A traditional holiday drink dating back hundreds of years, eggnog is made with eggs (hence the name), milk, cream, spices like nutmeg and vanilla, and fortified with rum, whisky, and/or brandy.
We grew up with eggnog, the kind you buy in a carton, and every Christmas holiday we kids drank up as much of it as we could.
I didn't even know that eggnog was a "spiked" drink until well into my adult years!
Even now, I prefer my eggnog only lightly boozed, if at all. So this recipe is only lightly spiked; feel free to increase the rum and bourbon to your heart's delight, or omit altogether if it's for the kids.
How to Make Eggnog
The eggnog base starts by beating egg yolks with sugar until light and fluffy. Then you slowly whisk in hot milk that's been infused with cloves and cinnamon, which tempers the eggs so they don't curdle.
Finally, you warm the eggnog on the stovetop until it thickens. It's essentially a custard.
Using Raw Egg Whites Safely
For a traditional eggnog you also whip up some egg whites to stiff peaks, and then fold those into the eggnog mixture, making it light and fluffy.
The egg whites are not cooked and these days some people avoid eating raw eggs because of the salmonella risk. If you want to incorporate beaten egg whites, one way to get around this is to use pasteurized eggs.
I've also just reheated the combined mixture (eggnog base with beaten egg whites mixed in), until it reaches 160°F, and then let the mixture chill again. That works too if eating raw eggs is a concern for you.
- Need an egg-free version of eggnog? Try coquito! It's the Puerto Rican answer to eggnog, made with condensed milk, coconut, spices, and rum.
What's Your Eggnog Tradition?
Is eggnog part of your family holiday tradition? If so, how do you like it - spiked or virgin? with whipped egg whites or without?
The Best Alcohol for Eggnog
Choose your favorite! Any of these are great:
- Whiskey or bourbon
You can mix them together, as we recommend for this recipe, or stick to a single one.
Save your top shelf liquor for sipping on its own; a mid-range affordable liquor is perfect. Avoid really cheap liquors, though, since the flavor tends to be harsh and throw off the drink.
When to Add the Alcohol
You can add the alcohol to either the full batch, or to your individual glass. There's no set amount, so we suggest adding a little, tasting...then add a little more, taste again. You can't go wrong!
Do you have to add alcohol? Absolutely not! Eggnog is delicious whether spiked or un-spiked.
Is Eggnog Served Hot or Cold?
Eggnog is traditionally served as a punch at parties, and as such, is usually chilled or room temperature. However, warmed eggnog is also a delightful treat.
In this case, we say "to each your own!" Enjoy your eggnog however you like it.
How Long Does Eggnog Last?
Eggnog will keep for several days in the fridge, especially if you've already added liquor (which acts as a preservative). Eggnog also tends to get better with time -- it gets thicker and more silky, and the flavors meld together more uniformly.
Looking for More Holiday Cocktails?
- 6 egg yolks (decrease to 4 egg yolks if you would like it less rich)
- 3/4 cup sugar (decrease to 1/2 cup if you would like it less sweet)
- 2 cups milk (we use 2% milk)
- 2 whole cloves
- Pinch of cinnamon
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (lightly packed)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons each of bourbon and rum, or to taste (can omit for kid-friendly eggnog)
- 4 egg whites (optional)
Beat egg yolks, then add sugar:
In a large bowl, use a whisk or an electric mixer to beat egg yolks until they become somewhat lighter in color. Slowly add the sugar, beating after each addition. Beat at high speed or whisk until fluffy.
Heat milk with cinnamon and cloves:
Combine the milk, cloves, and cinnamon in a thick-bottomed saucepan. Slowly heat on medium heat until the milk mixture is steamy hot, but not boiling.
Temper the eggs:
Add the eggs by slowly adding half of the hot milk mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly while you add the hot mixture. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan.
Cook until eggnog thickens:
Cook the eggnog on medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to thicken slightly, and coats the back of the spoon. It helps to have a candy thermometer, but not necessary; if you have one, cook until the mixture reaches 160°F.
Do not allow the mixture to boil, or it will curdle. (If the mixture does curdle you may be able to save it by running it through a blender.)
Remove from heat and stir in the cream
Strain and chill:
Strain the mixture through a mesh strainer to remove the cloves and any curdled bits that may have formed. Let cool for one hour.
Stir in vanilla extract, nutmeg, and bourbon and rum:
Feel free to omit for kid-friendly eggnog and proceed to chill.
If you you want to include egg whites (optional):
Beat egg whites with an electric mixer until they reach soft peaks. Add a teaspoon of sugar and continue to beat until they reach stiff peaks. Gently fold into eggnog.
Note that because of the salmonella risk from raw eggs, it is recommended that children, elderly, and people with compromised immune systems refrain from eating raw eggs such as the optional whipped egg whites in this recipe, unless you use pasteurized eggs.
You can also reheat the combined eggnog and egg white mixture until it reaches 160°F, then remove from heat and let cool, then chill. The mixture will lose some of its fluffiness from the beaten egg whites, but not all, and the eggnog will be much airier than without the egg whites.