Ever had a New York Egg Cream?

During NanoPoblano, November’s blogging challenge, I stumbled across a note that March 15th is National Egg Cream Day, and that got me thinking. My parents loved New York Egg Creams when I was growing up. I didn’t really know that much about the drink, but I remember my mom having them all the time when I was younger. I never enjoyed them when I was younger because I don’t really like seltzer water.

I should back up and explain Egg Creams. I realized when I started talking about New York or Brooklyn Egg Creams over the last few days that a lot of people don’t know about these, or have never had one. So let’s talk about the drink itself.

First of all, an Egg Cream contains neither egg nor cream. It’s a misnomer. There’s a lot of theories as to why this is, but most of them circle back to anecdotes from the early 1900s. This drink was historically most popular with Eastern European Jewish immigrants in the New York area. This totally fits with my parents- My father was a first-generation American, and my mother is a second-generation American. About a hundred years ago, we were all in the old country. But I digress. Back to the etymology of the egg cream!

One theory holds that someone was saying “echt keem” in Yiddish, which the Internet tells me is close to Yiddish for “pure sweetness,” and the name caught on. Another theory is that a guy named Boris Thomashefsky asked a New York soda jerk to make the Parisian drink “chocolate et creme,” and the correct pronunciation of the word was lost in translation. A third theory goes much simpler and just says that since grade A milk was used in the making, “chocolate A cream” was eventually shortened to “egg cream.” Nobody alive today really knows for sure why it’s called an egg cream, or who first made one.

A popular theory attributes the egg cream to a man named Louis Auster, a candy shop owner on the Lower East Side. The story goes that he made the first one by accident using a store-made chocolate syrup, and became instantly popular.

Historians are quick to point out that there was a popular drink made in the 1880s from chocolate syrup, cream, and raw eggs mixed into soda water. While that sounds positively disgusting to me, the theory goes that the version of the egg cream that we know today was a version served in poorer neighborhoods.

What it does contain is milk, seltzer water, and chocolate syrup. If you go hunting for Egg Cream recipes on the Internet, the vast majority of them will specifically point you toward either Bosco or Fox’s U-Bet Chocolate Syrup, and with good reason. In my opinion, Fox’s is thicker and more chocolatey than other brands. It contains real cocoa ever since it was introduced in 1900, and you can taste that clearly. Both of my parents loved Fox’s U-Bet, and I was happy to discover when I started looking at recipes that it’s still readily available.

It’s impossible to make a real New York Egg Cream at home. An actual egg cream is made at a soda fountain, and a big part of what makes the drink so delightful is the foamy head. You can get close mixing them at home, but it will never be quite as fizzy and ephemeral as the originals- because they used old-timey soda fountains, the drink would have to be enjoyed within a few minutes or it would go flat. (I wonder if one of those SodaStream doo-dads would work for this…)

That’s not to say that you certainly can’t give it a good try! While researching for this post, I found no less than eight different recipes for a New York/Brooklyn/Bronx Egg Cream. Most of the differences are about the percentages of the ingredients.

Here’s the recipe I used to try an egg cream:

• Fox’s U-Bet chocolate flavor syrup
• Cold whole milk or half-and-half
• Ice-cold club soda or seltzer water

How to make it: Pour 3 tablespoons of chocolate syrup and 1/4 cup of milk or half-and-half into a 16-ounce glass. While beating vigorously with a fork, slowly add club soda or seltzer until the glass is almost full. Add a straw and serve very cold.

I made some adjustments, of course. I don’t usually keep milk in the house because I can’t drink it without some discomfort, so I used oat milk. My seltzer water was refrigerated but hardly ice-cold. And of course, I didn’t measure a damn thing. I don’t know if I used three tablespoons of U-Bet, or if my milk-to-seltzer ratio was even close to right. I didn’t drink it with a straw. And I’m almost positive that my frothy head wasn’t nearly frothy enough.

I do know that it was pretty damn tasty, though. I think I get why my parents love these things.

Have you ever had a New York Egg Cream?

52/52! Achievement unlocked!