Chocolate Blackout Cake + How to Frost a Cake Video

Chocolate Blackout Cake | Photo by Zoë François

Over the holiday break I traveled with my family to Brooklyn to visit my mother. A little respite from the winter wonderland of Minneapolis. I packed all my on-the-town shoes, in varying degrees of heels for walking through museums, dining out and seeing shows. My husband checked and rechecked the NY forecast and promised the most we’d see was 1/2-inch of snow, which would melt before it ever hit the pavement. By the end of our first full day in NY there was a complete whiteout and some of the subways were cancelled due to the blizzard. This NEVER happens. Our second day was spent shopping for winter boots, something all Minnesotans have plenty of and do not need to spend our vacations shopping for. But, the snow was now up to the boys’ knees and my suede heels were no longer as chic. The next morning we were quite happily trapped in Brooklyn by the snow. We put on our new boots and forged our way to the only open restaurant for breakfast and then watched movies all day, it was relaxing and felt quite luxurious after working so hard these past months.

My mom’s Brooklyn garden during our visit

Our plans for the theatre and other activities may have been thwarted, but we still ate and ate and ate. We had dinner in Chinatown on the first night of the blizzard, before we realized we might get trapped there. We ate oysters and clam chowder at the Oyster bar in Grand Central, something I have fond memories of doing as a kid. No trip to NYC is complete without a hot pastrami on rye with pickles, an egg cream and cheesecake at Juniors, so we did all of that too. My husband and I spent an afternoon at the Neue Galerie and ate pastries from the Cafe Sabarsky. The service was unbearable, but the apple strudel softened my heart and I will go back every time I’m in the city. We also had a frenzy of delicious pizza’s at Co., Jim Lahey’s latest and followed it up with gelato and desserts at Eataly. This was all just to get us warmed up for two of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had. The first was spent at Devi, the sensational Indian restaurant owned by my dear friend Suvir Saran (stay tuned for a post about this incredible meal). The following evening we spent 7 hours at Minetta Tavern. Our cousin Riad has been blowing our minds with his food since the day he took up at culinary school in Montreal. He even joined us for a week of our honeymoon in France 20 years ago and cooked us meals I still remember as if it was yesterday. Minetta Tavern is his latest triumph with his long-time partners Lee Hanson and Keith McNally, but this time he is co-owner and it feels like his home. Oysters, sweetbreads, big shavings of black truffles, bone marrow, dry aged Côte de Boeuf, and fois gras were some of the tasty treats he delivered to the table. Most of which the boys had never seen before and they ate it all. We didn’t tell them what sweetbreads were until they declared them delicious. Riad brought the boys into the kitchen and put them to work garnishing, I see summer jobs ahead. Needless to say we could have spent 7 more hours there, but at 1:30am it was time to get the boys and my mom back to Brooklyn.

Chocolate Blackout Cake | Photo by Zoë François

Brooklyn is quite famous for Ebinger’s Blackout Cake; layers of chocolate cake, topped with chocolate pudding and then sprinkled with cake crumbs. It gets its rather sinister name from WW2 when the citizens of Brooklyn would turn out their lights and drape the windows with black cloth when the ships would leave the Navy Yard. This was at the height of Ebinger’s chocolate cake production and its fans dubbed it the “blackout cake” in a patriotic gesture. Despite visiting my mom’s family in Brighten Beach as a child I have no memory of this bakery or the cake. I wasn’t really old enough since it closed its doors when I was only 5 years old. But, the cake and its lore survive, even though the recipe is a closely held secret and has NEVER been revealed. I suspect this is why people still try like mad to recreate it. Many pastry chefs have spun out their own versions, and most of them are delicious, but for the folks who are old enough to remember the genuine article, none of these recreations are Ebinger’s Brooklyn Blackout cake. In an article I read in “edible Brooklyn” Louise McCready revealed speculations that the recipe is such a tightly held secret because the cake used Hershey’s chocolate syrup. We pastry chef types hate to admit when we use a prepared product like that, so the recipe would certainly be guarded. This is obviously just rumor because no one has seen the formula.

It goes without saying that my version is NOT the Ebinger’s bakery blackout cake recipe. I know I’ve deviated from the purist rule that the Blackout Cake should be filled AND covered in pudding, but this cake is fantastic and the buttercream is a pudding-like variation that holds up much better. Give it a try and see what you think.

Chocolate Blackout Cake

1/2 recipe of Devil’s Food Cake (baked in an 8 by 3-Inch cake pan for about 45 minutes or until tester comes out clean)

Chocolate pudding:

1 1/2 cups whole milk

pinch salt

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 vanilla bean, scraped

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

4 large egg yolks

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

3 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

Chocolate Pudding-style Buttercream adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible and Rose’s Heavenly Cakes: (I admit that this buttercream takes a few extra steps, but it is worth the effort. It is very helpful to have an extra Bowl for the Stand Mixer when making this recipe. In fact, I recommend it for many recipes)

for the custard:

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 vanilla bean, scraped

5 egg yolks

Italian meringue:

2 large egg whites

1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar (divided)

2 tablespoons water

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

butter and chocolate to finish buttercream:

1 pound unsalted butter, room temperature

8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled to room temperature.

To make the pudding: Bring milk, salt, 1/4 cup sugar, vanilla and butter to a gentle boil in a medium sized sauce pot. Whisk together the egg yolks, remaining sugar, cornstarch and cocoa powder in a medium bowl. Slowly add the hot milk mixture to the eggs. Once the eggs are warm to the touch add everything back to the sauce pot and whisk over medium heat until the mixture has boiled for 3 minutes. It is very important to whisk for 3 full minutes to cook out the cornstarch or your pudding will be grainy and may separate once it is cooled. Remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate. Whisk it in gently, but thoroughly.

If your pudding has any lumps than strain it, this is not always necessary.

Cover the pudding with plastic wrap pressed right on the surface. Refrigerate for at least an hour, but this can be made a day ahead.

To make the buttercream:

To make the custard for the buttercream: Whisk together the egg yolks and 1/4 cup sugar in a medium bowl, set aside. Heat the milk, 1/4 cup sugar and vanilla bean in a medium sauce pot. Once it just begins to simmer whisk a little bit of the hot milk to the egg yolks. Once the yolks are warm to the touch add them back into the pot of milk and gently stir with a rubber spatula until the mixture just begins to thicken and coats the spatula. Quickly remove from heat and strain into a shallow container. Refrigerate for at least an hour, but this can be made a day ahead.

To prepare the Italian meringue: Once the custard is cool and you are ready to finish the buttercream heat 1/3 cup sugar and water together in a small pot with a Candy Thermometer. Let them boil and once the sugar is melted turn down the heat and begin to whip your egg whites.

Whip the whites and cream of tartar until they are foamy on medium speed. Slowly add the 2 tablespoons of sugar and whip until the whites form medium-firm peaks, turn the mixer to low. By this time your sugar syrup should be about 248 degrees. Once it reaches that temperature on the candy thermometer remove it immediately from the heat. Turn your mixer up to medium-low and carefully pour the hot syrup into the mixer along the side of the bowl. DO NOT let the syrup hit the whip attachment or the hot syrup with splatter.

Whip the hot whites on medium-high until they cool, about 3-5 minutes.

In a separate bowl fitted with the paddle attachment cream the butter. Once it is soft add the chilled custard and mix on medium until it is smooth.

Add the Italian meringue to the butter mixture in 3 stages, on medium-low speed. When you first get all the meringue incorporated it may look curdled, like the picture above. Just let it mix for another 2 minutes.

It should become nice and smooth. If it doesn’t then the butter was too cold. Just hold it over the stove for a few seconds to melt the butter a bit and then try remixing. Don’t hold it over the stove too long or you will melt it too much. Better to do it twice for a short amount of time.

Once your buttercream is nice and smooth add the room temperature melted chocolate. Mix together on medium-low just until it is well incorporated.

Assembling Chocolate Blackout Cake | Photo by Zoë François

Cut the cake into 3 layers, fill it with 2 layers of the pudding. Be sure to build your cake on a cardboard round to make moving it and decorating it easier. (I cut the top layer of cake off and put it in a food processor to create the crumbs for the outside. I also tend to have bags of frozen cake scraps in my freezer which make this a snap.)

To frost the blackout cake:

Tools I used in the video to make cake decorating easier:

Revolving Cake Decorating Stand

Medium Sized Offset Spatula

Once your blackout cake is covered in the buttercream press the cake crumbs to the surface. I start on the sides of the cake and then do the top.

Chocolate Blackout Cake | Photo by Zoë François

It may not be the authentic Ebinger’s version of a Brooklyn Blackout Cake, but I think you are going to love it nonetheless.

A Slice of Chocolate Blackout Cake | Photo by Zoë François

Happy New Year and I look forward to baking together in 2011!

Breadin5 book updates:

The British edition of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking is called Five-Minute Bread: The Revolutionary New Baking Method. and it hit the bookstores today. It is also available on Amazon.UK. This book is done in both weights and measures, perfect for those who bake with a scale.

Our next book Artisan Pizza and Flatbreads in Five Minutes a Day is officially sitting with our editor and we have cover designs to choose. This is all very exciting and just a touch nerve wracking, so many choices to make. Stay tuned for the “Best Reader Pizza Contest” on The winner’s pizza will appear in the book.