The “posada” season is in full swing, and in Mexican kitchens, the fragrant aroma of the festive drink called “rompope” hangs in the air like a velvet cloud. Spicy, rich and decidedly boozy, it is one of the essential components of a Mexican Christmas and served to revellers at the traditional Christmas parties, the “posadas” – and wherever I am at this time of the year, I set a pot of milk to reduce on a back burner as La Navidad would simply not be the same without a small glass of rompope, either neat or on the rocks, to set the scene. Champagne may always be the obligatory accompaniment to the Christmas meal, but the apéritif just has to be rompope!
The drink itself, which is widely known as eggnog, must have originated in Europe, as most of the ingredients are post-Hispanic, and although it is found all over Latin America, in Mexico it is almost an institution and an integral part of traditional Mexican gastronomy and festivities. In Spain, it is described as “rompón”, which evolved into “rompope” in Mexico, and it is the nuns of the colonial city of Puebla who are credited with its creation, in particular a certain Sor Eduviges at the Convento de Santa Clara; this sister was the only one allowed to make the rompope, which was served to visiting dignitaries, and she was very privileged in being entitled to actually taste it in order to ensure that the balance of flavours was just as it should be. Her talent in the kitchen eventually led to rompope being sold commercially, which greatly benefitted the convent.
Industrially produced rompope is widely available today but as ever, a home-made version is infinitely superior and far more festive. It is easy to make although you need to allow plenty of time for the milk to reduce slowly – other than that, there is little effort involved in the preparation and it keeps well in the refrigerator for a couple of days (but don’t count on left-overs!). The basic ingredients are classics: milk, sugar, egg yolks (to make a thin custard), vanilla, cinnamon and some kind of alcohol – a spirit distilled from sugar cane originally, then rum, and nowadays brandy or even Grand Marnier and Cointreau make their appearance in some recipes. Other spices can be added (I like cloves and nutmeg), and almonds, either ground or toasted flakes, seem to be fairly authentic; I have even come across rompope flavoured with chocolate, which is delicious but somehow lacks the Christmas feel. The following recipe is the one I make and serve year after year; sometimes I enjoy a small glass of it neat, in all its wealth and Christmas bounty, or on the rocks if I am in the mood for something lighter and fresher, or need to keep all my wits about me, as rompope is definitely an adult drink!
Feliz Navidad – Merry Christmas!
Mexican eggnog – Rompope
Makes 4 small glasses
1 litre/36 fl oz/1 3/4 pints whole/full cream milk
1 vanilla pod, split
1 cinnamon stick
150 g/5 1/2 oz sugar
4 egg yolks
25 g/1 oz ground almonds
200 ml/7 fl oz/3/4 cup dark rum
Flaked toasted almonds
Crushed ice - optional
Bring the milk to the boil, then turn the heat down as low as possible. Stir in the vanilla, cinnamon, cloves and sugar, and cook, stirring every so often to prevent sticking, until reduced by about half.
In a bowl, beat the egg yolks with an electric whisk until well combined. Slowly add the hot milk, whisking all the time. Pour the mixture back into the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spatula, until it thickens. Immediately pour it through a coarse sieve into a clean bowl and leave to cool. Refrigerate until needed. If it is very thick, thin it down with a bit of milk, but only a little as the texture needs to be rich.
To serve, pour the rompope into small glasses – larger ones if you are serving it over ice – and grate a dusting of fresh nutmeg over the top. Sprinkle with toasted almonds and get straight into the Christmas spirit – La Navidad is under way.