Have you ever had a classic soda shop egg cream? Believe it or not, they don't involve eggs! This Vanilla Egg Cream recipe is super simple and packed with vanilla flavor.
(This Vanilla Egg Cream recipe was originally published in November 2012, but was updated with new photos in 2019).
I owe much of who I am today to Harriet the Spy (affiliate link because even if you're not a kid anymore, you should still read that book!). Not even kidding. I could write volumes on good old Harriet and I truly believe she contributed greatly to making me, me. She was a truly independent and precocious girl; interested and observant. After reading Harriet the Spy, I started my own spy notebooks and I even tried to play her game "Town," which really is like your own made-up version of The Sims before The Sims existed.
I filled notebooks with my observations. I kept my own journals from the day I turned seven straight through college. Then I started blogging; another method for me to share my observations. Unfortunately, my spy days didn't last long when I was a kid, since I lived in small town Massachusetts and not New York City like young Harriet. But my love of writing and being a constant observer remained. I'm pretty much downright nosy. Which I believe makes me a better writer.
My point of telling you all this is egg creams. Harriet the Spy had a love of egg creams and when I was a kid, I was intrigued with them for a long time. I'll never forget taking a trip to New York City with my family and seeing egg creams on the menu of a restaurant we were at. I had wanted to try them forever and it was finally my chance. I imagined an egg cream would be like a nice thick, creamy milkshake. But I was wrong. And I was shocked to learn that egg creams don't even have eggs in them. But they do have club soda. It ended up being nothing like I imagined, but I still loved it, partly because it brought me closer to Harriet.
WHY ARE THEY CALLED EGG CREAMS?
Good question! But guess what? Nobody really knows for sure. There are a few theories. Some say it's because the drink was based on popular soda shop drinks that included eggs, but during the Great Depression, expensive eggs were replaced with milk. Others say that when Jewish actor Boris Thomashevsky traveled home from Paris to New York, he asked for a "chocolat et crème" and it was misunderstood as "chocolate egg cream."
Whatever the case, you should know that egg creams do not have any eggs in them. I have a feeling people probably often shy away from them due to the name, but those people are definitely missing out!
When Quirk Books sent me a copy of Pure Vanilla (affiliate link) by Shauna Sever and I saw the Vanilla Egg Cream recipe, I was immediately all over it. I haven't has an egg cream in years and wanted to go back to my Harriet the Spy roots. So, I jumped right in to this simple Simon, but very necessary to my life, recipe.
TIPS FOR USING VANILLA BEANS
First things, first, let's chat about vanilla beans a little bit. Though I love using vanilla beans when baking, I definitely use way more vanilla extract (my mom makes it herself, so I always have a nice stock of it!) since it's less expensive.
However, when baking a dish (or making a simple syrup) where the vanilla flavor should really star, vanilla beans definitely have more of a flavor impact.
Here are a few tips for baking/cooking/cocktail-ing with vanilla beans:
- Vanilla beans can be very expensive and the price fluctuates quite a bit (they are super labor and time intensive to grow). At the time of this post's publication, vanilla beans are even more expensive than usual. Rather than purchasing from your grocery store (where they're often very expensive), I recommend hunting around online to find vanilla beans that are a decent price, but also have lots of good reviews. At the time of this post's publication, I recommend these ones (affiliate link).
- If you have the chance to see the vanilla beans in person, look for beans that are plump and glossy rather than thin and dried out (they should have some bend to them).
- Store vanilla beans in a cool, dry place. Never put in the fridge.
- Scrape out the seeds (AKA "caviar" for use in baking, but also know that the actual pods have tons of flavor in them and utilize these whenever possible. For the simple syrup recipe here, I didn't even scrape the seeds out when infusing and just put the whole pod (sliced in half) in the syrup. I did scrape some of the seeds out at the end, but mainly because I wanted little vanilla flecks in my simple syrup for visual appeal.
- 1 vanilla bean equals about 1 Tbsp of vanilla extract and you can use the beans instead of the extract in any recipe.
- Use seeds immediately after scraping out. You can't scrape them and save them for later.
- Re-use your vanilla bean pods. Rinse and dry pods after use and store in a sealed bag. Or you can utilize them right away by making a batch simple syrup or even grinding up with your coffee or granulated sugar. Yum!
VANILLA EGG CREAM RECIPE
This vanilla egg cream recipe is super easy and actually only requires 3 ingredients! However, one of those ingredients is a homemade simple syrup, which also requires 3 ingredients (but one it water!). It also needs about 24 hours to steep in your fridge to make sure you get this started the day before you want to make your vanilla egg creams.
Start by bringing sugar and water to a boil in a saucepan. Then lower heat to a simmer and let cook for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool in the saucepan for another 10 minutes.
Slice your vanilla beans in half.
Pour the simple syrup into a heat-proof jar or container and place sliced vanilla bean in container. No need to scrape out the seeds, though I did scrape a little bit when it was done steeping, mostly because I wanted some of the vanilla bean flecks in the syrup.
Let the vanilla simple syrup steep in your fridge for about 24 hours.
Now you're ready to make the actual egg creams. Pour the vanilla simple syrup and half and half in a glass and then top with club soda. Add in a straw because what's a soda shop drink without a straw?
Though she generally drank chocolate egg creams, I think it's safe to say Harriet would be impressed with this drink. Perhaps we could even get her to move beyond tomato sandwiches and start baking with vanilla beans.
OK, now that I've thoroughly embarrassed myself by gushing about my obsession with Harriet the Spy, I'm going to shut up now. But come on, I can't be the only one, can I?
I almost drank the vanilla simple syrup straight up out of the jar. Not even lying. I'm not a fan of fake-like syrups and hate when I order a flavored coffee and it's packed with lots of artificial overly sweet stuff. This? This tasted real. Because it was. Most definitely putting some in my coffee this week (and I don't even use sugar in my coffee!). And everything I make for the next year.
The vanilla egg cream was near perfection. Simple for sure, but refreshing and packed with perfect vanilla flavor and just a little bit of creaminess. And you know... you could totally add that vanilla simple syrup to some vodka and have your own homemade vanilla vodka. I'm loving that idea. Obviously. Also, egg creams are probably better without actual eggs in them, amiright?
Now I just need to get out my spy notebook and make myself a tomato sandwich and I'll be back in full-on Harriet the Spy mode. Just kidding, I'm way too busy making plans to open my own egg cream only soda shop. Next up? I need to make a chocolate egg cream!
What's your favorite vanilla recipe?
If you're looking for more vanilla-forward recipes, check out my Vanilla Latte Doughnuts or my Vanilla Whiskey Sipper (the drink also uses the same vanilla simple syrup from this egg cream recipe!). I also really want to make this Vanilla Bean Caramel Sauce from Tara's Multicultural Table!
Vanilla Egg Cream
- 2 oz. vanilla simple syrup (recipe below)
- 2 ½ oz. half and half or milk
- 10 oz. club soda
Vanilla Simple Syrup
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
- Pour vanilla simple syrup and half and half into a glass or mason jar and top off with club soda.
Vanilla Simple Syrup
- In a medium saucepan, bring sugar and water to a boil. Lower heat and and let simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for about 10 minutes.
- Pour simple syrup into a jar or heatproof container and add sliced vanilla bean. Place in fridge and let steep for 24 hours.
- Recipe adapted from Pure Vanilla (affiliate link)
- Note that simple syrup needs to steep for 24 hours before making egg cream
- Simple syrup recipe makes enough for 4 egg creams
Camels & Chocolate says
Oh my, do I love vanilla. And this delightful concoction is calorie-free of course, too, right? =)
5 Star Foodie says
wow this sounds heavenly with vanilla!
I love(d) Harriet the Spy, too! I actually want to read it again and I hope I can find my childhood copy at my parents',though it is doubtful.
I remember reading about egg creams and wondering what the heck they were. She also inspired me to eat tomato sandwiches - nothing better than a Jersey fresh tomato sandwich in the summer!
Maggie @ A Bitchin' Kitchen says
You have no idea how much I love this post! This is probably my favorite post on any blog ever.
I was OBSESSED with Harriet the Spy as a child. I carried around marble composition books and forced my Mom to pack me tomato sandwiches for lunch. I read and reread the book at least 20 times. My obsession was so extreme, that I actually had a sleepwalking episode where I wandered into my parents room, and while in my sleepwalking coma asked for my copy of Harriet the Spy. My full-time job now involves investigative research and writing, so I guess the obsession grew up with me 🙂
I no longer have a copy of this book, but I'm going to go buy one on Amazon right after I leave this comment! I always thought an egg cream was like a milkshake too - who knew?!
Thanks for reminding me of one of my favorite childhood heroines!
LOVED Harriett! I totally walked around with a steno pad... =)
The Duo Dishes says
The candied vanilla popcorn sounds amazing. That'd be a fun holiday snack to make for friends.
Simply Life says
I'm so excited to get my copy of this book! what a great idea!
@Maggie- LOVE it! We were clearly the same kid 🙂 I wonder how many more of us are out there! I definitely need to re-read the book ASAP, too!
Beautiful drink! And everything about that book sounds dreamy. I so love vanilla but have never baked with real vanilla beans for some reason- that needs to change!!
Michelle Collins says
I've never had an egg cream before, but I also never realized how easy it is to make. Thanks for the recipe!
I've never had an egg cream before either! It looks creamy and delicious and worth a try! I love just about anything with real vanilla in it.
Harriet has totally rocked my world also!! I forgot that she loved egg creams though...perhaps I'll have one this weekend in tribute to her!
sarah k. @ the pajama chef says
i LOVED harriet the spy!! such a good book. i read my mom's copy from her childhood over and over again.... and definitely made tomato sandwiches and bought harriet-like notebooks for school. i was obsessed. i never knew what an egg cream was til today, so thank you 🙂
I never had an egg cream! But I want one so terribly bad now it's not even funny! I prefer vanilla ice cream over chocolate especially when I can see the vanilla flecks in it. I never read Harriet the Spy and feeling like I missed out.
Dan Koeppel says
Great recipe - but I learned this growing up in New York and drinking egg creams almost daily: never use a straw! One of the keys to egg cream flavor is the mixing of textures - the syrupy bottom, the fizzy center, the frothy top. Only by drinking from a glass directly do you get the optimal mixture of all three layers. A straw sucks it all through the bottom, wrecking the effect. Try it!
What an incredible post! I definitely feel like I missed this childhood role model as I’ve never read “Harriet”... I also think I’ll have to order a copy for myself right now!
Proper way to drink an egg cream is without a straw. Only be tilting the glass to your lips do you get the perfect combination of the seltzer, the milk, and the vanilla - you don’t want to stir until it is fully mixed; you want a hint of layering. Try it this way and see if you can tell the difference.