This is based on the eggnog recipe from the one cookbook I consider completely indispensable: the America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. Through trial and error and personal preference I’ve modified it slightly (my notes in parentheses).
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
4 cups whole milk
1 vanilla pod
1/2 cup bourbon
1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
(These are the standard amounts, but I recommend to double them—a double batch still makes only a little more than a half-gallon.)
In a large saucepan, whisk together the eggs, extra yolks, and the sugar.
Slowly whisk in the whole milk.
Add one vanilla pod, split lengthwise.
Heat slowly over low-medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is between 160 and 180 degrees Fahrenheit and is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. (160 is needed for safety, but go past 180 and you’ll have scrambled eggs. Use an instant-read thermometer to monitor the temp. I use the same digital thermometer with a probe on a long cord that we use for roasts; I thread it through the handles of a binder clip attached to the side of the saucepan to keep the probe tip from touching the sides or bottom, for a continuous, accurate, and hassle-free reading.)
(Pull up a chair, you’ll be stirring for a while. It should take around 25–30 minutes, but my first time I was overly cautious with the heat and spent nearly 2 hours.)
Strain the mixture into a large mixing bowl. (Straining gets the spent vanilla pods out and also removes some of the larger bits that might have congealed. I usually have to give it a little encouragement with a rubber spatula to push it through the strainer.)
Add the nutmeg and bourbon, and blend thoroughly for a few minutes with a stick blender or hand mixer. (Blending really improves the texture. Fresh-ground nutmeg is a must—pre-ground nutmeg is no better than sawdust. For bourbon, no need to waste the top-shelf stuff. This year I used what I usually choose for a mixed drink—Jim Beam—and it was at least as good as last year’s batch with Maker’s Mark. Also, the amount listed here is a fairly low-octane amount, so spike it to taste.)
Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic right down onto the surface to prevent it from skinning. Chill for at least 3 hours. (Overnight or two will really bring out the flavor.)
Shake well or blend one more time before serving.
(America’s Test Kitchen wants you to fold in some heavy whipped cream at the last minute before serving, but I find this makes it much too rich. For a fancy presentation, top the glass with a dollop of whipped cream and sprinkle some nutmeg on for garnish.)
I hope this recipe doesn’t sound overly complicated, because it’s really very simple—and the results are so very worth the effort.