the yolks and create a natural thickener. Milk and cream are then added along with cinnamon and nutmeg for the traditional flavor. The final step is to whip the egg whites to peaks and gently fold them into the big bowl with everything else. At this point you get to decide if you’re going to add alcohol or not.
For the raw version, you just take those steps and it’s done. For the cooked version, you basically make a custard with the egg yolks, sugar and milk. Then you add the cream (whipped or not, your call) and the whipped whites.
In both versions, the whites are not cooked, because uncooked egg whites are safe to eat. If you’ve ever had lemon meringue pie, you’ve had raw egg whites, because only the very top layer of the meringue, the brown swirls, are cooked.
Is It Safe to Drink Eggnog?
It's smart to keep eggnog safety in mind, especially if you're serving eggnog to children or immuno-compromized, pregnant or breastfeeding individuals. A surefire way to make safe eggnog is to take the cooked eggnog version. If you're using a recipe that calls for raw eggs, buy pasturized eggs from the supermarket, which have been heat-treated to kill any salmonella.
What Is the Best Alcohol for Eggnog?
One of the reasons eggnog lovers love eggnog is the alcohol that’s semi-disguised in the frothy, rich drink. The best alcohol for eggnog is your favorite - with probably one exception - tequila doesn’t seem like a good fit. Originally, brandy, sherry or Madeira were used, one more reason why only the wealthy were serving it: the spirits were heavily taxed. When settlers came to the new world, they brought the idea of eggnog with them and started using rum, the spirit that was plentiful and wasn’t heavily taxed. Then bourbon made from corn entered the picture, and that became popular. If you’re making it for a large party, you can have a variety of spirits available and let everyone choose their favorite.
Eggnog Without Alcohol
Based on how eggnog is made, all eggnog starts out alcohol-free. When you make it, you can leave it as it is, or get some rum or bourbon flavor in the mix with an extract. Technically all extracts (even vanilla) add a minute amount of alcohol when you use them to a recipe. It is possible to find alcohol free flavorings if you search.
It wouldn’t be the holidays without eggnog served at a party or two. If you’re serving it, go with Capital Eggnog, it’s a classic. For food safety, this recipe calls for pasteurized egg yolks. If you can’t find them, you can use fresh egg yolks, because in Step 2 you’re cooking them, so no worries.
Here's another classic. It’s festive and decadent, laced with nutmeg and vanilla. We lightened it up by folding in whipped cream and made the booze optional so that it's good for young and old alike
When you’ve got leftover eggnog or it’s on sale at the market, making a flan with it as the custard base couldn’t be easier. All the flavors are already in the mix, and the caramel is a perfect topping.
This creamy eggnog recipe has all the ingredients regular eggnog has, the eggs and milk are cooked exactly like any other eggnog and it’s topped with the traditional sprinkle of nutmeg. The only thing missing is the alcohol. Perfect for a party with kids when you only have one punch bowl.
Rum, bourbon, vanilla and nutmeg bring all the flavors of eggnog together in these snowy-white puffball cookies. Just like snow, they’ll melt in our mouth.
These decorated cups filled with Snowman Eggnog are the cutest thing ever. You might need two batches - one for the adults with rum or brandy and one that isn’t spiked for the kids. Just be sure you can tell them apart!
We consider Eggnog Overnight French Toast easy cleanup after a party: have all the ingredients ready and just add the eggnog. The just pop it in the oven the next morning. To make it even more eggnog-ish, give it a dusting of nutmeg when it comes out of the oven.
Coquito is a holiday beverage from Puerto Rico and is a great stand-in for eggnog, especially if you’re hosting several holiday parties. Or have both: eggnog with alcohol and coquito without.