EDMONTON - When top Edmonton chef Brad Smoliak summons up smells and tastes of the holiday season, he recalls the sugary Christmas cookies and juicy mandarin oranges he ate as a child.
But there's only one beverage that makes his wish list as a grownup: eggnog.
"It just says Christmas," says Smoliak. "To me, it's like pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving."
The thick egg and milk concoction is a perennial favourite across North America and Europe. It originated in Britain centuries ago and was popular with aristocrats who could afford scarce supplies of milk and eggs. Typically they added brandy, sherry or dry wine to the drink.
Settlers carried the tradition over to the New World but started spiking their eggnog with cheaper rum from the Caribbean.
Statistics Canada reports that Canadians consume about eight million litres of the store-bought stuff each year, even though it only hits shelves in November and is gone by January.
Smoliak, a certified research chef who opened his own catering storefront earlier this year, says he finds commercial nog a bit too thick, too sweet and too yellow for his liking.
So he usually makes his own from scratch. These days, his recipe has a Canadian twist with maple syrup and rye whisky. And don't forget the fresh nutmeg.
"Boy, that's good," Smoliak says after sipping a recent batch, a hint of nog moustache on his upper lip.
"Once you make this, you'll never buy eggnog again."
Eggnog is everywhere during the holidays. Most coffee shops offer holiday eggnog lattes. McDonald's even has an eggnog shake this year.
There's eggnog custard and ice cream. Some people add eggnog to recipes for cakes and cookies. Die-hard fans can even buy eggnog-scented candles and bubble bath.
"I think everybody's trying to tap into that for the holiday season," says Smoliak. "I'm surprised it's not on a pizza yet."
He remembers when he was in junior high school, his friend's father loved eggnog so much he used it to make scrambled eggs.
Smoliak chuckles. "It didn't turn out very well."
To appeal to more consumers, most dairy companies now produce light eggnog for those counting calories. It often contains fewer egg yolks, low-fat milk and artificial sweeteners.
There's also soy nog, usually made without eggs. Some online recipes for vegan versions call for almond milk or coconut milk and — gulp — avocados.
It's enough to make Smoliak shudder. He asks why make something taste like something it's not?
"You're not going to be drinking this all the time. Just one time a year — might as well enjoy it."
Health Canada warns consumers each holiday season that while store-bought eggnog is pasteurized to remove dangerous bacteria, raw eggs in homemade nog can lead to salmonella poisoning.
The agency advises heating homemade batches to at least 71 C (160 F), then refrigerating the liquid in shallow containers. Pasteurized eggs can also be bought at some grocery stores.
Smoliak says he's not concerned about using raw eggs to make his eggnog. He also uses raw eggs to make his own mayonnaise.
Brad Smoliak's Canadian Eggnog
12 eggs, separated
50 ml (1/4 cup) sugar
125 ml (1/2 cup) maple syrup
1 l (4 cups) whole milk
500 ml (2 cups) 10 per cent cream
15 ml (1 tbsp) sugar
500 ml (2 cups) whipping cream, whipped to soft peaks
750 ml (3 cups) or more of rye whisky (try Endelton 1910)
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
In a large bowl, whip egg yolks until pale yellow, then slowly whip in sugar and syrup. When mixture is thick and pale, slowly add milk and 10 per cent cream until well combined. Chill.
Meanwhile, whip egg whites until foamy. Slowly add sugar and continue whipping until stiff peaks form. Fold egg whites into cream-and-yolk mixture, then fold in whipped cream. Gently stir in whisky.
Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg. Will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 3 days.
Makes about 12 servings.