In the past two weeks, I have imbibed or eaten the following items: Maple View Farm eggnog, Homeland Creamery eggnog, Organic Valley eggnog, all of these eggnogs with rum, all of these eggnogs with whiskey, eggnog cheesecake, an eggnog milkshake, almond-based "holiday nog," almond-based "holiday nog" with rum, eggnog gelato, an eggnog martini, eggnog cookies, an eggnog donut, an eggnog latte and eggnog flan topped with bourbon caramel.
Though I like eggnog quite a bit, I wouldn't consider myself a zealot. Instead, a team of INDY food writers was curious about ways in which local kitchens were incorporating the Christmas concoction into their menu, other than by simply spiking it. Not all of these dishes wowed; the flan never really worked. Others made me sit still in a silent stupor, gazing at a plate, waiting for the next piece of eggnog cheesecake to appear by magic. Without exception, at least, they surprised me—and made me feel incredibly heavy, like Santa Claus in need of a motorized sleigh. —Grayson Haver Currin
A spirited quest: Sugarland's phantom eggnog martini and phenomenal cheesecake
Getting your hands on Sugarland's eggnog martini—the Noggatini, at least I'm told—requires a Christmas miracle. The bakery's Raleigh location no longer serves martinis, due, I assume, to too many fender-benders in Harris Teeter's Cameron Village parking lot. The clerk behind the bar of the original Chapel Hill location wasn't sure what I was talking about, either.
If the Noggatini can't be found (Sugarland's marketing director swears it can), here's a tip: During December, Sugarland whips up a delicious eggnog gelato that's thick enough to stand in perky peaks in a bowl or a freezer case. This gelato may be inserted into any boozy concoction already on the menu, like the Mochatini's makeup of chocolate liqueur, Irish cream and vodka. When blended, it tastes like traditional eggnog and rum, if eggnog and rum were made out of ice cream.
Looking for a non-alcoholic treat? Consider Sugarland's "Noggy but Nice" cheesecake. A base of vanilla sponge comes loaded with nutmeg and an eggnog pastry cream filling, topped generously with silky eggnog buttercream. Held together by a crumbly brown crust, the cake is soft, chewy and not overly sweet. The simple color of the main ingredients means the cake is not nearly as festive-looking as some of Sugarland's other seasonal offerings, but this deceptively plain delicacy doesn't need red and green sprinkles to wow. Instead, Noggy is a cake for true eggnog lovers who want to experience heavy cream and frothed eggs in as many ways as possible. —Tina Haver Currin
Joyless almond: Vegan eggnog still sucks
A love of eggnog nearly necessitates New Year's resolutions. Loaded with saturated fat and sugar, a one-cup, non-spiked serving squeezes in as many as 350 calories—that is, about four slices of loaf bread or five sheets of Kraft Singles. But the low calorie count and relatively nonexistent sugar-and-fat stats of vegan nog—that is, eggnog approximations made by pairing almond milk, coconut milk or the like with thickeners and spices—make the alternative so appealing. You can chug an entire 48-ounce bottle of Califia Farms' "Holiday Nog" and gain only 600 calories (and, most likely, a bellyache).
That felt like quite the bargain when I uncapped the almond-based Califia Farms concoction after a firm shake; it certainly smelled like nog, a slightly sour sweetness countered by the warm aroma of nutmeg. But when I began to pour, I balked; the stuff ran like a liquid river, not a viscous and pale volcanic flow. If eggnog is thin custard, almond nog is thick water, almost too easy to drink.
The taste, though, doesn't go down quite as nice. Though a swallow is smooth, the spices arrive at once and too hard, as though someone has just dropped a dry tablet of cinnamon and nutmeg on your tongue. As the jolt decays, a putrid aftertaste suggests a shot of harsh cough syrup. Alcohol won't save you, either. Cutting it with Mount Gay Black Barrel rum only masked the seasonal flavors, suggesting spiked skim milk. A quarter-hour later, I kept smacking my tongue against the roof of my mouth, like a dejected dog that had licked a lemon.
Congratulations, nutrition: You've got the season off. —Grayson Haver Currin
Nog innovation: Guglhupf's new eggnog éclair
At Guglhupf, Durham's German bakery and cafe, you can celebrate the holidays with such traditional delights as Christmas stollen and cookies. Or this year, you can add an eggnog éclair to the seasonal offerings.
"People love éclairs," says owner Claudia Cooper. "We did a pumpkin one for Thanksgiving that was very popular—so popular that we had the idea to give an eggnog flavor a try for Christmas."
Starting with a classic pate au choux dough, bakers pipe the log-shaped pastry with a rich crème diplomat filling flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg and a splash of brandy. They top it with a shiny chocolate swipe—a new holiday tradition at a Durham institution, I hope.—Jill Warren Lucas
Just glaze: The eggnog-topped donuts of Monuts and Rise
The end of November brought the season's first eggnog donut from Monuts—and, most likely, not the last. The Eggnog Gingersnap donut features local eggnog from Maple View Farms and Homeland Creamery in its glaze, which is mixed with a bit of extra nutmeg. Crumbled gingersnaps top the donut.
"Our menu changes so frequently that we're always looking for seasonal inspiration," says Lindsay Moriarty, chef and co-owner at Monuts. "As the weather cools down and fresh produce starts to become more scarce, locally produced items like eggnog become a great alternative."
Moriarty has experimented with eggnog inside the donut, but she says the flavor hits best when it's used in the glaze. (Rise's eggnog donut, by the way, is very similar to this one.) Before the end of the season, Moriarty expects to make a spiced-cake donut topped by a whiskey-eggnog glaze. Well, 'tis the season... —Iza Wojciechowska
Coconog: A Puerto Rican eggnog tradition
Raleigh artist Claudia Corletto grew up in a Dominican household in Houston, where the holidays meant merengue and company. Among the invitees? A bottle of homemade Puerto Rican coquito.
Her mother's Puerto Rican friend, Prin, would show up to the Corletto home with a blend of coconut milk and coconut cream, egg yolk, condensed milk, cinnamon and a generous dose of white rum.
"It was the first sip of an adult beverage I had as a child during a very joyful time of year," she remembers. "The house was filled with the scent of Mami's cooking and the sounds of records. None of us had to rush to anything."
A few years ago, Corletto's sister called Prin for the recipe. Now, as Christmas sneaks into balmy North Carolina winters, Corletto whips up coquito for friends.
"This tradition is extremely important to me, because every winter it roots me in the memory of the love my family raised me in," she says. "When I pass that on to my friends, I know I'm doing something right." —Victoria Bouloubasis
Seasonal flake: Yellow Dog's eggnog-based cult favorite
Tanya Andrews didn't think the holiday sweet she debuted last year at Yellow Dog Bread Company—a flaky pastry snowman filled with luscious eggnog cream—made much of an impression. But days before it returned to the shelves last weekend, customers began asking for it, like bright-eyed children appealing to Santa.
"It must have created a cult following," says Andrews. "I have to admit, they are quite cute."
While she disliked eggnog in her youth, Andrews now appreciates the drink's silky richness. She's especially keen on the eggnog made by Homeland Creamery, which Yellow Dog uses as a substitute for standard cream for the snowman's velvety filling.
"It reminds me of boiled custard, which is kind of an Eastern North Carolina thing," says Andrews, who grew up near Rocky Mount. "It's not as spicy as eggnog, but it's also one of those custardy, wonderful treats we love this time of year."
Like any North Carolina snowman, the eggnog pastry variety, which is sold on Saturdays, is a fleeting thing.
"We'll make somewhere between 60 and 100 for a Saturday," Andrews says. "But when they're gone, they're gone." —Jill Warren Lucas
Latte art: lucettegrace's love-hate relationship with eggnog
Daniel Benjamin has a secret: Though his Raleigh sweetshop lucettegrace makes both an eggnog latte and an eggnog macaron, he doesn't actually enjoy the drink—particularly the nutmeg that powers it. Perhaps that explains why neither the latte nor the cookie contains eggnog.
Instead, Helen Barnes, lucettegrace's "syrup guru," has perfected a cream-based approximation of the drink, made from a precise blend of sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and, yes, even some nutmeg. The baristas originally tried to steam just that blend to make a latte, but the result was like a hot-and-spiced coffee custard, far too rich and heavy to be sipped. So they cut the cream with whole or skim milk and steam 10 ounces after dropping two shots of espresso into the bottom of a wide-mouthed mug. Finally, they sprinkle a little nutmeg on top. (Sorry, Mr. Benjamin.)
The results taste like a coffee drink suited for the season, not a cloying Christmas concoction that's too heavy to finish. The cream means it's a bit thicker than a typical latte, giving the espresso more body and a smoother swallow. Those added flavors hit the palate just as the espresso taste starts to fade, the cinnamon and vanilla dancing on your tongue as you prepare for the next taste. If eggnog is known to overpower, lucettegrace's egg-less eggnog latte tempers the flavors just enough for you to enjoy its fellow ingredients.—Grayson Haver Currin
Porch-aged: An old-fashioned approach to eggnog
Jennifer Noble Kelly feels bad for folks who resort to buying eggnog from the refrigerator aisle.
"To me, that's just not eggnog," says Kelly, a food publicist who represents Lionel Vatinet of La Farm Bakery and chef Scott Crawford of Standard Foods. "My first taste of real, aged eggnog came from the family holiday parties of my closest friend growing up. Her dad made it every year. He gave us the recipe as a wedding gift."
This will be the tenth year that Kelly will make the decadent drink, which starts with 24 eggs. The secret recipe also calls for sugar and heavy cream, as well as great glugs of brandy, bourbon and rum. Kelly usually makes her recipe at least two weeks before Christmas, mixing it directly in a cooler that resides on her front porch in Raleigh during the holiday season.
"It really does get better the longer it sits," says Kelly, who has yet to make this year's batch due to unseasonably warm conditions. "I usually keep a ladle out there so we can dip into it any time."
Kelly has never had a batch go bad; she agrees with food scientists who have declared that aged eggnog is actually safer to drink than a just-made recipe calling for raw eggs.
"There's enough alcohol to take care of any concerns," she says. "It's serious stuff." —Jill Warren Lucas
Nog means no: I still hate you, eggnog
I've always regarded eggnog as one of those seasonal staples that, like candy corn, is nice to have around for decoration but shouldn't be eaten. Recently, though, when trying to remember the details of my own eggnogcalypse—that is, the scenario that made me loathe it so—I couldn't. Was it possible I'd never had eggnog at all? What if I liked it? I needed to know.
For the experiment, I opted for the most generic office-party-punchbowl swill I could find—32 ounces of ultra-pasteurized "Original Eggnog," for less than $5. The designation "rich and creamy" made me shudder. Unsure if I was supposed to shake it, I sort of half-shook it before studying the dietary facts. I could drink four servings a day, I learned, and get all the fat and cholesterol I needed.
Running out of ways to stall, I twisted off the cap, unleashing a syrupy bouquet of custard, paste and salmonella. I used a wine glass because that was how it was served in the picture on the carton, but I was out of cinnamon sticks. The liquid had the grayish pallor of a kneaded rubber eraser and didn't pour so much as reluctantly drizzle. The odor was sickly sweet. Wary, I quaffed.
Something like wet plaster spiked with vanilla extract filled my head, and I let out a pathetic little groan. I angry-swallowed the second mouthful just in time to sneeze twice. By the fifth sip, the shock lessened, but I still wondered why I was drinking violently sugared half-and-half.
Was there ever any taste in this world but sweet? I felt as full as if I'd eaten a large baked potato. There was a monster living in my mouth, a ropy blob that coated everything he touched with saccharine egg slime. His name was Nog. I could swear I heard a tiny scream as I poured the rest down the drain. —Brian Howe
This post first appeared in Indy Week.