There’s no other drink that so perfectly captures Christmas – rich and creamy, with the warmth of nutmeg and cinnamon. Plus a boozy kick if that’s your thing! And homemade eggnog is not only easy to make, it’s so much better than anything you can buy at the store.
Although it’s simple to make, there are lots of recipes out there, each a little different, and some a lot different. So to help make sense of it all, I’ve gone through ten recipes for homemade eggnog. I’ve figured out what’s the most popular approach, and what’s a little unique, to help you choose a recipe, or an approach, that suits you the best.
And if you’re wondering why eggnog is so traditional, it’s because it’s been around for a long time.
The history of eggnog
The origin of eggnog is uncertain, but it seems to be based on a drink that monks enjoyed in medieval England. The first mention of it in the US, where it has become a traditional holiday drink, is in the late seventeen-hundreds. And the origin of it’s name is unclear as well, although there are a number of theories.
As for why eggnog is associated with Christmas, no one knows. Given it’s northern hemisphere heritage, it’s probably as much to do with the cold weather as anything, making the drink’s warming spices, and if you so choose, alcohol, perfect for the occasion.
So we know it’s an ancient drink, but that’s about it!
What’s in it?
I’ll dig into the specifics in a moment, but every one of these recipes contains some combination of the following ingredients:
While all ten recipes contain egg, they’re not all the same. Instead, they use some combination of the following:
- Egg yolks. This is the most popular approach, used in eight of the recipes.
- Egg whites. Four of the authors add some whipped egg whites to their eggnog.
- Whole eggs. Only two of the recipes use whole eggs.
How much egg?
The easiest way to consider this is by measuring the volume of eggs as a proportion of the total volume of eggnog. And there’s a surprising amount of variation.
On average, the recipes are about 12% egg, although the most common mixture is about 8% egg. The reason the average is so much higher is because one recipe is 25% egg, and in one eggs account for 32% of the mixture! If you like your eggnog very eggy, the recipes to check out are those by Melissa at Keeping it Simple and Heather from Made in a Pinch.
If your preference is for a less eggy flavour almost all of the other recipes are in the 9-12% range. And if you really prefer it to be subtle, Ronda’s from Kitchen Dreaming is only 6% egg.
If you’re hoping to enjoy eggnog but you can’t eat eggs, based on these recipes you won’t find what you’re after. Eggs are fundamental to not only the flavour, but the texture of eggnog, so none of these authors offer any way to modify their recipe to exclude eggs.
A couple do however suggest trying coquito, a Puerto Rican drink that is very similar. It’s flavour is different, based on coconut milk or cream, but the spices are the same and it’s made without eggs. The two authors both offer recipes which I’ve listed separately at the bottom of the page.
The dairy ingredients make up the bulk of each of these recipes.
All ten recipes use milk, and whole/full-cream milk is the preferred variety.
Nine of the recipes also include heavy cream, which contains at least 36% milk fat. The name heavy cream is used mainly in the US. In other countries a similar product is usually known as whipping cream.
The tenth recipe, from Jacqui at Dishing Delish, uses light cream, which has between 18% and 30% milk fat. This could also be known as table cream, pure cream or just “cream”, depending on where you live. The key is matching the fat content. Wikipedia has a detailed breakdown of cream products by country if you need help.
Making it thicker or thinner
The ratio of milk to cream will affect how rich and how thick the finished eggnog is. Most of the recipes contain more milk than cream. If you’re looking for a creamier eggnog, two have higher cream ratios than the others:
- Chrisy’s on Homemade Hooplah has equal parts milk and heavy cream.
- Melissa’s on Keeping it Simple has more heavy cream than milk.
As well as milk and heavy cream, Imma’s recipe on Immaculate Bites also includes evaporated milk, which is commonly used in pumpkin pie. It’s milk that’s been reduced, lowering it’s water content and pushing it’s milk fat to between six and nine percent. This would help make it richer without making it too thick.
If you like a particular recipe but want to tweak the thickness, Melissa from Keeping it Simple offers some helpful guidance. Replace some of the cream with milk for a thinner drink, and replace some of the milk with cream for a thicker one.
If you’re keen to make a batch of eggnog and you don’t have any cream on hand, you could make it just with milk. It will be very runny, and less rich, but will still satisfy the craving!
All ten recipes use between a half-a-cup and a whole cup of white sugar. The lower end of this scale is more popular, although a couple of authors suggest playing with the amount if you prefer a sweeter eggnog.
There are three common spices added to give the signature seasonal kick:
- Nine of the recipes uses between a quarter-teaspoon and one teaspoon of nutmeg. The tenth uses a pinch of it as an optional garnish when serving.
- Eight of the recipes include vanilla, typically as the extract. The amounts vary considerably, from as little as a quarter of a teaspoon to as much as two tablespoons! Some authors are clearly bigger fans of vanilla than others.
- Six of the authors also include some cinnamon, again with significant variation in the recommended amount.
- Three authors use either whole cloves cooked in the milk or a pinch of ground cloves.
If you’re a fan of using whole spices, Erica’s recipe on The Crumby Kitchen uses a vanilla pod and cinnamon sticks rather than essence or powder. And of course, if you’re not a fan of one or more of these spices, you can leave them out. The taste will be different than intended, but you won’t affect the texture.
If you’re making eggnog for the kids or you’re not a drinker, this section won’t apply. If you do like a bit of a tipple, seven of the recipes either include liquor of some description, or list it as an option. And you have plenty of choice in which liquor you add, and how much as well.
Most of the preferred alcoholic additions are of the dark or amber variety. Rum is the most popular choice, but bourbon and whiskey make regular appearances as well. The liquor is not only there to make it an adult drink, it’s also meant to add some complementary flavours. While you could add vodka or gin, they’re not going to be noticeable behind the sugar, rich eggs and seasonal spices.
How much alcohol?
The recommended amounts vary from a quarter of a cup to one full cup. As a proportion of the total batch, the recipes vary from 5% alcohol to 21%, with the most popular being about 8%. As a ratio, that means you want to add about four teaspoons of liquor to one cup of eggnog.
And as tempting as it may be, keep in mind that adding more than intended in the recipe will make your eggnog thinner.
When to add liquor?
If your intent is an alcoholic drink and you’re using a recipe that cooks the eggnog, you need to add your liquor of choice once the mixture has cooled. Alcohol is quite volatile and will evaporate off quickly with any heat. Of course, you could add the liquor during the heating phase. This will cook off some or all of the alcohol depending on how long you heat it for, leaving behind just the taste of the liquor.
Alcohol and food safety
There’s a belief that adding alcohol will kill any bacteria in the drink, rendering the raw eggs safe. Sadly this is not true. Salmonella is only killed by an alcohol concentration of about 70%. So unless you like your eggnog extraordinarily boozy, anything you add is only going to slow down the multiplication of bacteria. Adding alcohol does not make your eggnog food safe, even Dwight Eisenhower’s particularly boozy eggnog recipe.
Because the alcohol does slow down the growth of bacteria, it will extend the fridge-life of your eggnog. A few authors offer some guidance on this, with the life (with liquor) varying from one to several weeks, depending on how much alcohol you add.
Making your eggnog
Amongst these ten recipes there are two distinctly different approaches, and the difference revolves around the authors tolerance for risk. Sounds a bit cryptic, I know. I’m referring to whether or not the recipes direct you to heat the mixture in order to render the eggs food safe.
Three of the recipes are simply mixed together, chilled and served. As a result, they contain raw eggs. There’s a chance that unpasteurised raw eggs could be infected with Salmonella. This bacteria can cause serious illness, especially in the very young, the elderly, or the immunocompromised. It also poses a significant risk to pregnant women. Many countries have regulations in place to lower the risk, making the infection highly unlikely, but there is still some risk. If you’re having eggnog when you’re pregnant, or serving it to your elderly parents for example, you should at least consider this risk.
If you’d prefer not to take the risk, the other seven authors heat their eggnog in order to kill any bacteria that might be present. And five of them make sure by recommending you heat your egg and milk mixture to 160°F/70°C, which is the temperature that will kill Salmonella. The other two authors heat their mixture until it thickens. This won’t give you the same level of certainty as measuring the exact temperature with a food thermometer, but should still reduce the risk, especially if it takes some time at heat to thicken.
And if you’re worried that you can then only have hot eggnog, almost all of these then chill it before serving.
For a “cooked” eggnog there are a few variations on a theme in terms of how the mixture is made and heated:
- Heat milk, temper eggs (more on this below), heat mixture
- Heat milk, add to eggs, heat mixture
- Mix milk and eggs, heat mixture
Some authors heat the cream with the milk, and some don’t. Those that don’t add it at the end after it’s come off the heat or cooled completely, presumably to prevent it from splitting.
Tempering your eggs
If you haven’t come across tempering before, it’s a process of gradually mixing two components that are at different temperatures. The goal is to blend them together without changing the texture of either ingredient. So by tempering the eggs, you’re increasing their temperature while preventing them from scrambling (cooking). No one wants lumpy eggnog.
To temper your eggs, you add a small amount of the hot milk mixture to them while whisking continuously. When that addition is well combined, another small amount of hot milk is added, and so on. It’s the same process you’d use to add milk or stock to a roux when you’re making bechamel sauce or gravy (except in this case you’re adding cold liquid to the hot roux).
Control the heat and stir, stir, stir
When you’re heating the entire mixture, it’s important to do it slowly and not let it boil. If it gets too hot the eggs will cook, the cream will curdle, or both and you’ll be left with lumps. You need to stir continuously too, so that no part of the mix spends too long sitting on the bottom of the pan.
Still, regardless of how well you keep up your whisking and manage the temperature, there’s a fair chance a little egg will have cooked. Additionally, several recipes include whole spices. For both of these reasons, several authors recommend straining your eggnog before serving it.
If you’re comfortable with consuming raw eggs, and you’re looking for a quick and easy approach to eggnog, then this is definitely it.
All three of the raw eggnog recipes follow the same method:
- Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar.
- Blend in the milk, cream and spices.
- Beat the egg whites until fluffy and fold into the eggnog.
Two of the three add their liquor in the second step and the third has you pour your eggnog over the liquor and some ice in a glass.
Four authors add whipped egg whites to their version, which gives the drink a more frothy finish. The egg whites are added at the end, folded into the rest of the mixture. Three of the four are the raw eggnog recipes, so the egg whites are folded in just before serving. The fourth is a cooked eggnog, and the author directs you to heat the mixture again to 160°F/70°C if you choose to add egg whites.
The essence of homemade eggnog
If you’re looking to make a batch of homemade eggnog from scratch this Christmas, you’ll need the following:
- Egg yolks
- Whole/full-cream milk
- Heavy/whipping cream (about 36% milk fat)
- White sugar
- Nutmeg, vanilla and maybe some cinnamon
And if you want to make it a little bit naughty, some rum will make it even better.
The most popular approach to make your eggnog looks something like this:
- Whisk together your egg yolks and sugar.
- Heat your milk, cream and spices until just simmering.
- Temper the eggs with small additions of the hot milk, combining well after each addition.
- Put the whole mixture back on the stove and heat slowly to 160°F/70°C, stirring constantly.
- Allow it to cool, stir in your liquor if you’re using it, then chill completely.
- Enjoy cold, or reheat gently on the stove if you prefer it warm.
So there you have it – the essence of homemade eggnog. Hopefully this has shown you how easy it is to make, and helped you to choose an approach, or a recipe, that suits you the best.
And for the perfect Christmas snack with your eggnog, check out my review of gingerbread cookies.