Eggnog

Some jarred nog, agingHow to Incorporate the Eggs.  There are several different ways to put the “egg” into “eggnog.”  For a few years I used this method:

  • whisk egg yolks with some sugar until pale and foamy
  • whisk egg whites with some sugar until soft peaks form
  • fold the two egg foams together and stir into milk and cream
  • add rum and nutmeg

The problem with this method, first of all, is that if it sits for even five minutes, the eggy foams separate from the milk and cream. I wouldn’t mind a bit of head on the nog, but the foams make up about 90% of the volume.  Even during the brief moments in which all the ingredients are properly incorporated, the light and airy texture of the nog doesn’t seem appropriately robust and nourishing.

Out of sheer curiosity I tried cooking out a mixture of milk, cream, and yolks, à la crème anglaise.  It was a bit thick, even once thinned with rum, but before repeating the process with a lower yolk content I decided that the cooked-egg taste is also inappropriate to the ideal nog.

I’ve finally settled on just adding whole eggs with the milk and cream, and blitzing thoroughly with a stick blender.  The white make a nice little foam on top.  Sometimes it will separate a bit if it sits in the fridge, but you can just blend it again before serving.

Rum Content.  The recipe below uses one part rum for three parts dairy.  To some drinkers it will seem out of balance, but to me nog can pull off wonky booziness that would be completely inappropriate in most drinks.  Egg nog should warm you up.

Aging.  Another important piece of information I came across was that properly boozed nog can be made well, well before consumption, and aged in the fridge.  Michael Ruhlman has successfully aged eggnog for two years, if you can believe it.  I’ve been making mine about one month in advance.  The drink mellows and blends somewhat, but doesn’t develop any of the funky flavours of true, long-aged nog.  It makes preparation for parties easier.

If you intend on aging your nog I’d recommend doubling the quantity of rum in the recipe below.

Foam.  Very much a matter of personal taste, but I usually like a bit of eggy foam on top of my nog.  I like the flavour of the egg whites, and it creates textural contrast.

If you want lots of foam, you could separate the yolks and whites.  Use only the yolks in the recipe below, then right before serving whisk the whites with a pinch of sugar.  In terms of how stiff the whites should be whisked, I think they should be even softer than the classical “soft-peak” stage.  Once they reach soft peaks, the foam doesn’t flow over the surface of the liquid, and when drinking the nog it’s difficult to incorporate both foam and drink into each sip.

Nutmeg.  I used to incorporate the nutmeg at the blending stage, but I found that it always sank to the bottom.  Grating over the drink just before consumption ensures that you get the full aroma of the spice as it happily floats on the surface.  Just my preference.

 

Eggnog

Ingredients

  • 12 oz whole eggs (6 large eggs)
  • 8 oz granulated sugar
  • 1 very small pinch kosher salt
  • 24 fl oz whole milk
  • 8 fl oz heavy cream
  • 8 fl oz golden or spiced rum, I use Sailor Jerry
  • nutmeg to taste

Procedure

  1. Combine all ingredients and blend with an immersion blender.
  2. Can be stored in the fridge for a week before serving.
  3. To serve, blend thoroughly to develop of bit of foam.  Ladle into mugs and grate nutmeg on top to taste.

Bulletin: Exciting Developments in the Field of Fruitcake

Fruitcake, soon to be saturated with Sailor JerryI know I already posted today, but I wanted to quickly tell you about some cutting-edge developments in the composition and aging of the 2012 fruitcake.

Hazelnuts lose their spot to almonds.  For three years now my fruitcake has been poundcake flavoured with orange zest, garnished with glacé Evans cherries, candied Navel orange peel, and roasted hazelnuts.  The cherries are the star.  They bring loads of flavour, acidity to balance the buttery luxury of the cake, plus they’re from Lisa’s dad’s backyard.

Working with Evans cherries over the past couple years, we’ve noticed that their aroma has a distinct note of almond extract.  For some reason this aroma is especially evident in the single-varietal rumpots we’ve made.  This year we decided to substitute the hazelnuts with almonds, to see if they could reinforce or even elevate the great, natural flavour of the Evans cherry.

Appleton rum falls to Sailor Jerry.  I don’t know what I’m supposed to think about Sailor Jerry.  I know lots of kids who drink it because it’s marginally stronger than most brands of rum, and I guess because it’s associated with a tattoo artist, and probably also because it has a charming, trashy pin-up girl on the back of the label.  Its popularity in hipsterdom notwithstanding, in the last year it’s become my favourite spiced rum, mostly because of the boatload of vanilla essence on the nose.  It’s great in Coke for that reason.

Anyways, I’ve decided to age this year’s fruitcake with Sailor Jerry spiced navy rum, instead of the usual Appleton VX.  Maybe spiced rum will overpower or muddle the aroma of the orange peel and cherries.  I don’t know.  Sometimes you have to take risks.

Yard of Flannel (a het pint…)

Yard of flannel is hot ale, laced with rum and spices, and thickened with egg.

Though there’s a surprising number of beer and cocktail blogs that have tried out old recipes of yard of flannel, there’s very little information on the history of this drink available online.

I’ve found no documented link between these two drinks, but yard of flannel is nearly identical in recipe and preparation to an old Scots cocktail called het pint (literally “hot pint”).  The only difference is that the Scots version typically uses whiskey instead of rum.

Het pint was once an important part of Scottish celebrations, especially Hogmanay, the Scots New Year.  In the 17th and 18th centuries, public houses made het pint on New Year’s eve, and villagers would buy a copper-kettle’s-worth to take home for the festivities.

Kettles of het pint would also be carried through the streets by “first-footers.”  The first person to enter a house on New Year’s day was said to be a foretoken of the prosperity of the coming year.  The first-foot was ideally “a man, tall with dark hair… carrying gifts, including whisky, tea, coal, or salt, symbols of good health, good fortune, good luck, a warm home, and a full larder.”[1]  In some traditions the first person to cross the threshold is a more or less random event.  In others young men would travel from house to house with gifts.  These first-footers often carried pots of het pint with them as they walked through the town, offering the drink to passers-by.

Het pint was consumed at many other celebrations, notably rural weddings on Orkney.[2]

A frothy yard of flannelNot only are recipes for het pint and yard of flannel consistenty nearly identical, they both use the same technique to develop a tall foamy head on the drink.  When agitated, the egg proteins develop a head that is much more stable than that of beer alone (think: meringue).  The head on het pint and yard of flannel is traditionally produced by pouring the drink back and forth between two mugs in a tall cascade.

Ale makes up the bulk of the drink, so the choice of ale to be used is the most important decision made by the cook.  Nowadays “ale” refers to a beverage that undergoes a warm fermentation with a top-fermenting strain of yeast, typically producing an aromatic, fruity, floral beer.  It’s counterpart, “lager,” goes through a colder, longer fermentation with a bottom-fermenting strain of yeast, resulting in a cleaner, crisper drink.

Until atleast the nineteenth century, in Great Britain the word “beer” referred exclusively to hopped beers (a Bavarian invention), while “ale” was reserved for the traditional, unhopped, British drink.  Therefore the “ale” called for in old het pint recipes refers to this ancient style of British beer.  Many contemporary beers made in the UK are reminiscent of these older styles, though they do contain some hops.  Here’s a description of modern Scottish ale:

Scottish Ales traditionally go through a long boil in the kettle for a caramelization of the wort. This produces a deep copper to brown… brew and a higher level of unfermentable sugars which create a rich mouthfeel and malty flavors and aromas. Overall hop character is low, light floral or herbal, allowing its signature malt profile to be the highlight.[3]

This style of beer makes perfect sense for het pint, as the malt and caramel flavours compliment the rum or whisky.  The pronounced hops flavour of most contemporary beers would probably be out of place.

I’ve hear that the “yard” in yard of flannel refers to the yard-long glasses in which the drink was once served, and the “flannel” refers to the rich, soft mouthfeel developed by the heated eggs.  I can’t find a reliable source for that information.

I don’t imagine this drink will be everyone’s cup of tea, as the modern man doesn’t like the thought of drinking hot eggs, but I have to say it’s a well-balanced cocktail with a fantastic mouthfeel.

Yard of Flannel (a het pint…)
adapted from Back to Basics

Ingredients

  • 1 large egg
  • 1/6 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • fresh grated nutmeg to taste
  • 341 mL your favourite English pale ale, Scottish ale, or possibly brown ale
  • 1/6 cup golden rum

Procedure

  1. Whisk together egg, sugar, and salt.
  2. Gently heat ale and nutmeg in a heavy-bottomed pot.  Do not let the ale boil.
  3. Once the ale mixture is starting to steam, slowly pour it into the egg while whisking.  Adding the ale too quickly may curdle the egg, which would be bad.
  4. If you’re a stickler for tradition, you can develop the head by pouring the mixture back and forth between two mugs.  As you can probably imagine, this quickly cools down the drink.  You can get just as good a head by whisking vigorously while the flannel is still in the bowl.

 

References

1. Duncan, Dorothy. Feasting and Fasting: Canada’s Heritage Celebrations. ©2010 Dorothy Duncan. Dundurn Press, Toronto, ON. Page 313.
2.  McNeill, F. Marian.  The Scots Kitchen.  ©2010 The Estate of F. Marian McNeill.  Birlinn Ltd, Edinburgh, Scotland.  Page 309.
3.  Beer Advocate.com

Fruitcake

The waiting is the hardest part.
-Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

 

I used to revile fruitcake, but in recent years a description by Jeffrey Steingarten has made me more receptive to the dish.

…full of dark, saturated medieval tastes and colors… aged for a year and then set aflame at the very last minute, carefully spooned out like the treasure it is…

I became mildly interested in the idea of aging baked goods, but I still regarded fruitcake as a gaudy curiosity. Then I came across fruitcake in the memoirs of a woman who grew up during the depression in Northern Ontario, called On Turnips, Teas, and Threshing Bees. Her description of fruitcake, and the lengths her family went to prepare it, surprised me. They started collecting ingredients early in the fall, candying ripe fruit. Later in the year they had to seed all the Muscat raisins and crack the walnuts by hand.

Even the eggs were a luxury. Apparently chickens have only recently decided to lay eggs all year long (persuaded by better feed and warmer barns?). Her family preserved the last of the fall’s eggs expressly for the Christmas fruitcake. They kept them in a jelly she called water glass, which is sodium silicate. Storing the eggs for months was a considerable sacrifice for her family, as during the depression eggs were one of the few bartering items they had to trade for necessities like flour.

Living in the Canadian shield, spruce was the main wood for ovens and furnaces. Hardwood was comparatively rare, but a few chosen logs were set aside for the fruitcake, which needed to bake at low temperatures. They cherished this cake.

I decided to reconsider my position on fruitcake this year with a simple trial: a single loaf with glacé cherries, candied orange and lemon peel, and hazelnuts.

Glacé cherries

Glacé cherries“Glacé” is a confusing term because it can refer to ice cream, cake frosting, fruit candied in “hard crack” syrup, or simply fruit preserved in syrup. It’s that last definition that applies here. Most sources I consulted had a similar procedure for making glacé cherries:

Make a simple syrup of one part water and one part sugar.  Bring to a simmer, add pitted cherries, remove pot from heat, cover and let stand over night.  This is simply to infuse the syrup with cherry, and the cherries with syrup. The next day, remove the cherries and reduce the syrup until a candy thermometer reads 230F.  This gives a good thick-but-runny consistency.   Reintroduce the cherries, simmer briefly, then store in a sanitzed jar.

I used our local evans cherries instead of the BC bings.  They were so soft after the glacé process I worried they would be too delicate to fold into the dense pound cake batter.  While they definietly don’t hold their round shape like the bings, they managed to stay in one piece.  Their tartness is a welcomed addition to the cake.

Candied Peel

Candied orange peelCandied peel is dead simple to make. Remove the peel from lemons and oranges. Use proper, thick-skinned oranges like navel, not thin-skinned mandarins. Cut into strips.

The peel is usually blanched to remove some of the bitterness of the pith (the fleshy white part). Put the peels in cold water and bring to a boil. Strain and repeat. Strain and repeat. After blanching, boil the peels in simple syrup until translucent (see left). Remove and roll in sugar. Soak the peels in water or liquor before folding into the cake batter.

Batter

I made a simple, dense, pound cake of equal parts butter, sugar, eggs, and flour, by weight. If you cream the butter and sugar well enough, there’s no need for baking powder. I added the zest of one lemon, then folded in my cherries, candied peel, and hazelnuts.

The doneness of the cake depends on how you intend to store the specimen until Christmas. If you’re just throwing it into the fridge, it’s important that you slightly under-bake the cake, so that it remains moist. If you’re going to be steeping the cake in alcohol, bake the cake as you normally would, until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Folding the nuts and fruit into the fruitcake

The fruitcake, fresh from the oven

Aging

If you’re taking the alcoholic route, keep your cake in a non-reactive container at room temperature. Every couple of days, sprinkle rum or brandy onto the top and sides of the cake. Alton Brown uses a spray-bottle to achieve a uniform mist of liquor. I partially block the bottle opening with my thumb and pour.

Sprinkling rum on fruitcake

Results

After a few weeks aging, the cake is dense, moist, and redolent of fruit peel and rum. It’s remarkable how the flavours develop over the weeks. This is definitely going to be a tradition in my house.

Maybe next year I can use beaked hazelnuts from the river valley…

Sliced fruitcake

Ingredients

  • 8 oz unsalted butter, cubed
  • 8 oz granulated sugar
  • 8 oz eggs
  • 8 oz all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 orange, zested and juiced
  • 5 oz roasted, skinned hazelnuts
  • 5 oz glacé evans cherries, strained from liquid
  • 5 oz candied orange peel
  • approximately 1 cup of fine, spiced rum

Procedure

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
  2. Thoroughly butter the base and sides of a ceramic terrine and line with parchment.
  3. Combine butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Cream with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about five minutes.  Start on a low speed, and once the sugar and butter have combined, turn to medium-high.
  4. With mixer still running, add the eggs one at a time, allowing each to be fully incorporated before adding the next.  Add the orange zest and juice.
  5. Turn the mixer to  the lowest speed.  Slowly add the flour.  Stop the mixer as soon as all the flour is incorporated into the batter.  Do not over-mix.
  6. Fold in the hazelnuts, cherries, and candied peel.
  7. Transfer the batter to the prepared terrine.  Bake in the 325°F oven until the top of the cake is domed and brown, and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean, roughly 60 minutes.
  8. Remove the cake from terrine and cool on a wire rack.
  9. Once cooled.  Transfer the cake to a container with an airtight lid.
  10. Store the cake at a cool room temperature, about 15°C.  Every other day for 1 month sprinkle 1 tbsp of rum over the cake, getting the liquor on all the surfaces.  I affectionately refer to this as feeding the fruitcake.

Rumpot

The first layer of the rumpotRumtopf, literally “rum pot”, is a traditional German fruit preserve. As each type of fruit comes into season, it is macerated with sugar, placed in the pot, then covered with rum. Traditional rumtopfen are earthenware pots with heavy lids, but any wide-mouthed, non-reactive vessel can be used.

I use about one part sugar to two parts fruit, by weight, for each addition.

Once the last layer of fruit is added, the mixture steeps for a few months, and is traditionally eaten around Christmas.

The mixture goes through some profound transformations during aging. It loses the striking vibrancy seen above and turns a uniform burgundy. The liquor loses its clarity and becomes murky, with an exceptionally rich mouthfeel, verging on viscous.  The severity of the alcohol mellows.  The pot no longer exudes the delicate aromas of early summer, but rather a medicinal scent, strong of the boozy raspberries.

The fruit can be spooned over, say, ice cream, cake, or waffles, and the liquor can be drank on its own. On waffles with whipped cream, with an ounce of the liquor and black coffee. The fruits have combined to form one homogeneous flavour, so it matters little whether you spoon an apricot or a strawberry onto your plate. The fruit is extremely delicate, saturated with liquid.

A fantastic way to start the day, as long as you don’t have to operate heavy machinery later in the morning.

Rumpot and whipped cream on waffles

 

Single Fruit Rumpot: The Cherry Pot, and Plumplop

As mentioned above, the traditional method of layering the fruit as it comes into season results in a very generic “fruit” flavour.  In recent years I have been making a few different rumpots, each containing only one type of fruit.  The results have been fantastic.  The aromas are so strong and distinct that and I don’t think I will ever the multi-fruit variety again.

The best has been a pot filled with pitted Evans cherries and Appleton’s rum.  After a few months the pot had a remarkable cherry aroma with clear notes of almond extract.  The natural acidity of the cherries was a welcome addition to the liqueur.

Another notable mention goes to a rumpot made with BC plums.  By Christmas the pot smelled like purple Mr. Sketch scented markers.  It made a deadly liqueur that we initially called “plumpot,” but, after several glasses, could only describe as “plumplop.”