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Tom & Jerrys: a traditional cocktail makes a comeback

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Mixologist Chris Hannah tops off a Tom and Jerry at Arnaud's French - 75 bar. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER

At Christmas, it was our family's tradition to gather for Tom and Jerrys, a delicious warm holiday drink we prepared in a punch bowl and ladled into individual cups. My grandmother, normally a teetotaler, even had a Tom and Jerry set just for the occasion — a ceramic bowl with matching mugs — which was brought down from the highest shelf in the kitchen for one night a year. As a kid, I loved the smell of the hot spices and the ritual, but my one taste put me off whiskey for years. (That changed, thank goodness.)

  Chris Hannah, mixologist extraordinaire at Arnaud's French 75 bar, has his own ritual involving this unfortunately forgotten drink. At Christmas, he hosts a tree-trimming party at his Uptown home with several reveillon-style drinks for his guests, including his version of the classic Tom and Jerry.

  The origin of the name "Tom and Jerry" is uncertain (though it clearly predates the cartoon cat and mouse duo). Hannah has cocktail recipe books from the 1920s with Tom and Jerry recipes. Other sources indicate the drink was invented in the 19th century.

  What makes Hannah's (and my grandmother's) Tom and Jerry so good is a "batter" topping ladled over the hot liquid in each mug, which provides an eggy, creamy counterpoint while not diluting or interfering with the pure taste of the whiskey; even a single-malt Scotch drinker likely won't find this too sweet or cloying. The base of the drink is boiling water, but Hannah makes a variant he calls the "Creole Tom and Jerry," which uses cafe au lait in place of the hot water. Either version can be dressed up with cocoa powder to make a chocolatey version perfect for an after-dinner drink. (In all cases, raw egg is involved; if that makes you squeamish, don't try to work around it, but go with a different cocktail instead.)

  Here's Hannah's recipe, which is easy to make at home for family or a party — or you could just go down to the French 75 and have him do the work. But caveat drinker: The Tom and Jerry is as potent as it is potable.

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TOM AND JERRY

Recipe by Chris Hannah, Arnaud's French 75 bar

BATTER:

6 eggs, separated

2 1/4 cups sugar

1/2 cup half and half

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Nutmeg

- Separate the eggs; set aside yolks.

- In a mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until peaks begin to form, then add 1/2 cup sugar and beat until peaks form again.

- Add yolks and beat them in.

- Add remaining sugar and vanilla, continuing to beat just until combined.

- Stir in half and half.

- Store in a container with a lid and refrigerate.

DRINK:

In a coffee mug, pour 1 1/2 ounces whiskey or cognac.

Add 3 ounces very hot water.

Ladle 2 ounces of batter on top.

Grate nutmeg or sprinkle grated nutmeg on top and serve immediately.

VARIANTS:

- For a "Creole Tom and Jerry," use cafe au lait in place of the hot water.

- For a sweeter drink, stir in 3 tablespoons cocoa powder to the batter with the half and half.

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