The Egg Cream: A New York Jewish Icon

I have a curiosity and passion for iconic Jewish foods. I’ve previously blogged about New York and Montreal bagel, Toronto blueberry buns, and chocolate babka. The egg cream is another iconic creation from New York.

For those not familiar with this drink, there is no egg or cream in it. It’s sometime called a chocolate soda, a combination of seltzer water, cold whole milk, and Fox’s U-Bet chocolate syrup. A proper egg cream does not have Hershey’s or Nestle chocolate syrup. I was first introduced to the egg cream while at grad school in Philadelphia. On a long weekend, I went to New York classmate who asked if I’d ever had an authentic New York egg cream. I didn’t even know what it was. She took me to this shop in Queens and I was handed a chocolate soda with a foamy head. It had a consistency much lighter and velvety than a milkshake. I was hooked.

According to most historians, the egg cream was allegedly created in the early 1900s by a Jewish candy shop owner, Louis Auster, who came to America and opened a candy store in Brooklyn, New York.  It is reported that 3,000 egg creams a day were sold until the day the store closed. When Auster refused to sell the rights to the drink to an ice cream chain, a company executive called him an anti-Semitic slur and he vowed to take the formula to his grave. Without Auster’s special syrup, other soda fountains relied on a Brooklyn original: Fox’s U-bet chocolate syrup, 

Fox’s U-Bet chocolate syrup was produced by a Jewish man, Herman Fox, in his Brooklyn tenement home at the beginning of the 20th century. Fox was a gambler who lost his money in a Texas oil well investment, but turned things around when he struck gold with his syrup. While his money stayed in Texas, the Texan term “you bet it’s good” became part of his syrup’s name.

In the New York tenements, Jews dominated the seltzer trade, and Jews loved to drink it. Seltzer was a pareve (neither meat or dairy) beverage beloved by Jews, observant and assimilated alike. It was a welcome digestive aid to the heavy Eastern European fare people ate in delis. Auster’s egg cream was an inexpensive concoction that competed with fancier drinks served in upscale neighbourhoods.

As for the name, there are various theories on its origin. Some felt the egg cream name was pure marketing to make it sound fancy or rich. One explanation claims that egg is a corruption of the Yiddish echt (genuine or real), making an egg cream a “good cream”. Another explanation comes from reports that it grew out of a request for chocolat et crème from someone who had tried a similar drink in Paris. His heavy accent altered the name into something like “egg cream,” which then developed into the current term.

The egg cream has lost some of its charm over the years and not commonly found throughout New York. But the drink has a small loyal following. Some shops make variations such as vanilla or orange flavoured. But purest want to see it made like the original egg cream by Louis Auster.

HOW TO MAKE AN EGG CREAM

1. Choose The Correct Glass

Begin by choosing the correct glass. It should hold approximately 12 ounces of liquid, be tall enough to showcase the beautiful chocolate foam you are about to create, and wide enough to allow you to properly mix the drink with a spoon. A wide highball glass will work well.

2. Pour The Milk

Once you have selected your glass, add in the milk. However tall your glass is, you want to fill it a little less than a quarter of the way with milk (so, ideally around two to three ounces). Use whole milk for the creamiest, richest egg cream but feel free to use almond milk or oat milk for a dairy-free egg cream.

3. Add The Chocolate Syrup

Next, add about an inch of chocolate syrup to the bottom of the glass. Now, it’s totally acceptable to first add the chocolate to the glass, then pour the milk. Just don’t mix the milk and chocolate together yet. That would be a mistake. Let them go their separate ways for now. Do you have to use Fox’s U-bet chocolate syrup? No. Fox’s U-bet chocolate syrup is iconic and the syrup most associated with the classic egg cream. A bottle costs $6 in New York, and I saw it selling on Amazon for a ridiculous $30. So go with the Hershey’s. There’s something else should know about Fox’s U-bet chocolate syrup. The original syrup was made with sugar, and the current version is made with corn syrup, which means it’s the same as every other chocolate syrup.

4. Add The Seltzer And Stir Very Aggressively

When you have your milk and chocolate syrup ready in the glass, select a long spoon to stir with and an unopened bottle or can of seltzer. It is of the utmost importance that the seltzer be fresh and unopened. It needs to be as ferociously bubbly as possible to make an excellent egg cream. Pour the freshly opened seltzer in an aggressive way: The seltzer should come crashing down into the glass, a disruptive force not unlike the jet of a soda fountain. Stop pouring the seltzer as the liquid approaches the top of the glass. Ignore any spillage and start stirring the drink right away. Move the spoon in a quick up-and-down motion, rather than a swirling, spinning stir. Chopping up and down with the spoon will help develop a nice, thick head of foam on the drink, which is essential. When the chocolate syrup has been thoroughly mixed, take a look at your foam. If it is white, turn it brown and chocolaty by taking some liquid from the bottom of the egg cream glass, and folding it over the top of the foam. Do this until the foam turns brown, and is nice and chocolaty. Then enjoy!

3 thoughts on “The Egg Cream: A New York Jewish Icon

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s