Somewhere along the road, eggnog fell into a ditch. Exalted until the late ’70s, it got tossed out with all those avocado-green appliances. It’s all but disappeared now, save for a forlorn booze-free carton or two at the shadowy end of the dairy aisle. But in Puerto Rico, an island version of this vintage drink still has a central place during la Navidad, which at 45 days is the longest holiday season on Earth.
“The holidays in Puerto Rico begin when you smell the coquito in the kitchen,” says Eric. My husband is from Bayamón, a suburb of San Juan. “Once the Christmas lights are up, you need to have the coquito ready for visitors.”
Just don’t call it eggnog or say it tastes like a piña colada. Having married into the Alvarez family, most of whom are still living on the island, I know firsthand that such casual comparisons will draw blank stares — or worse, a curse.
Coquito, “little coconut,” has a richness that comes from coconut cream and warmth from rum and spices. An egg yolk is optional. Eric’s family is all for it. But I make mine without. I can’t convince myself the rum will ward off the dangers that lurk there — no matter how rare they may be.
There are lots of ways to put your own festive spin on it, and experimentation is encouraged. Add a little pistachio, ginger, peppermint, chocolate liqueur, or a couple of extra shots of rum (for Santa’s nerves).
Makes one quart
1 cup water
4 cinnamon sticks
½ tsp. cloves
4-6 whole star anise pods
2 Tbsp. vanilla extract
8 oz. evaporated milk
8 oz. sweetened condensed milk
8 oz. cream of coconut
1 cup or more white rum
1 egg yolk (optional)
Ground cinnamon for garnish
- In a small saucepan, combine water, cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise, and vanilla. Bring to a boil and then simmer until reduced by half.
- In a blender, mix the milks and cream of coconut. Every Puerto Rican will tell you to use the Coco Lopez brand, but you can use any of them.
- Pour spice mixture through a fine wire-mesh strainer into milk mixture.
- Add the egg yolk now, if you dare. Eric’s family says it makes the coquito richer and thicker.
- Add rum to taste — a cup to start. White rum is traditional, although you may find dark rum a bit more suffonsifying.
- Refrigerate until thoroughly cool, preferably overnight. An empty wine bottle with the cork put back in it is an excellent vessel for storing and serving.
- Shake vigorously before pouring over ice in a charming cocktail glass of your choosing.
- Garnish with a sprinkle of cinnamon.
Now set your Christmas lights to rapid blinking, stream La Lupe’s “Puro Teatro,” and experience la Feliz Navidad.