Brooklyn Blackout Cake - Gastro Obscura


Brooklyn Blackout Cake

A cake as dark as a city hiding from enemy bombers.

During World War II, blackout drills periodically extinguished New York City’s billboards, skyscrapers, and street lights. Military officers worried that light would outline ships for German pilots and submarine captains, so patriotic volunteers went house to house to enforce the drill and turn the city dark as chocolate. More specifically: as dark as a cake made in Ebinger’s Bakery in Brooklyn.

The Ebinger’s story began in 1898, when George and Catherine opened a namesake bakery on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. Their chocolate cake, made from three layers of devil’s-food cake, dark chocolate pudding, chocolate frosting, and chocolate cake crumb topping, became the most iconic of their 200-something offerings. It was decadent and difficult to make—the family kept the recipe secret. It’s unclear when the Ebingers first made the cake, but wartime blackout drills gave it its name: blackout cake. Brooklynites reacted with visceral excitement when they saw the string-tied, pale green box that housed the cake. Locally, it became a quintessential holiday, birthday, and gift cake.

From Park Slope to Avenue M, blackout cake defined the borough for generations of Brooklynites who grew up during Ebinger’s 70-year reign. Decades later, residents describe the cake and the bakery as larger-than-life: “It isn’t just cake!” one man told the New York Times in 1991. “Ebinger’s was a way of life. The Boxes! The stores! You could eat off the floors! The Ebinger’s girls!” 

In an area saturated with immigrant-run bakeries, the Ebingers grew their business to over 50 bakeries. Despite Ebinger’s steady rise to fame, though, the company collapsed abruptly in 1972. Unsustainable expansion, fat fearmongering, and the rise of the supermarket culminated in Ebinger’s demise. The company went bankrupt, and the Brooklyn blackout cake disappeared.

Many bakers have since recreated the time-consuming, ingredient-heavy cake. But no one knows Ebinger’s recipe, so no one has tasted the original in decades.

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