The late, great, Miss Vicky and me in my Christmas coat. She ate too many of my pearl earrings but I loved her just the same. Photo: Colleen Nicholson
My father was not a New Age man. He wasn’t a fan of “women’s lib,” as it was known when I was growing up. I made it through my entire childhood without ever seeing him do the groceries. His job was to drive Mother—and sometimes me—to the local IGA or A&P (depending on who had what on sale) and wait in the car with the radio on. Sometimes, out of curiosity, peckishness or because he wanted the latest Time magazine, he’d wander inside. He’d drift around the aisles, snacking on a bag of black licorice or jar of roasted peanuts he’d plucked from a shelf. He’d pay for his goodies and head back to his den on wheels before Mother and I were done. He was the kind of man who went shopping at the hardware store, the garden centre and the liquor store. Maybe The Bay if he needed something for his studio—Father was a photographer—but not the grocery store.
Until November. That’s when the rules of engagement changed—because that’s when the first shipment of eggnog landed in the dairy case. He had a sixth sense for it. And it was the sight of him coming home from work, a carton in each hand—one already opened from swigs he took in the car or in the cashier’s line—that meant the season of celebration had officially begun. Here is my proud Canadian variation of this Christmas classic.
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
3 cups (710 mL) organic 3.5 percent milk
1 cup (250 mL) organic 35 percent cream
3 cinnamon sticks, about 2 inches (5 cm) long
½ tsp (2.5 mL) freshly grated nutmeg
5 free-run eggs, separated
2⁄3 cup (160 mL) maple syrup
¾ cup (180 mL) Canadian Club rye
1 Tbsp (15 mL) super-fine (berry) sugar
Whipped cream, for garnish (optional)
Maple sugar or maple flakes, for garnish (optional)
1. Add the vanilla bean and paste to a deep, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Over medium heat, add the milk, cream, cinnamon sticks and nutmeg and whisk to break up the vanilla seeds.
2. Bring to a gentle boil (this should take about 5 to 10 minutes) then remove from heat. Set aside to allow the flavours to infuse the milk and cream for about 10 minutes. Remove and discard the cinnamon sticks and vanilla bean.
3. In a large bowl using a whisk, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg yolks with the maple syrup until well combined. Very slowly add in the milk and cream mixture a bit at a time to temper the yolks until completely incorporated. Beat constantly so that the egg yolks don’t cook and scramble.
4. Add the rye and blend in.
5. Wipe out a large bowl with a tiny drop of vinegar and a clean rag. Add the egg whites and sugar and with a stand mixer or electric hand beaters, beat the egg whites until peaks form. Add the egg whites to the milk and cream mixture and gently whisk in to combine.
6. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or until well chilled.
7. To serve, pour or ladle into small glasses—this stuff is rich! And this might be a tad indulgent, but sometimes—and if not at Christmas, then when?—top with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkling of grated maple sugar or maple flakes, and perhaps a dash more rye should you be feeling particularly spirited!
8. Keep leftovers in the fridge for up to 3 days in an airtight container.
If you’re a vanilla fanatic, try adding a vanilla bean to a small bottle or mickey of rye about 2 weeks before making this recipe. The rye that’s left over is gorgeous straight up over ice.
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