PSA: Nog Season Begins

Due to a work arrangement that I have with certain government entities whom I shall not name, I find that it is in my interests to make occasional announcements from time to time that will better mankind. Today will be just such an announcement. You may now start drinking eggnog. For those who don't like the nog, you should read why you are most likely foolish, stubborn, or just plain silly. Oh, and there's a recipe in there somewhere, as well. And remember: after December 25th, nog is once again off limits. I only say this for your own good. Thank you.

How to cut baking prep time

Or:

How to make your baking turn out better.

Or:

Nothing to see; move along.

WarmingEggs.jpgThe title of the article is different depending on what kind of baker you are. When I bake, I rarely either have time to or remember to set the ingredients out to come to room temperature first. It's a really good idea to do so, unless what you're making specifies otherwise (pie crust, for example). I'm not going to go into the why right now, we'll discuss that another day. Let's assume for the moment that you want to and you don't at the moment. The big culprits for room temperature neediness are generally eggs and butter. Everything else is easy. Butter melts like a wicked witch on a water slide, and eggs cook when anything remotely warm is applied to them. So, what to do? Here water is your friend. Many of you may know that, in order to thaw meat in a short amount of time, the best way is to put it in circulating water that's right around room temperature or a bit warmer. The same works for eggs and butter, but it's easier. The eggs you can just put into water straight and they'll be warm in moments. For the butter, you might want to wrap it in plastic wrap first to keep the butter from touching the water. I will admit, though, that I happen to know that a fridge-temp stick of butter in my current, tiny microwave will behave properly if I put it in for 15 seconds, but that will be a trial-and-error procedure with you if you want to try it yourself. More powerful microwaves might require lowering the power setting, or lowering the time, or both. If you're willing to sacrifice the structural integrity of a couple of sticks of butter to keep from having to handle plastic wrap, it'll save you time down the road. Now, for all of you who put their ingredients out well ahead of time because you're with it and actually prepare for your baking, well, I hope you enjoyed the bit about the wicked witch. The rest of us will go about our extemporaneous ways.

Egg Nog

Nog. Right. They way I figure it, there are roughly 5 types who are reading this article. The first will be ready to read and make this recipe immediately, enjoying the nog and perhaps sharing with friends. Excellent. The second type already has a nog recipe, and may compare notes a bit, but there would be at most tweaking. The third through fifth do not like the nog. The third because of some manner of allergy, which is understandable. The fourth type, and perhaps most common, believes that it does not like nog because it has only had the carton stuff. I say fie on the carton stuff. It's like saying you don't like steak because you've had a McDonald's hamburger and you didn't like that. The fifth type doesn't like egg not because they are outcasts from society and, and I say this without any sort of judgement you understand, the fifth type doesn't like egg nog because it's a freak. No judgement, remember. We can still hang out and play cards together. I know all kinds of people from different walks of life. We're cool. Read on to find out how to make proper Egg Nog. Note: This recipe contains raw eggs. They are pasteurized eggs, so should be perfectly safe, but if you have an allergy, or if you have a somehow weakened immune system, it would be wise to go with another recipe that cooks the nog to kill the critters inside. Also, you'll end up with a bunch of egg yolks at the end of this, because I don't like to add whipped egg whites to my nog. You can either make a heart-healthy omelet, or you could pour the egg whites into an ice tray (an empty ice tray) and freeze them for later use. Equipment
1 large mixing bowl
1 mixer (stand or hand)
2-3 small bowls for separating egg yolks and whites
Ingredients
8 egg yolk, pasteurized
1 cup sugar
½ gallon whole milk
1 pint heavy cream
5 oz. bourbon, (Or to taste - I'll generally add a bit more) (Well, I say a bit...)
1 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated In the bowl of a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat together the egg yolks and sugar until the yolks lighten in color and the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the milk, cream, bourbon, and nutmeg. Stir to combine. Chill and serve. Or, as I generally do, just drink it right then and there.

Temper, temper

Eggs are a wonder of the world, capable of turning potential birds into real birds, supporting a soufflé, making nog and other custards, and bringing disparate ingredients together in a bit of harmony that would make the United Nations proud. There are nearly 3 sesquitillion techniques for working eggs properly into food, some of more general use than others. Today I'm going to tell you the secret of working eggs into hot liquid without scrambling it or otherwise turning it into a solid mass, a technique called tempering. At the simplest level, an egg is a combination of fat, water, and protein. There's about 1000 times the amount of water than protein in an egg, but any given protein is around 1000 or so times as large as a water molecule. In the uncooked state, the proteins are curled up together, like a shiny new slinky. Cooking the egg causes the protein to unwind, just like the time your little brother got ahold of the slinky and decided to test it's marvelous stretching capabilities. The reason the egg becomes solid is because the proteins start sticking to each other, making a nice three-dimensional structure. This is the equivalent of your brother having a sleepover, where twenty of his closest friends brought all their Slinkys, and they randomly grabbed the ends of the Slinkys and started running around the room like monkeys hopped up on red bull. The Slinkys would get tangled together in some points, stretched out in others, and pretty soon, nobody would be able to walk through the room because Slinkys get in their way. This is why the egg turns solid, and it's also why you can't see through it after it's cooked, because light can't pass through, either. All the water from the egg is stuck in-between the slinky chains, like your brother's friends. Keep cooking it, though, and it takes the party too far. The proteins get too tight, and the metaphorical children in the slinky chain start realizing that metal kinda hurts when it gets to tight, so they slip out of the protein net and into the freedom of the living room (or frying pan, depending on whether you're following the metaphor or the actual event). This makes the egg tough and nasty. For a basic egg, this happens at relatively low temperatures (145^A^0 to 180^A^0F, depending on which part of the egg). This means that if you throw egg into a boiling liquid, it's going to cook the egg on contact, which is likely not what you're going for, especially if you want to thicken a sauce. To spare your guests from a b~A(c)chamel ~A! la scrambled egg, the trick is to add a little of the hot liquid into egg mixture first. If your volume of cold egg is significantly greater that the warm or hot liquid, chances are that the egg will integrate some of the liquid before heating up too much. As the liquid will likely contain fat and/or water, this will decrease the protein-to-liquid ratio in the egg, meaning it will have to raise its temperature even more in order to form the slinky chains. It's like taking the sleepover to the nearest football field and putting in 2000 more children without adding more Slinkys - there's only so many ways that the slinkys can twist together in that much space. Once you have enough of your liquid incorporated, you can safely add the tempered egg back to the hot liquid and reap all of the benefits that egg will provide you.