The history of Brooklyn blackout cake: German bakeries and WWII drills
Photo via Kirti Poddar/Flickr
Chocoholics all over the country know Brooklyn blackout cake, a three-tiered devil’s food cake with layers of chocolate pudding and chocolate frosting topped with cake crumbs. In recent years, the rich cake has become re-popularized from its heyday in the first half of the 20th century. But most of us who gluttonously indulge in this tasty dessert have no idea where its borough-centric name came from or just how long this confectioner’s delight has been around. It all started in 1898 at a German bakery called Ebinger’s on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, but it wasn’t until World War II that the moniker took hold.
Ebinger’s locations: 86th Street between 4th and 5th Avenues in Bay Ridge (L); 129-131 Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights (R). Via Brooklyn Historical Society.
Ebinger’s grew in popularity for its cakes and pies and, at its height, had 50 locations throughout Brooklyn and Queens, selling more than 200 varities of German pastries. This was the time when other German bakeries like the now-famous Entenmann’s and Drakes were also making their path in New York. Though other bakeries tried to imitate Ebinger’s popular chocolatey cake, they couldn’t compete with the original. Everyone in the borough knew Ebinger’s, and the lines often stretched around the block.
Now what about that name? As writer and cookbook author Leah Koenig recounted in her column Lost Foods of New York City, “According to a 1969 New York Times article, the cake’s name was solidified during World War II when blackout drills were performed in homes around the borough to avoid silhouetting battleships leaving from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Blackout, black cake—it was a no-brainer.”
But despite its fame, Ebinger’s closed in 1972 due to bankruptcy. While they were still baking everything locally (the blackout cakes were handmade for a 24-hour shelf life), companies like Entenmann’s had taken to mass production and Ebinger’s couldn’t compete. The family has never revealed the original recipe, but there are plenty of super tasty versions out there today. Some of the most sought-after are at Ovenly in Greenpoint, Lady Bird Bakery in Park Slope, and Two Little Red Hens on the Upper East Side.
* Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on July 20, 2015.