Brooklyn Blackout Cake (AKA Happy Birthday, Willa!)

Brooklyn Blackout Cake

My mother turned 70 a few months ago. That’s, like, a really big number. Since she’s made it this far, I decided that I’d make her a raft of desserts that she grew up eating and I grew up hearing about. Though the list is long–Slovakian crispies, Charlotte Russe, rugelach, and more–the one that’s come up again and again is Ebinger’s Blackout Cake, a three-layered chocolate cake coated in its own crumbs.

Ebinger’s was Brooklyn’s bakery of record before it closed in 1972, the very year my mother moved out of Brooklyn. (Draw your own conclusions.) Its cakes were legendary and history vaunted. I assumed that the Blackout Cake was relegated to history until I realized I could probably bake it.

To look up this recipe online is to step into a debate that, barring the invention of time machines, may never die. There are two components upon which everyone agrees: the layered cake is chocolate and it’s filled with pudding. The outside of the cake, however, is open to interpretation largely based on hazy, chocolate-addled memories. Many people swear that Ebinger’s version was coated in even more pudding, a delicious but less stable topping than, say, a frosting. Other recipes claim an outer shell of ganache.

For my version, the pudding won out. It was one fewer thing to make during an otherwise baking-intensive week and a simple clue about the original–it had to be consumed within 24 hours–led me to believe that there was no need for a shelf-stable outside.

I’ve combined the cake from Epicurious and the pudding from one of my favorites, Brown Eyed Baker, for the easiest rendition of this cake. This pudding doesn’t require eggs, which, to me, made it less likely that something would go wrong (ugh, curdled eggs). Make the pudding the day before so it has time to set.

The recipe bakes up two cakes, which you then split into four. Horizontally halving cakes has never been my strong suit so I was grateful to find that someone had invented these layer pans.*

This is now my most requested cake and the version pictured here is for one of my dearest friends. Happy birthday, Willa!

Brooklyn Blackout Cake
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup whole milk
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped. I use this Guittard baking chocolate.
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Unsalted butter, room temperature (for pans)
Dutch-processed cocoa powder, plus more for pans. Go for the good stuff.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 large egg, room temperature
1 large egg yolk, room temperature
1 1/2 cups (packed) dark brown sugar
3/4 cup full-fat sour cream, room temperature
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup hot water

For the pudding (can be made one day ahead):
In a large saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, salt, half-and-half, and milk. Set the pan over medium heat. Add the chocolate and whisk constantly until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture begins to thicken, look glossy and large bubbles break on the surface. Remove from the heat and whisk in the vanilla. Transfer the pudding to a large bowl and press plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding. Refrigerate at least 4 hours, or up to 1 day.

For the cake (can be made up to two days ahead):
Arrange a rack in center of oven; preheat to 350°. Butter two 8”x2″-deep round cake pans or four 8”-round layer pans then dust with cocoa powder, tapping out excess.

Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, and remaining 3/4 cup cocoa powder into a medium bowl, then whisk to combine. Whisk egg, egg yolk, brown sugar, sour cream, oil, vanilla, salt, and hot water in a large bowl until smooth. Whisk in dry ingredients until just combined.

Divide batter between prepared pans. If you have a kitchen scale, use it to weigh the cake batter to divide it evenly in the four or two pans. Bake cake until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 25–35 minutes for two cake pans or about 11-14 for the layer pans. You’ll want to keep this cake moist. Transfer pans to a wire rack; let cake cool completely in pan. Invert onto a plate, then invert again.

You can make the cake up to two days before you serve it. If you’ve done so, wrap it tightly with plastic wrap. Store at room temperature.

Put it all together:
Cut each cake in half horizontally so that you have four layers or simply remove the cake from layer pans. Crumble one cake layer (go for your most irregular one) into medium crumbs and set aside. Try not to eat them.

Place one cake layer on a serving platter or plate lined with three or four thick strips of parchment paper arranged like flower petals. (This will make it easy to pull out the parchment paper and keep your serving plate clean.)

Spread 1 cup of the pudding over the cake layer and top with another layer. Repeat with 1 cup pudding and last cake layer. Spread the remaining pudding evenly over the top and sides of the cake. No need to worry about a crumb coat. This cake is crumbs.

Sprinkle the cake crumbs evenly over the top and sides of the cake, pressing lightly to adhere. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. The cake can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Freeze the leftover pieces (if there are any) and eat throughout the week (thawed, frozen, or quietly in a corner so you don’t have to share). I can’t tell you how long this cake lasts when frozen except to say that it doesn’t last all that long…

*Miracle of miracles, I’ve managed to set up my Amazon Associates account so I will get a (very likely very small) percentage of the purchase price for items I’ve listed in this post. I will never post anything I haven’t personally used and enjoyed.

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