Beverages: Dairy in holiday drinks

12/12/2012 12:00 AM

12/11/2012 6:23 PM

If there is ever a time when milk and spirits should come together in harmony, it is for the holiday eggnog. But even this tradition has long swerved in a bad direction.

“I think dairy-based cocktails have such a mixed reputation because they’re easy to flub,” says Dan Searing, whose book “The Punch Bowl” (Sterling Epicure, 2011) includes a section on milk-based punches. “Balance is even more important than usual with such a rich ingredient.”

When dealing with dairy cocktails, there are basically two kinds. One group calls for milk or cream as an ingredient that you recognize in the final drink. A classic example is the Alexander, whether with gin, brandy or something unique, such as pear liqueur.

The other group of dairy cocktails mixes milk with citrus. It curdles, separating out the whey, removing the fats and leaving the proteins.

In 19th century Baltimore, eggnog was a New Year’s Day tradition. Young swells went door-to-door sipping the local version, which called for a mix of Madeira wine, brandy and rum.

Baltimore Egg Nog

1 serving

You can find this 19th century recipe in many incarnations, including batched in a large punch bowl, but Jason Wilson is of the opinion that it is best mixed and served by the glass.

The trick of this version is to shake the egg, sugar and booze with a little bit of light cream first, then to add the milk afterward in the glass — which should be filled with ice cubes, another trick that makes the drink brighter and less goopy.

This recipe calls for a raw egg. If you are concerned about the risk of salmonella, buy pasteurized eggs, available in select supermarkets.

For the Madeira, be sure to use a dry one such as Blandy’s 5-year-old Sercial. When making cocktails with eggs, be sure to first do a quick “dry shake” to mix the liquids, and then add the ice and continue shaking for another 30 seconds. From Jason Wilson.

1/4 ounce light cream

1 large egg

1 teaspoon confectioners’ sugar

3/4 ounce dry Madeira

3/4 ounce brandy, preferably cognac or Armagnac

3/4 ounce aged rum

Ice cubes

2 to 2 1/2 ounces whole milk

Whole nutmeg

Combine the cream, egg, sugar, Madeira, brandy and rum in a cocktail shaker. Shake to mix well, then add ice cubes and shake for 30 seconds. Strain into a Collins glass filled with ice cubes.

Fill the glass with the milk, and stir gently. Grate a little of the nutmeg on the surface.

Notes: The trick of this version is to shake the egg, sugar and booze with a little bit of light cream first, then to add the milk afterward in the glass — which should be filled with ice cubes, another trick that makes the drink brighter and less goopy.

NUTRITION Per serving: 270 calories, 8 g protein, 9 g carbohydrates, 9 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 225 mg cholesterol, 100 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 8 g sugar


1 serving

A traditional grasshopper calls for creme de menthe and creme de cacao — essentially an Alexander made with creme de menthe. This version (in Italian, cavalletta means “grasshopper”) calls for the Italian digestivo Branca Menta, which is the minty cousin of the famously bracing Fernet Branca. At 80 proof, the Branca Menta brings more flavor and a hint of bitter as a backbone.

A number of Fernet or Branca Menta versions of the grasshopper or Alexander exist online, but most call for a chocolate liqueur like Godiva, which is too sweet, or heavy cream, which is too cloying. Instead, use a good-quality creme de cacao, such as Marie Brizard or Drillaud, and always go with light cream. Adapted by Jason Wilson, from the blog


1 ounce Branca Menta

1 ounce creme de cacao

1 ounce light cream

Whole nutmeg

Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice. Add the Branca Menta, creme de cacao and light cream. Shake well, then strain into an old-fashioned or rocks glass. Grate a little of the nutmeg on the surface.

NUTRITION Per serving: 220 calories, 11 g protein, 16 g carbohydrates, 6 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 10 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 8 g sugar

Agave Con Leche

16 to 24 servings

Tequila and grapefruit and milk: Weird, right? Maybe, but this delicious punch, created by Owen Thompson (until recently lead bartender for Jose Andres’ ThinkFoodGroup) and featured in Dan Searing’s 2011 book, “The Punch Bowl,” will change your perception of milk in cocktails.

Be absolutely certain to strain out all solids from the citrus-curdled milk mixture (as many times as necessary) before adding the booze. You’ll need a thermometer for this recipe. Adapted from Searing’s “The Punch Bowl” (Sterling Epicure, 2011).

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons whole milk

1 2/3 cups freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

750-ml bottle blanco tequila

1 2/3 cups St-Germain elderflower liqueur

Heat an inch of water in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Place the milk in a bowl that fits over the saucepan so that no steam escapes. Heat the milk, stirring often, to a temperature of 120 degrees.

Transfer the milk bowl to a heatproof surface. Stir in the grapefruit and lime juices; let the mixture sit at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes. It will curdle, and that’s okay.

The mixture needs to be strained twice into a large pitcher or bowl: first through a fine-mesh strainer, then through several layers of cheesecloth, a clean dish towel or a coffee filter, until all the solids have been separated. This process should result in a pale, curd-free liquid, which is a mix of citrus and whey. Discard the solids.

Combine the citrus-whey blend with the tequila and St-Germain and refrigerate until well chilled.

When ready to serve, pour over ice, preferably a large block, in a punch bowl.

NUTRITION Ingredients are too varied for a meaningful analysis.

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