I recently sampled a dessert called the Brooklyn at Perigee in the Berkshires consisting of a charlotte russe and a “shooter” egg cream. The chef and bartender were very proud to tell us they were made from authentic ingredients, the key one being a special brand of chocolate syrup used by true Brooklyn egg cream makers. But why is it called an egg cream when it contains neither of the ingredients in its name?
Yeah, it’s totally a Coffee Talk with Linda Richman thing, right? “Egg creams contain neither egg nor cream. Discuss.” But it’s funny you ask this right now, because egg creams are having themselves a mini-moment.
Grub Street recently published a list of egg cream-related specials and carts(!) popping up throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn, and the latest issue of Edible Manhattan delves into the New York delis and restaurants who uphold the tradition of this city-born beverage.
What you’ll learn from reading the Edible Manhattan piece, as well as any of the multiple histories published on the drink, is that there is no single consensus on the birth of the egg cream. We know it is a New York creation, developed by one of the Jewish delis of the East Village or Lower East Side in the years between the First and Second World Wars. (There’s an entire essay on the topic by Jillian Gould in the book Jews of Brooklyn.) There are competing families who vie for the title of Egg Cream Inventor, insisting that the creation was perfected behind their grandfather’s soda fountain.
However, like cream rising to the top, there are a few theories on the origin of the name that appear time and again in all written histories of the beverage. Family Feud-style, here are the top three:
- It’s a mispronounciation of the French phrase chocolat et crème, which means chocolate and cream. Chocolate egg cream—get it? Say it a few times fast with that French way of catching the “r” in the back of your throat when you say “crème.”
- It’s a derivation of the Yiddish word echt, or “real,” as in “real cream.” Which is also not in the drink, but at this point, are you even surprised that there’s confusion?
- It actually did contain beaten egg whites at one point, but imitators started subbing in the cheaper seltzer and milk combo to replicate the airy foam.
But you’re right, to make a chocolate egg cream, all the purists agree on Fox’s U-bet Chocolate-Flavored Syrup, proudly hailing from Brooklyn, and prized (much like the elusive Mexican Coke) for using real sugar in its Kosher, Passover-friendly version.
Although Fox’s isn’t shy about sharing its egg cream recipe—found on its site as well as on the back of every chocolate syrup bottle—it’s a bit misleading, asking for you to fill your glass with syrup and milk by the inch.
I prefer more precise measurements, so after consuming many, many glasses in the name of research, I’ve come up with the 1:2:4 ratio that gives ample chocolate flavor without sacrificing fizziness nor erring on the side of either too watery or too thick. It’s easy to make on a kitchen scale, using the “zero” function to add each element if you don’t feel like doing the math.
Chocolate Egg Cream
Total time: 5 minutes
Makes 1 drink
Note: all ingredients should be ice cold.
- 2 oz. Fox’s U-bet Syrup
- 4 oz. whole milk
- 8 oz. plain seltzer—I’m addicted to the extra-fizzy homemade seltzer from my SodaStream, but bottled versions are fine as long as they’re not flavored
< Pour the syrup into a pint glass or tall juice glass, then stir in the milk until the syrup is fully dissolved. Pour the seltzer into the glass, watching a full head of foam rise, much like the creamy bubbles that form when you pour root beer over ice cream for a float. Creating the head of foam is a technique prized and closely guarded by the egg cream masters of old, and there's much debate over what order to add the ingredients to get the most luxurious foam. Syrup first? Syrup last? This is the way that works best in the Good. Food. Stories. test kitchen, and I'm sticking with it. Drink immediately.