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Naughty and nice

Okay, we know eggnog is really, really rich. But there are so many ways to enjoy this creamy, dreamy drink, from sipping to baking. Indulge.

By JANET K. KEELER, Times Staff Writer
Published December 21, 2005

  photo
[Times photo: Scott Keeler]
Eggnog Bavarians are a lovely end to a sophisticated Christmas dinner. Serve them in interesting, unmatched glasses. These were purchased at the new HomeGoods, 2490 66th St. N, St. Petersburg, for less than $3 each.

A nip or more of eggnog at Christmastime is certainly a guilty pleasure.

The thick, nutmeg-spiked egg drink is no friend of the health-conscious. A cup can have as much as 350 calories and 20 grams of fat.

Ah, but what the heck. The resolutions of the new year are just days away. For now, we enjoy the season, and maybe buy the low-fat variety to assuage the nibbling pangs of what-we-know-is-good-for-us. The piper can be paid on Jan. 1. Or Jan. 2.

Like many Christmas traditions, cards and stockings for instance, eggnog originated in England. Literally, eggnog means egg in a small cup. In Old England, noggin was the name for a small wooden cup and nog was a kind of strong beer.

In 17th century England, this liquid custard was spiked with sherry, brandy or Madeira and usually was a beverage reserved for those with money. Egg and milk were luxuries, reserved for farmers or land owners. In the United States, bourbon and rum became common because they were less expensive. On this side of the pond, egg-grog would be a more apt name.

At its very basic, store-bought eggnog is served chilled with ground nutmeg floating on top. It is as delicious with a measure of spirits as it is without.

The flavors of eggnog can be enjoyed in more than drinks, and in fact are even more lovely when the cloying sweetness is toned down. Baked goods, refrigerated desserts and breakfast favorites are transformed into seasonal delights when milk on the ingredient list is substituted with eggnog. For instance, use eggnog instead of milk to soak bread slices for French toast. In cake recipes that call for milk, pour eggnog instead.

For ambitious cooks, I recommend fussy Eggnog Bavarians, a recipe from Martha Stewart Living that requires dirtying more equipment than you'd like but provides exquisite results. This is a dessert to savor over candlelight after the kids have gone to bed or around an elegant Christmas table draped in velvet, another way to describe this luxe dessert.

Classic Bavarian cream combines velvety creme anglaise with light creme Chantilly, stabilized by unflavored gelatin. Martha's eggnog includes vanilla bean, freshly grated nutmeg and a cinnamon stick steeped in hot milk. Oh yeah, and you'll need a candy thermometer.

I was tempted to substitute a teaspoon of pure vanilla for the pricey vanilla bean but decided to follow the diva's instructions as written and plunk down $7 for the single bean. I don't know if it would have made much difference, but the results were so perfect I'm glad I didn't experiment. To offset the detailed preparation is the bonus make-ahead factor. The individual creams need to set up in the refrigerator overnight or at least six hours.

The recipe also calls for freshly grated nutmeg, which for some unexplained reason I have always resisted doing. I've seen TV chefs run the hard kernels over microplanes and then ooh and aah about the powdery shower of sweet seasoning. Seemed more show-off than anything.

The Eggnog Bavarians taught me differently. In taste, smell and look, nutmeg purchased already ground pales to freshly ground. The sweet perfume hits the nose immediately and conjures images of stockings and brightly wrapped gifts, and its consistency is more silk than the burlap roughness of spice container stuff. Though the taste is sweet, nutmeg is often found in savory dishes such as soups and Japanese curries.

Martha has converted me.

There are many recipes for eggnog, the drink, but the classic version includes raw eggs. However, food safety experts recommend against eating raw eggs because of possible bacterial contamination. Alton Brown of the Food Network has a cooked eggnog recipe that eliminates this problem, and the result is as sweet and luscious as its predecessor.

For a simply delicious dessert that doesn't require a candy thermometer or ice-water bath, try Yummy Eggnog Pie. Instant vanilla pudding mix and a purchased pie shell kick-start the effort. Eggnog Pie has some of the same attributes as Eggnog Bavarians without the time commitment.

If you're going to feel guilty, eggnog is a good place to start.

- Janet K. Keeler can be reached at 727 893-8586 or krieta@sptimes.com

Eggnog Bavarians

2 cups whole milk

1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise, seeds scraped and reserved

1 cinnamon stick

1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

4 large egg yolks

1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar

3 tablespoons bourbon

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 1/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup heavy cream

Heat milk, vanilla bean and seeds, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until almost boiling. Remove from heat; cover and let steep 1 hour.

Reheat milk mixture over medium-high heat until almost boiling. Meanwhile, whisk together egg yolks, sugar, bourbon and salt in a medium bowl. Pour hot milk mixture into yolk mixture in a slow, steady stream, whisking until combined. (If you pour it too fast or all at once, you'll scramble the yolks and leave lumps.) Clip a candy thermometer onto side of pan; pour milk-yolk mixture into pan, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until it reaches 140 degrees, about 5 to 10 minutes. Pour through a fine sieve back into the medium bowl.

Prepare an ice-water bath; set aside. Sprinkle gelatin over 1/4 cup water in a heatproof bowl; let stand until softened, about 5 minutes. Place bowl over a pan of simmering water; stir until gelatin has dissolved. (Mixture will be nearly solid at first then turn to liquid.) Stir gelatin mixture and vanilla extract into milk-yolk mixture. Place over ice-water bath; stir occasionally until mixture begins to thicken but is not set.

Whisk cream in medium bowl until soft peaks form. Whisk 1/3 of the whipped cream into the milk-yolk mixture; using a rubber spatula, gently fold in remaining whipped cream.

Divide mixture among serving cups; refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight.

Serves 6 to 8.

Source: Martha Stewart Living, December.

Yummy Eggnog Pie

2 9-inch pie shells, baked and cooled

About 7 ounces instant vanilla pudding mix (1 large box and half a small)

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3 cups eggnog

3 teaspoons rum (or 11/2 teaspoon extract)

2 1/2 cups heavy cream

Ground nutmeg for garnish

In medium bowl, combine pudding mix, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, egg nog and rum; whisk until thick. Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. In a medium bowl, whip the cream to soft peaks.

Remove the cold pudding from the refrigerator and beat until smooth; fold in whipped cream, a third at a time. Spoon into baked pie shells.

Sprinkle additional nutmeg over the top for garnish. Refrigerate for four hours, or until set. Makes two pies.

Source: Adapted from www.allrecipes.com

Eggnog

4 egg yolks

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar

1 pint whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

3 ounces bourbon (see note)

1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

4 egg whites

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg yolks until they lighten in color. Gradually add the 1/3 cup sugar and continue to beat until it is completely dissolved. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, over high heat, combine the milk, heavy cream and nutmeg and bring just to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and gradually temper the hot mixture into the egg and sugar mixture. Then return everything to the pot and cook until the mixture reaches 160 degrees.

Remove from the heat, stir in the bourbon, pour into a medium mixing bowl, and chill in the refrigerator.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat the egg whites to soft peaks. With the mixer running, gradually add the 1 tablespoon of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Whisk the egg whites into the chilled mixture.

Makes 6 to 7 cups.

* If you want an alcohol-free eggnog, omit bourbon and add another 1/4 cup milk.

Source - Alton Brown, Food Network.

Butter Rum Glazed Egg Nog Cake

1/2 cup sliced almonds

1 18.25-ounce box yellow cake mix

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 tablespoons rum or 1 tablespoon rum extract

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups eggnog

1/4 cup melted butter or margarine

Butter rum glaze:

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup water

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons rum extract

Grease 9- or 10-inch Bundt pan and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle almonds on the bottom of the pan. In a large mixing bowl, mix boxed cake mix with nutmeg, rum, eggs, eggnog and melted butter. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pan, then invert onto a plate. (Don't clean pan; you'll be using it again when you glaze the cake.)

Prepare glaze. In a small saucepan, combine sugar, butter, water and cinnamon; bring to a boil. Boil and stir 3 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in rum extract. Pour half of glaze into Bundt pan; return still-warm cake to pan. With a long fork or skewer, poke holes into cake. Slowly pour remaining glaze onto cake. Cool completely in cake pan on wire rack. Invert onto serving platter. Makes 14 servings.

Source: Adapted from www.allrecipes.com and www.recipesource.com

[Last modified December 20, 2005, 11:14:19]

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