Egg nog is easy to make! Like crème brulee, except you don't bake it. If you're thinking, "well that sounds hard and doesn't encourage me to try making egg nog," I bet you've never had anyone show you how dangerously easy it is to make crème brulee. And I'll fix that sometime soon. But for now, just consider: Do you have half an hour to stand around your stove stirring something? If so, you can make some egg nog.
Simple Stovetop Egg Nog
Adapted from Alton Brown, Simply Recipes, and Cook's Illustrated.
Makes a quart of nog, which serves 4 to 6 people, depending on how much of it they want to drink. If you have any serious egg nog enthusiasts, you might want to double the recipe.
3 egg yolks*
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/8 tsp salt (I used sea salt 'cause it has plenty of time to dissolve)
1 cup heavy cream (that's a half-pint)
1 cup milk (anything from 1% to whole will be fine, I might not try nonfat)
2 whole cloves (do NOT substitute ground cloves)
1/2 tbsp vanilla extract (or half a bean, scraped with pod reserved, which would be so tasty and fancy-looking)
1/4 cup bourbon or dark rum (technically optional. But I used 1/3 cup, an' what?)
1/2 tsp fresh-grated nutmeg (the fresh seriously makes a delicious difference)
In a heavy 2-3 quart saucepan, combine your eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and salt. Whisk them briskly for at least a minute, until the mixture is foamy and has lightened a bit in color. (If you're using a nonstick pan, be sure to use a silicone-coated whisk -- and if you don't have one, do the whisking in a mixing bowl! You don't want any Teflon in your egg nog.)
Add a half cup of cream and whisk it in good -- you want the mixture to be smooth and fully incorporated before you add more. Add the remaining half cup of cream and whisk again until smooth. Do the same with the milk, a half cup at a time. This makes sure that all the proteins and fats from the eggs and milk are snuggled in with each other so that your nog will be satin-smooth. Drop in the whole cloves (they'll steep while the mixture heats).
Set your pot of nog on the stove, and turn the burner to the second lowest setting. Set a timer for 25 minutes. Ready for an arm workout? Start stirring, sir and/or madam. (I like using a whisk and keeping it going at a pretty good clip, but if you're using a nonstick pan and you don't have a safely coated whisk, a wooden or plastic spoon at a splash-avoidingly sedate pace will be fine.) You want to keep stirring constantly and heat the mixture gently-gently-gently. This may try your patience, but don't be tempted to turn the heat up. After about 10 minutes the nog should start steaming a little, and you want to maintain that steam without letting it reach a full simmer. If you let the mixture simmer, you'll have finely scrambled eggs instead of lovely drinkable custard. So if it begins steaming really profusely, turn the heat down to low and keep stirring.
If you have to stop stirring and step away for a minute or so, don't worry, you won't kill the egg nog. But it's best to keep it moving so that a) a skin won't form on top [ever made gravy?], and b) it won't heat too much or too unevenly. See above re: scrambled eggs.
You'll know the egg nog is done when a probe thermometer tells you it's 160 degrees F. Or when you dip a metal spoon in the nog and then watch the way that the custard drips off the back of the spoon -- it should coat the spoon entirely and evenly, and pool a little thicker along the edge before dripping off. Or when the timer you set goes off, provided that the mixture has been putting off steam for at least 10 minutes.
The egg nog will thicken a bit as it cools, but if you like a thicker egg nog, you can safely continue cooking it for another 10 minutes or so, stirring all the while. I kept mine going for a full 35 minutes, and it turned out like melted ice cream (yay). If you're not going to be adding any booze, I'd recommend taking it off the heat at 25 minutes.
Once it's off the stove, add in your flavorings and stir (again, more, yes) to incorporate. Pour or ladle the egg nog through a fine mesh sieve into a happy-in-the-fridge container (I used a cleaned-out Chinese delivery soup container 'cause I'm highfalutin') and cover it tightly. (If you don't have a fine mesh sieve, you can skip this step -- just fish out the whole cloves. The straining gets out any little lumpy egg bits and perfects the texture, but it'll be fine without this step.) Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, and up to 3 days.
MAKIN' IT FANCY
You can serve this egg nog plain -- just stir it first (your arm should have recovered by now) 'cause it'll have separated a little. Or you can:
--Sprinkle an extra bit of freshly-ground nutmeg on top of each serving for dual-purpose eye/nose-pleasing decoration. AND/OR:
--Whip 1/2 cup of heavy cream until it forms soft peaks, and gently fold/stir it into the egg nog. (This will give the egg nog a very pretty, snowy-looking layer of cream on top when you serve it.) OR:
--Whip 2 egg whites until they form soft peaks, and gently fold/stir them into the egg nog. (I have not tried this so I don't know what it does! But Alton Brown thinks it's a good idea, and he knows stuff.)
If you're cooking for people who can't have alcohol, a teaspoon of (nonalcoholic) rum flavoring added at the end with the vanilla and nutmeg might be a nice addition.
If you order flavored lattes with extra pumps of gingerbread or pumpkin spice syrup: Consider ignoring my recommendation about the whole cloves. In fact, forget the whole cloves. Instead, when you take the pot off the heat, add a scant 1/8 tsp ground cloves and a scant 1/4 tsp cinnamon in addition to the other flavorings.
*OH HAY, A TUTORIAL
Separating eggs takes a bit of practice, and is a bit messy, but don't be intimidated: Working over your sink, tap the waistline of an egg on the edge of a bowl or on the surface of the counter a couple times until a crack forms. Hold the egg upright over the sink, and carefully open it the way you'd open a hinged box. A bunch of the egg white will fall into the sink! Pull the top half of the egg shell off. If you've got two somewhat even halves of shell, you can gently tip the yolk into the empty top half, being careful not to snag the yolk on the sharp edges of the shell, and then pour any remaining white out of the bottom half of the shell -- and if that doesn't get rid of most of the white, you can repeat that yolk transfer a few times. If you end up with one "half" of the shell not being large enough to hold the yolk, just cup your palm and empty the egg into it, carefully cradling the yolk and letting the white of the egg sludge through your fingers. If at any point the yolk breaks and starts to run, don't worry about how much white is left in with it -- just add it to the mixing bowl. A little extra white won't hurt anything here.
If you want, you can also save the egg whites in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 4 days for use in this or other cocktails or baking projects. They'll also keep in the freezer for up to 6 months.