Sunday, December 7, 2014

The egg cream mystery solved?

UPDATE 8-4-2015 - WIKIPEDIA NOTE - I have tried to add some of the documented mentions of "Egg Cream" before the NYC version to the Wikipedia article on the subject. Everything, even the mention that such mentions existed, has been deleted with this note: "Delete OR, non-RS text, and text about a drink which no RS states is related to the subject of this article.)"  And so your average Wikipedia reader will remain blissfully unaware that the term "Egg Cream" was ever used before it appeared in NYC.

A chance find prompts me to stray from the usual focus of this blog (early medieval food and French bread history). It concerns a drink long known to New Yorkers, but probably to few other Americans: the egg cream.

If you are unfamiliar with the egg cream, you might reasonably imagine it to contain both eggs and cream; the fact that it contains neither is a source of mischievous pride to native New Yorkers. What does it contain? Seltzer, milk and chocolate syrup. The most dreary description of it is as “an ice cream soda without the ice cream”. That such a concoction can, arguably, attain perfection – exemplified for many by that made at the Gem Spa, on Second Avenue – is one of New York's true mysteries.

The other of course is how the drink came to be; notably how, lacking both egg and cream, it came to be under that particular name.

The drink's association with New York Jewish culture is such that searches for an answer have always focused there. Writes Joy Parks:
One theory is that in the 1880s, Yiddish theater pioneer Boris Thomashevsky asked a New York City soda fountain to reproduce a drink he had discovered in Paris, but the French chocolat et crème got lost in translation. Others say the name is an Americanization of echt keem, Yiddish for “pure sweetness,” and some suggest it’s simply Brooklynese for “a cream.”The most common story is that sometime in the 1890s, candy shop owner Louis Auster concocted the drink by accident. It’s said he sold thousands a day. But 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, containing water, sugar, corn sweeteners, cocoa and some “secret things.”
Jennifer Schiff Berg's article in the 2007 edition of the Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink begins: “The egg cream, originally a drink associated with eastern European Jewish immigrants, quickly became a beverage so linked to New York that it serves as one of the city's most recognizable icons “ Her article in the 2013 Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America essentially repeats the same idea.

Berg does refer to a 1906 text which "includes a preparation with egg yolks, cream syrup, seltzer and vanilla", adding however that "few cream enthusiasts give much credence to this recipe." In fact, as it turns out, this last version comes closest to what seems to be the real original egg cream. Which, however, appears to be neither specifically Jewish nor from New York. 

In the The Housewife's Library, an 1885 work probably printed in Philadelphia and surveying a wide range of generally American specialties, George A. Peltz offers this recipe: "Egg Cream.—Beat a raw egg to a stiff froth; add a tablespoonful of white sugar and a half wineglass of good blackberry wine; add half a glass of cream; beat together thoroughly, and use at once."

A supplement to Scientific American, dated, October 2, 1896, provides formulas for several "Summer Beverages", including this one for "Egg Cream":
Cream..... 4 ounces.
Four egg yolks.
Extract vanilla..... 1
Sirup..... 12 "
Evora Bucknum Perkins' 1911 Laurel Health Cookery includes a whole section on egg creams, beginning with this statement:
Egg creams, in their great variety, are the most delightful ways of serving uncooked eggs, both for desserts and for invalids.For preparing them, the ingredients and all utensils and dishes should be as nearly ice cold as possible.The white of the egg should be beaten very stiff. The milk and cream should have been sterilized.The creams must be prepared just at the time of serving as they become liquid and lose their creamy consistency very soon.
This is followed by recipes for lemon, raspberry, banana, vanilla, almond, and maple or honey egg creams.By all evidence then, the egg cream was originally a drink with no specific cultural or regional association and it was called an egg cream because it contained, yes, both egg and cream. Its froth came from beating the egg whites, not from any added seltzer.

How did it come to be a drink containing neither egg nor cream, but always seltzer?

Such evolutions are in fact quite familiar in food history. Blancmange – literally, “white food” - was originally made with chicken and almonds, yet over the centuries it became a simple pudding (in the American sense). The croissant – that is, in French, “crescent' – was originally named for its shape; yet the word today is used for things like the chocolate croissant, which is square, though made with the same dough. Maraschino cherries, writes Linda Ziedrich, originally:
were Marasca cherries – a small Morello type that grow in Italy and Croatia – preserved in maraschino liqueur, a clear liqueur distilled from the same cherries and flavored with their crushed pits. What Americans now call maraschino cherries were developed in the 1920s... as a way of using locally grown Royal Anne cherries... Maraschino cherries couldn't be imported during Prohibition, and domestic cherries couldn't legally be preserved in alcohol.
And so the American cherries were put into brine, colored with red dye (being naturally yellowish), and flavored with almond extract. With the result that few Americans today would recognize an original Maraschino cherry as such.

Similar changes can be imagined for the egg cream. 

The original version was not the only drink to be made with eggs. Consider this 1888 recipe for egg lemonade:
Egg Lemonade—This is only prepared for the dispensing counter as follows: Into a pint tumbler put a tablespoonful of powdered sugar, the juice of one lemon, add a little water and one egg, and fill up with broken ice. Then place another tumbler tightly over the top of the first one, shake briskly until the combination is perfected. It is usually sipped through a rye straw in the same manner as a cobbler. This beverage is an all-year-round drink, a healthful beverage, and very nutritious.
As for using cream in a frothy drink, here is Hannah Wolley's 1672 instruction:
To make whipt Sillibub._Take half a Pint of Rhenish Wine or white Wine, put it into a Pint of Cream, with the Whites of three Eggs, season it with Sugar, and beat it as you do Snow-Cream, with Birchen Rods, and take off the Froth as it ariseth, and put it into your Pot, so do till it be beaten to a Froth, let it stand two or three hours till it do settle, and then it will eat finely.
Did later concerns about using eggs, in particular, in fountain drinks lead to replacing these in egg creams, just as concerns about alcohol led to changes in maraschino cherries? And was it simple economy that led to cream being replaced with milk? Such changes made, seltzer would have been a natural replacement for the whipping of either of the original ingredients to create foam.

The exact steps in the change, or where they occurred, may never be known; nor is it clear why the drink "took root" in New York City, and that city alone. But the origin of the egg cream can now be firmly traced, beyond New York or any one group, to a drink that originally contained both ingredients and whose name then was as logical as it is paradoxical now.

UPDATE December 12, 2014

First, a discovery which backdates the egg cream (with eggs and cream), even further; to 1850 -
How to Make Egg Cream. Take the yolk of an egg, with a dessert spoonful of cream or new milk, and, if convenient, add two drops of oil of cinnamon.(Blake) \
Otherwise, stepping further back (to 1843), one finds a yet another kind of egg cream:
One morning at breakfast, when I got up from my chair to manufacture some egg-cream, and had a large tea-kettle full of boiling water in one hand, and a glass with the egg in another, the ship gave a fearful roll, sending me and my kettle to  the other side of the cabin.
Unfortunately, this sailor was interrupted before making his egg cream with boiling water, as well as an egg, but apparently... no cream.. Luckily however recipes from much later (the early twentieth century) provide some insight into where he was headed:
Two eggs, 2 tablespoons of sugar, juice and grated rind of half a lemon. Separate the yolks of the eggs from the whites, and beat them with the sugar in a bowl until both are well mixed. Then put in the lemon juice and rind and place the bowl in a dish of boiling water on the fire. Stir until the mixture begins to thicken, then add the stiff whites and cook until the whole resembles very thick cream, stirring all the time; pour into custard cups and set away to get cold.
(Nursing World) Juice of half a lemon, 2 eggs, 2 tablespoonfuls of sugar. Separate yolks and whites ; beat yolks with sugar until well mixed; add lemon juice and place bowl in a dish of hot water over the fire. Stir slowly until mixture begins to thicken; then add beaten whites and stir until the whole forms a thick cream. Remove from the fire, pour into dishes, and set aside to cool. 
This variant of the egg cream, in other words, did not use eggs WITH cream; it used them to MAKE a sort of cream.

It is very unlikely that this version (which clearly took on a medical purpose) had anything to do with the modern New York drink. But its very existence notably expands the surprisingly large field of egg cream lore.


Parks, Joy, "Sweet Egg-nigma: The elusive history of an American classic.", Imbibe: Liquid Culture

Berg, Jennifer Schiff, “Egg Cream”, The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink,  ed. Andrew F. Smith 2007
Berg, Jennifer Schiff, “Egg Cream”, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, Volume 1 ed Andrew Smith, Bruce Kraig 2013
Peltz, George A, The Housewife's Library: (many Volumes in One) : Furnishing the Very Best ...1885

“Selected Formulae”, Scientific American Supplement, October 2, 1896
Perkins, Evora Bucknum, The Laurel Health Cookery: A Collection of Practical Suggestions and Recipes for the Preparation of Non-flesh Foods in Palatable and Attractive Ways 1911
Ziedrich, Linda, The Joy of Jams, Jellies and Other Sweet Preserves: 200 Classic and... 2010
Sulz, Charles Herman, Sulz's Compendium of Flavorings 1888
Wolley, Hannah, The Queen-like Closet or Rich Cabinet 1672

Saturday, December 6, 2014


The echaudé was one of the most well-known medieval pastries. The word means “scalded” and the pastry is sometimes called a “scalded pastry” in English; it has also been described as “poached” and even as a dumpling. But the French term is most typically used even in English. Though first mentioned in the Middle Ages, the pastry was still common in the nineteenth century and can still be found (if less commonly) today.

Early history

The first mention of the pastry comes from 1202 in a reference to “breads called eschaudés” (panes qui  Eschaudati dicuntur). (At this point, “pastry” was still not yet a distinct category, separate from bread.) The same text also references wafers (oblatas) and these two may be the earliest pastries (or at least sweet baked goods) mentioned in French history. Note that the Latin here is an adaptation of the French word, showing that the latter was already established at this point. What is more, the fact that the reference comes so early in the thirteenth century indicates that the pastry must have existed at least at the end of the twelfth.

Le Grand d'Aussy hypothesizes that the medieval pastry was much larger than that of his own time, based on a 1231 reference to a widow who surrendered certain rights in return for a large loaf (miche) and an echaudé (unum eschaudetum) on feast days. It does make sense that this would have been fairly large – one small pastry each feast day seems a poor recompense. But the pastry may also have already existed in two sizes. In his 1268 Livre de Metiers, Boileau does not yet mention pastry-chefs, but he does refer to echaudés given to the officials charged with tasting wine. These include small ones specifically intended for the tasting; by implication the others were larger.

In 1379, echaudés were again listed along with wafers, this time as part of an elegant meal (wafers were one of the most common desserts of the time); no other pastry is mentioned. In 1451, they were given out after High Mass in one locality. It is clear from all these references that echaudés were considered a special treat.

They seem to have become more ordinary by the eighteenth century, when they were often served with beer. One recipe for a “snow” (an early quasi-ice cream) includes bits of biscuits and echaudés, in something of a precursor to cookie dough ice cream. In the nineteenth century, Dumas (the father) prefaced his recipe for them by saying they were a “sort of unsugared cake made more for birds and children than adults.” (He apparently meant this literally; some echaudés are sold today specifically for birds.)


No record exists of the shape or even the making of the earliest echaudés. Eighteenth century images, both of an echaudé seller and, in the Encyclopédie, of the pastries being made, show shapeless forms resembling potatoes, or dumplings, and it is easy to imagine that a lump of pastry dipped in hot water would have yielded something similar. But their shape is more commonly described in other terms.

As early as 1584, the Latin term for the pastry was crustulum bicorne; that is, “bicorn pastry” (very literally, “crust”). The bicorne most familiar today is Napoleon's hat and it may be that this referred to a similar shape. But the pastry has also been described as heart-shaped, and at least one writer believes that “bicorn” refers to this.

The most common shape, however, seems to have been “tricorn”; that is, roughly, that of a tricorne hat. Cotgrave, in his 1611 French-English dictionary, refers to it both as a “Symnell” - that is, a fine loaf - “shaped like a Hart” and as a “three-cornered Symnell”. A medical text from 1668, explaining how to fold a towel, says that it should be three-sided “like an echaudé”. Similar references are found later, and in fact modern versions of the pastry are also in this shape.

As it happens, this is also the shape of another medieval pastry, the talmouse. The talmouse however is filled with cheese, which the three rolled sides help contain. Why the echaudé, which is not filled, has been made this way is uncertain.


This is not one of the rare pastries for which a medieval recipe has survived. The first echaudé recipe is from La Varenne in 1688, after which, through the eighteenth and nineteenth century, these become fairly common.

La Varenne refers to three different kinds: with butter, with salt and water and with eggs. Probably, such refinement came well after the Middle Ages, especially since earlier texts make no reference to different ways of making these.
Put on the table a half litron of the best flour, make a little ditch in the middle, put in about a half glass of brewer's yeast, add the necessary hot water, and work it all together, reduce it to a slightly soft dough to use as a leavening, which is why one must gather this dough, turn it like a roll, and put it in a warm place, so that it rises or swells quickly, and if it is in Summer it might swell sufficiently in half a quarter hour.
While waiting for the leavening to rise, put on the table a quart of the best flour, make a ditch in the middle, put in a pound of unsalted butter, which butter you will have worked and softened before it is too hard, add an ounce or a little more of fine salt, put these things together, added what is needed of cold water to knead this dough.
When this dough has been half-kneaded, take your leavening if it is ready, that is if it is filled out and swollen, put it with your dough while finishing kneading it.
And when it is sufficiently kneaded, cut it into pieces, which you will mold by hand into rolls which must then be stretched out to form echaudés.
This done one must have in a cauldron or in a jam pan, water on the fire, and it must be almost boiling, throw your echaudés into it, and leave them until they are swollen on top: and then they must be stirred about in this water, then take a skimmer with which you will raise into the air a little of the water in which are your echaudés, you will sprinkle them or bathe them in this water, leaving them nonetheless until they are swollen and firm, to see this, take out one of your echaudés, and you will handle it to see if they are firm enough.
When you judge that the echaudés are sufficiently swollen, take them out of the water with a skimmer, and put them to dry and cool on a small rack; then put them in the oven: it only takes a quarter of an hour to bake common small echaudés.
But the oven must be rough, that is, it must be as hot all through as it was for cooking large pasties.
If the echaudés do not take on enough color while baking, one must make a little light fire towards the end, to one of the cheeks or side of the oven, in order for the heat to fall on the echaudés and give them color.
Note that if you do not put any butter in the mixture for your echaudés, you will only make salt and water echaudés, which are more prized by some people than butter echaudés.
As for egg echaudés, they are also made like those with butter: but eggs must be put in the dough; it is why for a quart of flour one must break fifteen eggs, and only put in a half pound of butter.
The dough with which one wants to make egg echaudés must be well worked, and softer than for the other echaudés.
Note too that one must use a less rough oven for egg echaudés, than for those made only with salt and water, or with butter.
One detail here is striking in terms of French bread history: the use of a separate pre-ferment for the yeast (which at this point was mainly used in France for pastry but not bread). Variants on this technique were still a long way off in bread-baking.

Briand's recipe from 1750 begins with a frank adaptation of La Varenne's. But he adds some unusual variations:
Grilled salt echaudés
Split them in two down the middle; marinate them with oil, a little salt and coarse pepper; marinated, put them to grill on a low fire, being careful not to burn them; lay them out on a plate, sprinkle them with a little oil and serve as a roast dish at a collation.
Glazed echaudés
Take slightly large echaudés, cut them down the middle between the two crusts and set them to soak in milk with sugar, in proportion to what you have of echaudés; cur them and put them on hot coals for four or five hours with boiling them; after take them out of the milk and set them to drain, and fry them in lard, or else in oil; when they are fried and well colored, take them cleanly out with a skimmer, powder them with sugar and glaze them with a hot shovel, from one side first and then the other and serve hot.
Of the many recipes in the nineteenth century, one comes from the great cook Carême (1834) (here in a period translation):
Paste for echaudés {Scalded Cakes).
To make sixty echaudés take three-quarters of a pound of flour; make a hole in the centre as usual, and put therein three drams of fine salt, four ounces of butter, and seven eggs; mix these ingredients, and then lightly add the flour. The paste should now be rather soft; if otherwise, add a white, yolk, or whole egg, as may be necessary. Then give it five turns by kneading it well with your wrists, and afterwards work it for a few minutes by taking a part of the paste at the time in your hand, throwing it back again on the remainder. The paste, which should now have a beautiful gloss and be extremely elastic, is then put on a small round board, the top lightly sprinkled with flour, and, after being covered with a napkin, put into a cool place. It is generally made in the evening to scald the following morning; but it may also be scalded three hours after making it, in the following manner.—Cut the paste in four long pieces of equal length, each of which form into a roll of an inch in diameter, and then cut it into fifteen small slices, which place on the lid of a small stewpan covered with flour, with the side that has been cut downwards. When all the echaudés have been cut out in this manner and placed on two lids, throw them in a large stewpan with boiling water, preventing them as much as possible from sticking to each other. At first they will sink to the bottom, when you must lightly stir the surface of the water (which should not boil) with a spatula, in order to make them rise. As soon as they have been sufficiently scalded (which you will be able to ascertain by their feeling a little firm, and the middle being no longer soft), take them out of the stewpan and put them in a large earthen pan full of water. After soaking them for five hours, drain them in a sieve; and, a few minutes after, range them on plates or very thin boards at full two inches distance from each other, and then put them in a hot oven. They should have eighteen or twenty minutes' baking; and if during that time the oven could be kept shut, they would look all the better. When they have been taken out of the oven, they may be cut in two, and a pinch of fine salt with a spoonful of lukewarm butter put lightly on each of them: the two halves are then put together, and they are served up hot with coffee, tea, or chocolate.
Dumas' recipe (printed posthumously in 1873) curiously specifies not to use yeast, saying that the pastries will rise on their own, but then says to add leavening (that is, sour dough) without giving any measure for this:
Make your dough without yeast. The dough will ferment enough during the time it rests. Keep hot about thirty minutes, 125 grams of flour, 60 grams of salt, 125 grams of eggs and 500 grams of butter; mix and knead all of this three times; put in leavening in small pieces, and knead it six more times in the same way; put the dough in a tablecloth or a napkin until the next day; then cut the echaudés the desired size to put them in boiling water which is take off the fire and which once it stops boiling, one is careful to drain the water and to take them out and put them in cold water as they rise; drain them well; bake them in the oven.

A number of modern recipes can still found on-line (typically in French).

UPDATE 5-7-2015

It turns out these were even served at Delmonico's in the late nineteenth century:

 (3282). Echaudes (Echaudes)
Arrange one pound of sifted flour in a circle on the table; in the center lay two ounces of butter, two ounces of sugar, a well-crushed piece of carbonate of ammonia the size of a hazel-nut, a pinch of salt and eight whole eggs; mix all well together, obtaining a very smooth paste, but not too firm, working it so that it attains considerable body. Flatten this paste to an inch and a half in thickness with the rolling-pin, lay it on a floured tin sheet and leave to rest for two or three hours in a cool spot. Invert this paste on a lightly floured table and cut it into pieces; roll each of these to form a string an inch and a half in diameter, then divide into three-quarter-inch lengths. Lay these cakes on their cut end on a round floured pan cover; boil water in a vessel larger than this cover; at the first boil take the water from the fire, invert the cover over and pour boiling water on this to detach the pieces of paste; return the vessel to the fire without letting the water boil, and shake it about.
As soon as the pieces of paste rise to the surface remove them with a skimmer and throw into a pan of fresh water, leaving them in for twelve hours, changing the water every four hours; then drain, range then at some distance apart in hermetically closed hinged baking sheets, and bake in a hot oven for twenty to twenty-five minutes.


For Le Grand d'Aussy's texts on pastry, along with bread and sweets:

Boileau, "Livre de Metiers", Depping, Georges-Bernard, Dissertation sur l'état de l'industrie et du commerce de Paris au XIIIe ... 1837

"1379 (1er mars)", de Saulcy, Félicien, Recueil de documents relatifs à l'histoire des monnaies frappées ..., Volume 1 1879

"Seance de 2 Mars 1847", La province du Maine: feuille hebdomadaire 1848

Favart, Charles-Simon, La matinée, la soirée, et la nuit des boulevards ; ambigu de scènes épisodiques, mêlé de chants et de danses, divisé en quatre parties : représenté devant Leurs Majestés, à Fontainebleau, le 11 octobre 1776

Dumas, Alexandre, Grand dictionnaire de cuisine 1873

Echaudés sold specifically for birds - :Les Volières de 'Atlantique

La Varenne, Pierre François, L'Ecole des ragoûts ou le Chef-d'oeuvre du cuisinier, du patissier et du … 1688

Lebel, Joullain, "Le marchand d'échaudés" : [estampe]

Nicot, Jean,  Dictionnaire françois-latin, augmenté outre les précédentes impressionsd'infinies dictions françoises, principalement des mots de marine,vénerie et faulconnerie, recueilli des observations de plusieurshommes doctes, entre autres de M. Nicot,... et réduit à la forme et perfection des dictionnaires grecs et latins 1584

Carême, M. A, The Royal Parisian Pastrycook and Confectioner from the Original of M. A.Carême 1834


Ranhofer, Charles, The Epicurean 1894