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Martha's Eggnog

MyCookbook Recipe Database
MyCookbook Member: MarthasArchive
Recipe Category: Holiday
Recipe Preparation Level: easy

    Martha's eggnog is a study in opposites: light and fluffy, but also rich and creamy. Its cloudlike texture is produced by separating the eggs and beating the whites before adding them to the milk mixture. Martha has been making her eggnog this way every Christmas as far back as she can remember.

    The beverage wasn't always identified solely with the holiday season. In the seventeenth century, tavernkeepers ladled eggnog into small cups called noggins every day of the year. The word "nog" comes from the old English word for "ale," which was the alcoholic component added to the drink back then. Dolly Madison served eggnog at the first-ever White House Christmas party in 1811, and the association with the holiday stuck.

    Topped with lots of freshly grated nutmeg, Martha's eggnog contains not one but three kinds of liquor. Martha always makes a separate, non-alcoholic batch for the kids. No holiday gathering would be complete without a punchbowl filled to the brim with the sweet, custardy stuff. Rich and reassuring, comfortingly familiar, eggnog is the ultimate holiday indulgence.

    Here are some tips for handling the eggs, for folding them into the milk mixture, and for whipping the cream:

    The egg white's cloudy appearance comes from carbon dioxide. As the egg ages, carbon dioxide escapes, which is why the albumen of older eggs is more transparent than that of fresher eggs. Old, thin egg whites whip more easily and to a greater volume, but fresh egg whites produce a more stable foam and will hold up better in a soufflé or meringues. The colder the egg whites, the longer it takes to beat them to a good foam.

    When separating the eggs, make sure no trace of yolk gets mixed in with the whites. Even the tiniest bit of yolk will decrease the foamy volume of the whites by as much as two-thirds. If a piece of eggshell falls into the bowl, remove it with a clean utensil, and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water before continuing.

    A copper bowl works best for beating egg whites and produces soft, elastic foam. If you don't have a copper bowl, you can use any clean bowl, as long as it is grease-free. Wipe the bowl with fresh lemon juice or vinegar prior to beating. The tiniest trace of fat can slow down foaming and dramatically reduce the volume.

    Stop beating the eggs as soon as the foam is stiff enough to stand up in peaks. This should take three to four minutes. You should be able to turn the bowl upside down without disturbing the egg foam. If the foam turns lumpy, you have beaten too long and should start again with new whites. Remember, the biggest mistake you can make is to overbeat egg whites. Overbeating causes the delicate protein linings of the air bubbles to lose their elasticity and dry out. Egg-white foams are more stable and effective before they reach maximum volume. Beating egg whites by hand will help avoid overbeating, which is very easy to do in a mixer.

    Folding is a technique used to gently combine a light, airy mixture with a heavier mixture. When folding, the lighter mixture is placed on top of the heavier mixture in a large bowl. Starting at the center of the bowl, use a rubber spatula to cut vertically through the two mixtures, across the bottom of the bowl and up the nearest side. Rotate the bowl a quarter turn with each series of strokes. This down/across/up-and-over motion gently turns the mixtures over on top of each other, combining them in the process. Always use a clean, grease-free rubber spatula to prevent cross-contamination.

    If you like to minimize the amount of work you'll have to do once your guests arrive, the eggnog base can be made one day in advance. Just beat in the stiff egg whites and whipped cream right before serving.

    When whipping cream, it's important that all of your instruments be ice-cold. Place your mixing bowl and beater in the refrigerator until you're ready to whip the cream.

    Note: Raw eggs should not be used in food prepared for pregnant women, babies, young children, the elderly, or anyone whose health is compromised. Although egg whites do not readily cause bacterial growth, it is possible for salmonella to be in either the white or the yolk. According to the American Egg Board, only a very small number of eggs might contain salmonella, and the likelihood of your finding an infected egg is about five one-thousandths of a percent. Still, it is important to follow proper care-and-handling guidelines when working with raw eggs.

    Serves 26

    12 eggs, separated
    1 1/2 cups superfine sugar
    1 quart whole milk
    1 1/2 quarts heavy cream
    3 cups bourbon (Martha prefers Maker's Mark)
    1/2 cup dark rum (Martha prefers Mount Gay)
    2 cups cognac (Martha prefers Grand Cru)
    Freshly grated nutmeg

    1. In a very large bowl, beat egg yolks until thick and pale yellow. Gradually add sugar to yolks. With a wire whisk, beat in milk and 1 quart cream. Add bourbon, rum, and cognac, stirring constantly.

    2. Just before serving, beat egg whites until stiff. Fold into mixture. Whip remaining heavy cream until stiff, and fold in. Sprinkle with nutmeg.

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