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Eggnog Anglaise

by Ari Levaux

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 – 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 desert 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, but no 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 the Christmas party.

“Crème Anglaise” was one of the few bits of the local tongue that I picked up in France, and being able to say those words took me to some very happy places. The phrase also got me out of a potentially sad place on one occasion.

At Charles de Gaulle airport I was confronted by security agents who noticed several packages of viscous fluid in a scan of my luggage. As I explained that the thick liquid was “Crème Anglaise,” the agents broke into excited chatter.

 “Blah blah blah le Crème Anglaise

blah blah blah le Américain

blah blah oui oui, le Crème Anglaise.”

 They sent me on my way with pats on my back, words of encouragement, and for all I know recipe advice. My bags were checked through, Crème Anglaise and all. But I have no illusions over how close I came to losing my Crème Anglaise in Paris. Had there been a hot Moelleux au Chocolat in the vicinity (a French-style chocolate muffin with molten chocolate inside) those viscous liquids would surely have been deemed a security risk, one that could only be diffused by a party in the break room.

Crème Anglaise is 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, 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.

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 desert to Christmas Eve 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 cup:

½ cup milk

½ cup heavy cream

3 eggs

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 out the yolks from the eggs. Use a fork to stir 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, in order to temper the yolks, so they don’t curdle. Stir out all the lumps each time before adding more cream.

Once all the hot cream has been incorporated into the yolks, remove the vanilla pod, 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 5-10 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 you make it a day ahead of time, even less heating, and a thinner finished product is advisable, as Crème Anglaise will thicken in the fridge. Many recipes advise that the Crème Anglaise be prepared the day before.

Before cooling, some cooks will push it through a sieve with a rubber spatula, to remove any curdles. Just remember to lick the sieve.

Allow the Crème Anglaise to cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate until use.

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. In last night’s ‘nog, I went with a pinch of nutmeg and a splash of Frangelico Italian hazelnut liquor. That worked great.

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). With so many ways that Crème Anglaise can bring someone closer to a happy place, it’s a good thing to have around. In fact, there’s Crème Anglaise in my coffee right now. Café Anglaise, anyone?