During the great Blackout of 1965, my grandfather had to walk from Brooklyn across the bridge and all the way to Jersey City. I don’t know how long it took him, but it took me four hours to make my version of the Chocolate Blackout Cake.
From an early age, I had an envy for those from Brooklyn, feeling that coming from Brooklyn gave one street cred. I bought myself The Brooklyn Cookbook by Lyn Stallworth and Rod Kennedy, Jr. In it, there is a recipe for Blackout Cake. I do not remember Blackout Cake, but I heard my parents talk about it. They do not hail from Brooklyn, so they never had Ebinger’s. However, they were huge fans of Entenmann’s. Ebinger’s, apparently, was one of those great bakeries of old, which I am a huge fan of when you can find them around anymore. It was famous for its Blackout Cake. The Blackout Cake is described in Molly O’Neill’s New York Cookbook: “three layers of devil’s food cake sandwiching a dark chocolate pudding, with chocolate frosting, and sprinkled with chocolate cake crumbs.” So I compared the recipes from The Brooklyn and New York Cookbooks. I made each one, each delicious, but different. Combining the two recipes and tweaking them a bit, I came up with one fabulously chocolatey Blackout Cake. Yes, it takes four hours to make, but if you want to make an impression and eat something incredibly rich and delicious, it is worth it.
I have to say, I’ve read the thread on Chowhound about Ebinger’s Blackout Cake, and it seems that no recipe out there tastes just like it. That is always the way. Just how every Italian grandma’s gravy tastes different. For those who don’t remember it because they never had it, these two cakes are delicious, but I certainly understand the lament over a lost cake. My mother always talks about the Swiss bread at Spiekermann’s bakery in Union City, NJ. She said it had been black and crispy on top and light and airy on the inside. However, when the owner died and his son began baking, she said, the bread was very different. Baking is an art, and some people have the knack for it where they can create a product that is consistent and delicious. “Bigfood” has consistency in taste down to a science–with its team of food scientists, but how do the small bakers do it? It is truly a gift, an amazing talent to create a consistent product that is delicious. And somehow, without a team of scientists and without a patented process, these old world bakers did it.
One of the saddest stories I ever heard was that of a baker at a Danish bakery in Brooklyn. I kept the clipping from the New York Times for years, but after looking for it now, I must’ve lost it in one of my moves. There was a specific, traditional cake that this baker knew how to make. Another man had gone there to learn from him how to bake it, but the baker died before he could impart his knowledge. His wonderful cake lost to the annals of Brooklyn memory.