Where there are Puerto Ricans celebrating something in the latter half of the year, there is coquito. My people’s answer to eggnog, coquito is much stronger and creamier than its American cousin, almost a dessert in beverage form. The family coquito recipe is a closely-held treasure, differing from those of other families and passed down by grandmothers. She will make the batch in semi-secrecy, usually without assistance, to maintain this mystique. To receive it in her practiced script is an honor, accorded to trusted daughters and daughters-in-law to keep the knowledge alive.
We always compare it to eggnog, but in truth, it’s a bit more like Irish cream. The comparison to eggnog helps cement coquito’s festive credentials to outsiders, but it also masks how much stronger it is than American holiday cocktails. This deception makes coquito an amusing test for visitors unfamiliar with it, who are likely to overindulge. Those who withstand the holiday treat without losing their footing earn accolades from more alcohol-tolerant family members.
The ingredients for coquito didn’t become part of the Puerto Rican landscape until well after the Spanish conquest, and coquito was most likely invented sometime in the 17th century. The coconut, in particular, is a surprisingly late arrival to Latin American cuisine, while cinnamon and nutmeg had to be imported from southeast Asia. Other parts of Latin America acquired their own variations on this concept around the same time, often after exposure to American eggnog (itself possibly descended from an English concept).
My grandmother shared her recipe with me and my ex a few years ago. It’s taken some time to perfect her somewhat imprecise instructions, but this past week, I finally did it. I’m keeping the information she provided me to myself, but what I’ve built from it, I will share. I don’t have the same priorities as my people’s old guard, and sharing knowledge is a wondrous good.
Coquito, by its nature, is heavy on dairy. I am not aware of lactose-free versions of the required dairy products, nor have I been able to determine whether a consumer lactase product such as Lacteeze can purge the lactose from evaporated or condensed milk. If it can, the result will be sweeter than the original. Coquito is meant to be consumed in small quantities, but this is not necessarily safe for the most sensitive drinkers.
The recipe below makes approximately 2 liters of coquito, approximately 20 servings. This version is reduced from what my grandmother originally provided me, which produced about four times as much and was meant to keep multiple large parties sated over the course of a season.
You will need a mid-sized mixing bowl and a whisk or large fork. If you use a tool to separate egg yolks from whites, you will also require this tool. You will need a pitcher or other vessel in which to age and store your finished coquito.
- Egg yolks, 3.
- Vanilla, ½ tablespoon
- Condensed milk, 1 14 oz. can
- Evaporated milk, 1 12 oz. can
- Coconut milk, 1 13.5 oz. can
- Rum, 2 cups. White rum is traditional, but using dark or spiced rum adds something welcome.
- Nutmeg, ½ tablespoon
- Cinnamon, ½ tablespoon
- Separate the egg yolks from the whites and set the whites aside. This recipe does not require the egg whites.
- Beat the egg yolks until smooth.
- Add the vanilla and beat until smooth.
- Add the condensed milk and beat until smooth
- Add the evaporated milk and mix well.
- Add the coconut milk and mix well.
- Add the rum and mix well.
- Add the cinnamon and nutmeg and mix well. They will not mix perfectly, forming grains. Mixing provides more spice flavor than the more traditional garnish.
- Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and ideally overnight.
- Mix well one more time and serve.
Coquito is traditionally served in espresso cups, but for a different sort of party impression, serve in aperitif or shot glasses. For a Cuban presentation, serve with turrón de maní blando, a Spanish nougat candy particularly popular among Cubans. Coquito keeps well for months in a sealed container, so even if your party isn’t up to the challenge of consuming it all in one sitting, you can give it another try at your next event.