My mother loved to entertain, and the parties that my parents threw invariably involved her cut-glass punch bowl. The longer the evening, the louder the laughter that floated up to my bedroom. One year, she triumphantly returned from an estate sale with something none of us had ever seen before: a Tom and Jerry set.
It was white milk glass, and the set was made up of a medium-sized bowl emblazoned with “Tom and Jerry” in red letters, accompanied by a set of six white mugs with the name on the front. Tom and Jerry, we learned, was a frothy holiday drink that involved a batter made from egg whites, egg yolks, powdered sugar, and spices. The bowl holds a batch of batter that gets spooned into the bottom of each mug, where something warm is then poured on top to finish it. We kids got Tom and Jerrys made with warm milk or hot chocolate. The grown ups got them mixed with brandy or rum, or both.
I loved it then, and still do. A Tom and Jerry tastes almost marshmallowy thanks to the egg whites and the sugar, and it’s a much lighter drink than eggnog, of which I can only handle a few sips.
Our family’s Tom and Jerry bowl has since gone missing; I know exactly where it was kept in the basement, but one year it simply wasn’t there. (My theory is that my mother donated it to the annual Ann Arbor City Club tag sale fundraiser.) Similar sets are, however, available in vintage and antique shops and on sites like Etsy and eBay. Although it’s a drink that seems like it might date from the Mad Men era, it’s actually far older. One account dates it to Boston in the 1820s, another to a bartending guide published in 1862.
I’ve seen Tom and Jerrys show up sporadically through the years at big city cocktail bars, always during the holidays. Earlier this month, when snow fell in Oxford, Mississippi, the beverage team at Snackbar decided to whip up a massive bowlful.
Their recipe is pretty daunting, but I’ve included it below, beneath my own family’s recipe. Ours is a bit simpler: You can start small and simply double or triple your batch, depending on how well it goes over.
- 3 eggs, separated
- 3 Tbsp. powdered sugar
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla
- 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. ginger
- 1/2 tsp. nutmeg (optional)
- 4 oz. hot tea, hot chocolate, or warm milk
- 1 oz. warm brandy
- 1 oz. rum
- 4 oz. warm milk or hot water
Separate the eggs. Place the whites in a deep bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Place the yolks in another bowl. Whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. (The peaks should hold their shape when you tip the bowl to the side.) Set this bowl aside.
Combine the sugar and spices in a ramekin or small bowl.
Add the vanilla to the egg yolks, and beat until you have a smooth mixture and the color becomes lighter. Add the sugar/spice mixture tablespoon by tablespoon until it is incorporated.
Whip the whites one more time to make sure the peaks are still holding. Carefully fold in the egg yolk/sugar/spice mixture; I suggest doing this by hand to retain as much fluffiness as possible.
At this point, you can refrigerate the batter. That will let the spices and sweetness develop. Before serving, be sure to whip it up again and get it as cloud-like as you can.
For each serving: Place about 4 Tbsp. of batter in a glass mug. Carefully pour the hot beverage through it. Top with grated nutmeg.
You can use granulated sugar rather than powdered sugar, but it can be clumpy and grainy, so mix it very thoroughly, especially if the batter will be in the fridge.
If you want a lighter colored batter, omit the vanilla.
Substitute a flavored liquor for the brandy, like Grand Marnier, Kahlua, or Crème de Cocoa.
As promised, here are the ingredients in the Snackbar version. Follow the same method above.
- 12 eggs, separated
- 2 lb. cane sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
- 1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. ground anise seed
- 1 1/2 oz. Kirk and Sweeney 12 Year Old Rum
- 1/2 oz. Raynal VSOP brandy
- Warm milk or hot water, if desired