Eggnog is one of those holiday traditions – like fruitcake, or regifting – that result in disaster if poorly executed. At the hands of the inept or the merely lazy (store-bought just won't cut it), eggnog can be too custardy, too bland, and altogether too dispiriting, while a well-wrought batch is a minor marvel of texture and taste – with the ethereal aroma of nutmeg capping it off.
Unlike most classic cocktails, which are constructed around the base liquor, the spirits in eggnog act more like a seasoning, each contributing flavor and depth. Southerners prefer bourbon, New Englanders rum. Our favorite, though, is this version from Chris Hannah of Arnaud's French 75 Bar in New Orleans. Hannah tinkered with the drink's core ingredients – eggs, cream, sugar – and a wide range of spirits, finally opting for a cognac and whiskey blend in honor of a local libation called the Vieux Carré. "Eggnog in New Orleans had to have both," he says.
Skip the top-shelf liquor – a well-crafted midrange spirit can fill in nicely. And if you have a raw-egg phobia, get over it: They're perfectly safe, provided the eggs are pasteurized.
Separate the eggs. Beat yolks with electric mixer for a minute or so until they lighten in color, then gradually add 1 cup sugar and beat until completely dissolved. Add milk, cream, cognac, bourbon, and nutmeg. Stir to combine. Beat egg whites in separate bowl until soft peaks form. With the mixer running, gradually add 3 tbsp of sugar and beat until peaks stiffen. Whisk beaten egg whites into mixture, and garnish with fresh nutmeg. Serves eight.