It’s one of the most distinctly New York City recipes in existence. Lou Reed loved it so much, he wrote a song about it. And it’s simple, really—anybody can make it. It’s just milk, chocolate syrup, and seltzer. That’s it. But it’s also curiously fussy, and it’s prompted a hot debate that’s become a persistent piece of Big Apple lore, as mythological as the whereabouts of Jimmy Hoffa and the alligators supposedly roaming the sewers: Who invented the egg cream? Also, why is it called an egg cream if it contains neither eggs nor cream?

The theories are comically consistent—most involve Eastern European Jewish immigrants in Manhattan during the early 20th century. Sociologist Daniel Bell claimed his Uncle Hymie invented it in a candy store on Second Avenue in the 1920s (and that it actually featured eggs, prior to the Great Depression). Another story has it that a candy shop owner named Louis Auster invented it by accident in the East Village, on Seventh Street and Second Avenue, by mixing water, cocoa, and sugar. Yet another involves Yiddish showman Boris Thomashevsky bringing the recipe back to New York with him from Paris, anglicizing the language for chocolat et crème in transit (alternate “evidence”: pure sweetness in Yiddish is echt keem).

Peter Freeman, co-owner of Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain in Carroll Gardens—where they serve one of our favorite egg creams in a beautiful, restored apothecary—has his own theories, but even he’ll admit: “There’s only a few things that we really know: One, that it was invented in New York, and two, it tastes really good.” For proof, look no further than his recipe, below.

Photo by Liz Barclay

THE STEPS

1. Gather the raw materials—milk, seltzer, and chocolate syrup—then fill a glass nearly 1/3 full with the milk. (Freeman uses precisely 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons.) As egg creams are largely seltzer, anything less than whole milk will water down the drink, but reduced-fat milk still gets the job done. Either way, milk quality is key—ideally, go for local and organic.

2. Pour the seltzer in until froth comes up to the top of the glass. You want to mostly fill the glass (Freeman uses 3/4 cup), but be sure to leave enough room for mixing and foaming. Freeman makes his own seltzer using a syphon, but he really has only one hard and fast requirement for the soda: “It’s got to be ice cold. The colder, the better.”

3. Pour 3 tablespoons syrup into the center of the glass. Gently push the spoon around the bottom of the glass, keeping the action at the bottom to mix in the syrup without destroying your frothy top. You can use any kind of syrup, but purists say “real” egg creams are made with Fox’s U-Bet Chocolate Syrup, which is certified kosher and features an egg cream recipe on the bottle. If your grocer doesn’t stock it, you can order it online at foxsyrups.com.