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Try a Creme Anglaise-based eggnog for the ultimate, airy, creamy drinking experience this Christmas




The French didn't earn a reputation for culinary sensibility by accident. One example in which eggnog lovers might be especially interested is the French attitude toward crème anglaise, which they consume year-round.

Crème anglaise ("English cream"), is sold in liter boxes at stores and appears on many dessert menus, where it functions more as a sauce than a drink. When I'm in Paris, no matter the season, I guzzle the stuff like it's the night before Christmas, even though, unlike true eggnog, it contains only yolk and not egg white. Nor does crème anglaise contain booze, or spices like nutmeg. But if eggnog is what you're after, you could do much worse than use crème anglaise as a base. And if you fold in stiff egg whites, as I describe below, in all likelihood your eggnog will rule Christmas.

Crème anglaise is a thin sauce and looks like spilled paint when poured over things. For a neater presentation it is often served as a puddle on a plate, in which one places the likes of pie, or Moelleux au Chocolat. The French call this presentation île flottante, which means floating island.

This holiday season, perhaps the approach advocated on the Menopausal Stoners blog is more your style: "After you make the crème anglaise, mix in the Five Dirty Browns: rum, bourbon, cognac, brandy and some other whiskey. We're going to mix up a batch and invite that tasty boiler repair man over for cocktails."

Indeed, crème anglaise tastes so much like eggnog that most people wouldn't notice the difference. And many traditional eggnog recipes essentially start with crème anglaise.

This recipe takes about 20 minutes, start to finish. For one cup:

½ c. milk

½ c. heavy cream

1 tsp. vanilla extract (or 2 inches of a vanilla pod, split with seeds removed)

3 eggs

3 tbsp. sugar

pinch salt

In a thick-bottomed saucepan, heat milk, cream and vanilla on medium. Stir often to prevent scalding.

Separate three eggs. Use a fork to stir the sugar into the yolks, along with a pinch of salt. Keep stirring until everything is fully combined.

When the cream mixture reaches a simmer, pour a thin stream into the yolk-and-sugar mixture. Stir vigorously while pouring slowly, a little at a time. Stir out all the lumps each time before adding more cream.

Once all the hot cream has been incorporated into the egg yolks, remove the vanilla pod (if used), wash the pan and return the mixture to it on low heat. Ideally, use a double boiler. It should heat very slowly, not coming close to a simmer. The sauce will quickly thicken. After 5 to 10 minutes, with much stirring, remove from heat. If you heat and thicken it too much at this point it can form a pudding, which will curdle if stirred.

If making a day ahead of time, even less heating, and a thinner finished product is advisable. Before cooling, some cooks push it through a sieve with a rubber spatula to remove curdles. Allow it to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until use.

The whites of your separated eggs remain. True eggnog contains egg whites, and who wouldn't want to blend a puddle of thin, colorless protein slime into their crème anglaise?

Beat those leftover egg whites until they're stiff, and fold them in. The result is so puffy and airy that it hardly qualifies as a drink.

Spike and spice as you see fit. And if you're worried about microbes in the raw egg whites, simply add more booze, which should take care of it.

For the rest of the year, consider doing what the French do: Enjoy crème anglaise any time you want, and maybe not always with booze. Try it in your coffee, even.

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