Before You Bake Brooklyn's Legendary Cake, Heed A Warning
For Brooklyn, Ebinger's Blackout Cake was a decades-long institution. Ebinger's Bakery opened in 1898, quickly flourishing with dozens of locations throughout the borough. There was a time when, if you lived in Brooklyn, you lived near an Ebinger's — and you knew its famous blackout cake. The signature chocolate dessert had a rabid following among Brooklynites, until the bakery went bankrupt in 1972.
For Katie Workman, though, the cake is something else entirely: "Oh my God, it's a big, fat pain in the butt." Workman, the creator of The Mom 100 cookbook and blog, says that making the cake is so difficult, she still suffers what she calls PTCS: "post-traumatic cake syndrome."
Workman's travail began with the best of intentions, when she saw a recipe for the coveted chocolate cake in Molly O'Neill's New York Cookbook. "I thought: I have to make this for my grandfather's birthday. He was in his 80s, he had grown up in Brooklyn and I knew that he would remember this cake."
So, Workman got started on the three components of the dessert: the cake, the filling and the frosting. Each component had a separate recipe requiring multiple steps, over two dozen ingredients and lots of spoons, spatulas, bowls and pans. What's more, the cake must be consumed within 24 hours, lending an air of urgency to her drive to bring it to her grandfather.
But it would all be worth it for her grandfather's reaction — or so she thought. She explains how she felt at the time: "I'm so excited, I'm explaining this is the Ebinger's Blackout Cake of his youth. This is the cake, this is the recipe!"
As she waited for him to respond, she wondered what he would call his favorite part of the cake: "Would he single out the flavor, the texture, the delicate layering of the different components?"
After all her effort, what did he pick? " 'Lemon,' he said."
She couldn't believe it. "Really? You like lemon, old man? I'll give you a lemon!"
Years after she made the chocolate cake for her lemon-loving grandfather, Workman made it again to see if it was as arduous as she remembered. It was. She says it's like having a second child: "It doesn't hurt any less, but you know what you're getting yourself into."
In spite of it all, though, she says it's well worth it. Ebinger's Blackout Cake is so rich, and such a rich part of local lore for New Yorkers of a certain age, that it's perfect for anyone with a taste for chocolate — and just a little bit of a sadistic streak.
Ebinger's Blackout Cake
Serves 10 to 12
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 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
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
2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon cold water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup hot water
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Butter and lightly flour two 8-inch round cake pans.
2. Make the cake: Place the cocoa in a small bowl and whisk in the boiling water to form a paste.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Using a spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the batter.
6. 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.
7. While the cake is baking, make 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.
8. Make the frosting: Melt the chocolate in a double boiler over hot, not simmering, water, stirring until smooth. Remove the top of the double boiler from the heat and whisk in the butter, one tablespoon at a time. Return the top to the heat, if necessary, to melt the butter.
9. 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.
10. Assemble the cake: 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-half 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.
11. 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.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Our Found Recipes series is usually about no-fuss food and the stories behind them. Not today.
KATIE WORKMAN: Today, we're going to talk about Ebinger's Blackout Cake. This cake is an ode to chocolate: chocolate cake, chocolate filling, chocolate frosting...
SIEGEL: And this dessert, with those three separate elements: cake, filling, frosting, is...
WORKMAN: Oh, my God. It's a big, fat pain in the butt.
SIEGEL: That's Katie Workman, creator of the Mom 100 blog and cookbook. She says making Ebinger's Blackout Cake has left her with PTCS.
WORKMAN: Post-traumatic cake syndrome.
SIEGEL: But Workman says the cake is so rich and such a part of local lore for New Yorkers of a certain age that it's worth the trauma. First, the back story.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: Brooklyn boogie...
SIEGEL: Ebinger's opened in 1898 and grew to 54 bakeries in Brooklyn. If you lived in the borough, you lived near an Ebinger's, and their Blackout Cake was a best seller.
WORKMAN: The following of this cake was rabid. Brooklynites were nuts about it.
SIEGEL: But in 1972, Ebinger's Bakery went bankrupt, which meant no more blackout cake. Well, then, 20 years later, a recipe surfaced in The New York Cookbook. And that's where Katie Workman's post-traumatic cake syndrome begins.
WORKMAN: I thought, I have to make this for my grandfather's birthday. He was in his 80s. He had grown up in Brooklyn, and I knew that he would remember this cake. So I get started. It's not a simple cake. It involves separating eggs. It involves whipping egg whites. It involves melting chocolate, creaming, folding. Then you get to the filling. You're essentially making a chocolate pudding in its own right - dissolving cornstarch in water, whisking, thickening, refrigeration. Then the frosting. More stovetop cooking, tablespoon of butter, whisk. Tablespoon of butter, whisk. Tablespoon of butter, whisk. Repeat 12 times.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
WORKMAN: You assemble the cake. Layer of cake, top with filling. Layer of cake, top with filling. Layer of cake, top with filling. Then you frost it. Now, the kicker. It must be consumed within 24 hours, so says the recipe. So I carefully bring it to my grandfather's apartment in Great Neck, Long Island, holding it on my lap, my dad's driving the car. We have dinner. I light the candles, present the cake, and I'm so excited, I'm explaining this is the Ebinger's Blackout Cake of his youth. This is the cake. This is the recipe. I have made this for you, Grandpa. So how do you like the cake?
Do you know what I like, he asked, holding his fork aloft - he always had something aloft. It was a fork or a finger, there was always something aloft. What, I said, wondering would he single out the flavor, the texture, the delicate layering of the different components? Lemon, he said. Really? You like lemon, old man? I'll give you a lemon.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
WORKMAN: So I'm thinking about this cake and this memory, which was over 20 years ago, I decided to go back and make the cake again, to see if it really was as big a pain as I remembered. And you know what? It was. It was just as big of a pain, kind of like having a second child. Doesn't hurt any less, but you know what you're getting yourself into.
SIEGEL: That's Katie Workman. She was talking about Ebinger's Blackout Cake. She says it is perfect to make for someone with a sadistic streak who really loves chocolate. You can find that recipe on the Found Recipe page at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.