May 4th, 2014

Ebinger’s Legendary Blackout Cake

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My cousin Cathy emailed me a few weeks ago, with a link to a story on NPR that stirred vivid memories for both of us. It told of a special dark dark chocolate cake that was the signature dessert of a beloved and long-gone bakery, Ebinger’s.

If you grew up in one of the New York boroughs before 1972, no doubt you were familiar with the Ebinger name. The family bakery opened on Brooklyn’s Flatbush Avenue in 1898; over its three-quarters-of-a-century life span, that 1 grew into a chain of 50 dotting neighborhoods throughout Brooklyn and Queens.

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Our grandparents were Ebinger devotees. Whenever Cathy and I went to visit them at their Jackson Heights apartment, we knew we’d be treated to something special that Nana had purchased from the extraordinary bakery: Crumbcake showered with powdered sugar. Butter-rich danish. Yeasted almond rings. Chocolate domed cupcakes. Mocha buttercream torte with its name elegantly scripted across the top.

We’d gather around the dining room table in the morning for warmed coffeecake and milk. In the evening, after dinner, we’d enjoy a slice of one of the Ebinger cakes, sometimes with a scoop of ice cream. In between, that dining room table served as a stage for our art projects. I have a dim memory of us crafting fancy paper hats; Cathy remembers me scrawling “Felix the Cat” (my fave cartoon character at age 7) allover the hat rim.

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When Ebinger’s shuttered in 1972, (overexpansion, then bankruptcy) it left a rift in Nana’s world. She had no choice but to buy from the competition, Entenmann’s, and it simply wasn’t as good. Our subsequent visits were always marked with Nana’s lament of Ebinger’s demise, as she served up pieces of the less wonderful confections.

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Ebinger’s most famous, and universally longed-for dessert is the Blackout Cake–so-called for its deep dark chocolate flavors, its name further harkening to the wartime blackouts of the ’40’s. The three-layer beauty is distinguished with a rich pudding filling, bittersweet chocolate frosting, and a fourth layer that is crumbled to coat its top and sides.

NPR included a link to the recipe, as published in the New York Times in 1991. It’s been deemed the original. (although I have since found other, slightly different ones, while perusing the ‘net.)

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Cathy and I decided to make it—in part, nostalgia, in part, curiosity–next time we got together. Lucky for us, that opportunity soon arrived.

While not difficult to make, you need to allow at least two hours for the project. (For some secrets to great cake baking, check out this link at Cooking Light: 10 tips to ensure the desired results.)

There are three parts to the recipe, with many more steps. Cathy’s husband John, I’m happy to say, documented the process while we cousins collaborated. Cathy whipped up the batter with her old school electric hand-held. I stirred the pudding until it burped and bubbled. We chopped and melted a mound of Belgian chocolate, whisking in as much butter for the silky icing. So much chocolate! So much butter!

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And, when the time arrived–cake layers, cooked filling and frosting all sufficiently cooled–we assembled.

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It occurred to us that the curious crumbled layer could have been the result of a split layer gone awry: cracking and falling apart. Perhaps the Ebinger baker could not bear the waste, and created the distinctive crumb coating instead. Ingenious!

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When at last we sliced and served the cake, (after a marvelous meal, celebrating both Cathy’s and Bill’s birthdays) Cathy glimpsed a snippet of the past, of eating the Blackout cake with Nana at that dining room table.

Post-dessert verdict: What an indulgence. We decided that the name applied to the food coma you enter after eating a piece. Yep, you could black out.

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NOTORIOUS LEGENDARY EBINGER’S BLACKOUT CAKE
Serves 12 to 16

Cake
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
3-4 tablespoons boiling water
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup milk
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened slightly
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, separated
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Filling
1 tablespoon plus 1 3/4 teaspoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 cups boiling water
3/4 cup plus 1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons cold water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Frosting
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup hot water
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

THE CAKE

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Butter and lightly flour two 9-inch round cake pans.
Place the cocoa in a small bowl and whisk in the boiling water to form a paste.

Combine the chopped chocolate and milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir frequently until the chocolate melts — about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Whisk a small amount of the hot chocolate milk into the cocoa paste to warm it. Whisk the cocoa mixture into the milk mixture. Return the pan to medium heat and stir for 1 minute. Remove and set aside to cool until tepid.

In the bowl of a mixer, cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, and the vanilla. Slowly stir in the chocolate mixture. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using a spatula or a wooden spoon, slowly add the flour mixture to the chocolate mixture. Fold in until just mixed.

In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Using a spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the batter.

Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes. Cool the cakes in the pans on racks for 15 minutes. Gently remove the cakes from the pans and continue to cool.

THE FILLING
Combine the cocoa and boiling water in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir in the sugar and chocolate. Add the dissolved cornstarch paste and salt to the pan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla and butter. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, cover and refrigerate until cool.

THE FROSTING
Melt the chocolate in a heavy-bottomed saucepan set on medium heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter, one tablespoon at a time.

Whisk in the hot water all at once and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the corn syrup and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate for up to 15 minutes before using.

ASSEMBLY
Use a sharp serrated knife to slice each cake layer horizontally in half to form four layers. Set one layer aside.
Place one layer on a cake round or plate. Generously swath the layer with one-third of the filling.
Add the second layer and repeat. Set the third layer on top. Quickly apply a layer of frosting to the top and sides of the cake. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, crumble the remaining cake layer. Apply the remaining frosting to the cake. Sprinkle it liberally with the cake crumbs. Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.

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Posted in Chocolate, Desserts, Recipes

21 Responses to “Ebinger’s Legendary Blackout Cake”
  1. Adri Says:

    This must be one of America’s most famous cakes, its fame having spread all the way across the country. I’ve heard talk of it, and I live out herein Los Angeles, California. I adore chocolate cake, and so now I’ll just have to try it. The cake looks positively fabulous. I enjoy seeing these famous recipes – the ones with lots of time and history behind them. Thank you for sharing this.

    About those crumbs, I have often seen professional bakers add crumbs to frostings, and also to fillings – especially the fillings for sweet rolls. Being quite cost conscious, the bakers do not like to see anything go to waste, and so the trimmings that fall from the layers as they are split are often used in one fashion or another. I hope you are having a wonderful weekend!

  2. Michele | Cooking At Home Says:

    Nancy, Ebinger’s blackout cake is legendary, but I never had the pleasure of tasting it.When I was growing up a car trip from New Jersey to Queens was not on my father’s radar as all of our relatives resided in New Jersey. Chances are, I will never bake your beautiful cake, but I can live vicariously through your gorgeous photos.

  3. JP & Lynn Evans Says:

    When we saw just how good that looks we almost blacked out, another winner Nancy!

  4. ernestine Says:

    Oh my,
    would love to taste.
    Your description and I can
    almost catch the scent of it baking
    and being prepared…
    I love a rich desert…
    At the moment solo
    and think I will pass on preparing.
    Sending post
    to my granddaughter who lives in New York
    and will be an end of the month
    bride in New York :)

  5. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Hi Adri–I was curious as to the extent of Ebinger’s fame–from one coast to the other! And, thanks for the info about bakers using the crumbs.

    Michele, I thought about you, and wondered if you had ventured into Brooklyn or Queens “back in the day” and visited Ebinger’s. Cousin Cathy and I enjoyed the baking experience—but it may be a while before I bake it again!

  6. Joyti Says:

    I’ve never heard of the cake (West coast, and I was born after their demise)…but it sounds lovely and looks delicious :)

  7. Michele C. Says:

    Thank you for your wonderful blog. I enjoy reading all your stories and have tried several of your recipes. Yum!
    My family moved from NY to California when I was a child in the 60’s. I have distinct memories of my Grandparents’ visits (they lived in Brooklyn). They always brought cakes from Ebingers with them. Meeting them at the airport and seeing all those pink cake boxes – wow!
    My favorite was a Mocha layer cake.

  8. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Ernestine–I hope that your granddaughter enjoys the recipe–congratulations to her, as well!

    Michele C.–I love hearing about your Ebinger memories. Your grandparents traveled in style, bearing the best gifts! There was always cause for excitement when you saw those special cake boxes. Cousin Cathy loved the Mocha the best too.

  9. Barbara Greene Says:

    Not only does this look like such a wonderful, super rich dessert that I want, but I also really enjoy hearing your stories of visiting our grandparents! Can you make this for our next family holiday meal?

  10. Teresa, foodonfifth Says:

    Oh Nance what a wonderful story. I had never heard of this cake until I heard the NPR story as well! What a fun time you and your cousin must have had making this edible memory! As you know I do love a good chocolate dessert and this looks completely “over-the-top” wonderful and yes I bet a slice after dinner would tend to make one “black-out”. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Maggie Says:

    Hi Nance, this looks amazing! I really enjoyed your story and it was great to see you and your cousin in action!

  12. Barbara Says:

    I’m not familiar with the Ebinger cake, so this was a fun read. That is one chocoholics cake! Looks marvelous, Nancy.

  13. Kitchen Belleicious Says:

    legendary indeed. Wow, my mouth is watering and I only wish I had a piece right now:))) DELICIOUS

  14. fluffy Says:

    dreamy

    the crumbs and the pudding and the decadent icing

    delicious

  15. Juliana Says:

    I have never heard of Ebinger cake, only blackout…the crumb as a topping sure sounds awesome…and pretty. I just finished dinner, this cake as dessert would be fantastic…
    Have a great week Nancy :D

  16. Beth Says:

    What a spectacular dessert! There’s nothing quite like revisiting the flavours of our childhood, is there?

    Also, I wanted to let you know that I received the sampler of your recipes. I’m looking forward to making one and blogging about it next month!!

  17. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Thanks so much Beth! I appreciate that so much.

  18. Maureen Teachman Says:

    My Aunt never came from Brooklyn to visit us on Long Island without an Ebinger’s cake. I can remember her getting off the train carrying the cake box. I think the box was a pale green cake box with a thin brown line that made a diamond pattern on the box. I saw someone mention a pink box but I don’t recall any with that color. Is my memory failing?

    I also think that there was a white cake with multi layers and a lemon filling. Anyone have the lemin filled cake recipe? Anyone have the mocha cake recipe?

    Thank you for the details and recipe for this chocolate wonder.

  19. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Hi Maureen, No–your memory is not failing; it was a pale green box with the brown line, diamond pattern. The person who mentioned pink may have recalled that in error, as it was a pastel colored box. The Ebinger family did not want to release its many wonderful recipes and therefore, they are difficult to find. Here’s the link to one site that does the detective work on these old recipes:

    http://thehungrybrowser.com/phaedrus/mpebingers.htm

    “Uncle Phaedrus” has 4 Ebinger recipes here–sadly not that delicious lemon-filled one.

  20. Jackie Kingon Says:

    My husband grew up in Brooklyn and for years he taked about that cake. Now we live in Manhattan with bakeries like Eric Kayser and Payard nearby. BUT the memory lingers on!

  21. goodfoodmatters Says:

    It’s a powerful memory, isn’t it? Thanks for sharing!



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