This post was originally going to be about posset, an 18th-century tonic made with alcohol, hot spiced milk, and eggs. It sounded like therapeutic eggnog, just the thing for those of us already worn down by the holidays — and the cold weather in New York right now.
Well, I made two posset recipes, and neither turned out too well. I won’t go into the gory details about that (curdling and so on), but fortunately, while researching possets, I came across a recipe for mulled wine made with eggs. I was intrigued and decided to give it a try, and I’m so glad I did!
Mulled wine has been around for a long time, dating at least to ancient Roman times, when Hippocrates supposedly made spiced, sweetened wine for medicinal use. His drink was called hippocras, and recipes for it were in cookbooks until about the 18th century.
English mulled wine, Swedish glögg, and German Glühwein all trace their roots back to hippocras. English versions sometimes contained milk, but none had eggs until around the 18th century. The eggs then disappeared again by the 19th century, according to culinary historian Nancy Carter Crump. Here is an 18th-century mulled wine recipe containing eggs, from Elizabeth Raffald, author of The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769):
Grate half a nutmeg into a pint of wine and sweeten it to your taste with loaf sugar. Set it over the fire and when it boils take it off to cool. Beat the yolks of four eggs exceedingly well, add to them a little cold wine, then mix them carefully with your hot wine a little at a time. Then pour it backwards and forwards several times until it looks fine and bright. Then set it on the fire and heat it … till it is quite hot and pretty thick, and pour it backwards and forwards several times. Then send it in chocolate cups and serve it with dry toast cut in long narrow pieces.
I was a little puzzled by Raffald’s instruction to “pour it backwards and forwards,” but got some clarification from Crump, who updated this recipe for the book Dining with the Washingtons. The idea is that you pour the wine back and forth between two saucepans, to cool and aerate it.
This was a little hard to do without spilling wine everywhere, but the result was worth it. This drink tastes strange, but in a good way! It is thick from the eggs, and the nutmeg flavor really comes through. Be sure to make the suggested toast sticks as they’re a perfect accompaniment, and good for dipping. I recommend using a decent but not fancy wine, and it should be fairly dry.
If you’d like to try mulled wine without eggs, and I could see how you might feel that way, I also made a recipe by Eliza Leslie from Miss Leslie’s Directions for Cookery (1851) that we liked a lot, too. A modernized version of that recipe is below.
1⅓ cups dry red wine, divided
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅓ cup sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 slice of bread, toasted and cut in long strips
1. Pour 1 cup of wine into a small saucepan. Add the nutmeg and sugar and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often. When the mixture starts to boil, remove from the heat.
2. Beat the egg yolks until thick (“exceedingly well,” as Raffald wrote). Blend in the remaining ⅓ cup of wine. Very slowly, and a little at a time, add this mixture to the hot wine, stirring constantly so that the yolks don’t curdle.
3. Pour the wine-egg mixture back and forth between two saucepans for a few minutes. (Do this over a sink or you’ll be sorry.) The wine will cool slightly and become bubbly on the surface.
4. Reheat the wine over low heat, stirring, until it thickens, about 10-15 minutes. Keep it just below a simmer to prevent curdling. Remove from the heat, and pour the thickened wine back and forth again between two saucepans for about a minute.
5. Serve the wine in small mugs or cups, with toast strips. Serves two.
Mulled Wine (without eggs)
Adapted from Miss Leslie’s Directions for Cookery
2 cups water
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 stick cinnamon, broken up
1 teaspoon whole cloves, slightly crushed, or ½ teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups dry red wine
3 tablespoons sugar, or more to taste
1. In a small saucepan, bring the water, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer about 10-15 minutes, until reduced by half, then remove from the heat and strain the liquid into the wine in another saucepan.
2. Bring the wine mixture just to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low, then remove from the heat and stir in the sugar. Serve warm.
Apologies for this noncolonial illustration, but I couldn’t help myself!