The French didn't earn a reputation for culinary sensibility by accident. One example that comes to mind this time of year—and one in which eggnog lovers might be especially interested—is the French attitude toward crème Anglaise. Namely, they consume it year-round.
Crème Anglaise, which translates literally to "English cream," is sold in liter-sized boxes at the store, and appears on many dessert menus where it functions more as a sauce than a drink. It’s a thin sauce, and when poured over things it looks like spilled paint. For a neater presentation it is often served as a puddle on a plate in which the likes of pie, or Moelleux au Chocolat, is placed. The French call this presentation île flottante, which means floating island.
This holiday season the "Menopausal Stoners" (menopausalstoners.blogspot.com) blog’s approach may be 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.
Sans the spices and booze, crème Anglaise is less committed than eggnog, with more ways in which it can be used. Whatever the occasion, from dessert to an evening on the Menopausal Stoners' basement couch, crème Anglaise is a good place to start.
Crème Anglaise, with eggnog Anglaise variation
This recipe takes about 20 minutes, start to finish.
For one serving:
½ cup milk
½ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons vanilla
2 inches of a vanilla pod, split down the middle and seeds removed (Alternatively, use 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.)
In a thick-bottomed saucepan, heat milk, cream and vanilla on medium. Stir often to prevent scalding. Meanwhile, separate three eggs. Use a fork to stir the sugar into the yolks, along with a pinch of salt. Keep stirring until everything is 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, in order to temper the yolks, so they don't curdle when heated. Stir out all the lumps each time before adding more cream. Once the hot cream has been incorporated into the egg yolks, remove the vanilla pod, wash the pan, and return the mixture to it on low heat. Preferably, use a double boiler.
It should heat very slowly and shouldn’t simmer. The sauce will quickly thicken. Continue to stir. After about 5-10 minutes remove from heat. If you heat and thicken it too much at this point, it can form a pudding, which will curdle if stirred. The whites of your separated eggs remain and present some interesting opportunities. True eggnog contains egg whites, and who wouldn't want to blend a puddle of thin, colorless protein slime into their crème Anglaise? Fortunately, there is a very good way to do so. Beat those leftover egg whites until they're stiff, and fold them into the crème Anglaise. The result is so puffy and airy that it hardly qualifies as a drink. The stiff whites provide a royal, heavenly body to the subtle, exquisitely pleasing flavor. It's like sipping a sweet cloud.
Spike and spice as you see fit. If you're worried about microbes in the raw egg whites, simply add more booze, and that should take care of it. And 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 (without the raw whites, it's a cooked product). In fact, there's crème Anglaise in my coffee right now. Café Anglaise, anyone?