When considering which drinks to serve at a holiday gathering, my mind generally goes in one of two directions. Eggnog or something hot like mulled wine or cider. But what if you wanted…do I dare say, both? Let me introduce you to the Tom and Jerry.
Any article about the Tom and Jerry cocktail must start with the obligatory clarification that it has no relation whatsoever to the famous cartoon cat and mouse rivals. It predates them by at least a century. Tom and Jerry was a very popular yuletide libation from the 19th century into the first half of the 20th century, before it faded into obscurity like so many other classic cocktails of yore.
You can learn more about its origins here: http://punchdrink.com/recipes/tom-jerry. Recently, like many things cocktail, it's been making a comeback.
Tom and Jerry is meant to be prepared in large batches and consumed by a group. You will not see any recipes for single servings. While it’s somewhat accurate to call it a hot eggnog, it’s composed quite differently. Tom and Jerry starts with a batter made of eggs, sugar and spices. A little of this is added to a mug and then topped with spirit and hot milk while being briskly stirred so the eggs foam up over the rim. It is then finished with grated nutmeg. YUM right??
I’d never made Tom and Jerry before writing this, so recreating it was an adventure. As I always do, I took a sampling of the various recipes available and made several versions, tweaking them along the way to my liking. This made for a very messy kitchen and two very curious young daughters
The Eggs – To Separate or Not to Separate
Most Tom and Jerry recipes call for the eggs to be separated, with the yolks blended into the sugar and spices, and the whites beaten until stiff and folded back in. This gives the drink a voluminously frothy texture. But I found that if they’re beaten too stiffly, it can be a little like drinking straight foam with some booze and spices. I want the drink to have a richer sip underneath the froth, like the coffee below the foam on top of a cappuccino.
So, at the risk of being shunned by the cocktail police (my imaginary enforcement agency that patrols historical mixed drink accuracy), I will say that it is OK to not separate the eggs. It gives the drink a more decadent texture, and there’s still some tangible frothiness. However, with this method you don’t get that final layer of foam on top. To compensate, I use frothed milk and dollop a little on at the end. If you do separate the eggs, don’t beat them too stiffly – this will get you the best of both options.
Tempering the Eggs
The biggest hurdle when making a Tom and Jerry is adding the hot milk. If added too quickly, it will scramble the eggs, which is not very appetizing. The eggs need to be tempered, a technique you may have encountered if you’ve ever made custard or a soufflé.
This is done by heating the eggs gradually. In this case the hot milk must be added a little at a time, while stirring continuously. Don’t pour it in one slow, continuous stream – which is what I did at first – that’s still too fast. You need to pause a few seconds or so in between additions at first. Once the mixture is lukewarm, the eggs have crossed a threshold and you can add the milk more liberally.
Tom & Jerry Batter
· 12 eggs
· 1 2/3 cups sugar or 3 cups powdered sugar
· 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
· 1 teaspoon ground allspice
· 1 teaspoon ground cloves
· 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
In a mixing bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs and spices until sugar is dissolved. An electric hand mixer makes this much easier. If you’re after a foamier texture, separate the eggs, beat the whites separately, and fold them in with the other mixed ingredients.
· 2 ounces spirit - either 1 ounce cognac/brandy and 1 ounce dark rum, or 2 ounces bourbon.
· 1 ½ ounce batter
· 4-5 ounces hot milk, with some additional frothed milk on the side (optional)
For a Group – Stove-top Version (my preference)
If you combine the batter, spirit and milk on the stove, you can slowly temper the whole batch at once. This has multiple benefits. It gets the drink much hotter than the individual method. It cuts down considerably on time. And, it allows you to adjust the overall balance by adding more spirit, batter or milk to taste.
Full sized batch - Makes 25 servings
· 1 batch Tom & Jerry batter
· 2 750 milliliter bottles of your spirit or combination of spirits of choice.
· 3 to 4 quarts of milk
Combine and whisk the ingredients together in a pot. Heat slowly over low heat, stirring often. Give it at least 20 minutes to get lukewarm, then raise the heat to low/medium. Your target temperature is around 120-125 degrees, hot but not steaming. It should be relatively easy to sip. Do not try to get it piping hot or, heaven forbid, let it boil. This will either scramble the eggs or give the whole batch a custard-like consistency. Either way, it will all be over.
Once the mixture is at the desired temperature, ladle it into mugs, spoon on some foamed milk if you’re using it, and finish with grated nutmeg.
Tom and Jerry Bowls and Mugs
Perhaps the most charming feature of a Tom and Jerry is its traditional serving vessel which is a ceramic bowl with matching monogrammed mugs. These used to be fairly common kitchen items through the first half of the 20th century. The batter was mixed in the bowl and spooned into the mugs. While they aren’t manufactured anymore, there are still many to be had on sites like Ebay and Etsy. My method on the stove bypasses the need for the bowl somewhat. But if you can, I recommend getting a few mugs to keep the “Tom and Jerry” spirit alive.
Without a doubt, any of John Wm. Macy’s snacks would pair with a hot foaming mug of Tom and Jerry like a dream. We hope you curl up in front of a warm fireplace, cuddle up with your loved ones under some cozy blankets, and sip and crunch away to the sound of your favorite holiday songs.
Happy Holidays and a cup of good cheer to you all!
About the Author
Tom Macy is a part-owner of the award-winning cocktail bars Clover Club and Leyenda in Brooklyn, NY. He is the head bartender of Clover Club where he tends bar, creates new cocktails and helps curate the menu. He is also the son of John Wm. Macy, CheeseSticks founder and CEO. John Wm. Macy's CheeseSticks was Tom's playground as he grew up, and he inherited his dad's passion for food and entertaining. Tom also consults on cocktail programs for bars, restaurants and hotels.
Tom is on a personal mission to help us all make and drink better cocktails. He writes about cocktails for the Huffington Post and Liquor.com, teaches cocktail classes at the Brooklyn Kitchen and has dozens of cocktail videos on YouTube. He looks forward to connecting with CheeseSticks fans and offering his advice on how to construct the perfect cocktail to go with "the perfect crunch!" Tom lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Ellen, and their two daughters, Willow and Violet. For more cocktail tips, articles and videos, visit Tom's website at www.tommacy.com.