Time Travel Kitchen

A Famous Bakery, Their Hidden Recipes and a Mocha Buttercream Cake

Somewhere in the world there is a safe full of coveted recipes — at least we think so.

These purportedly locked-up treasures are the never-released recipes of the famous and now gone Ebinger’s Bakeries, founded in Brooklyn in 1898 and closed in 1972.

The most popular of their cakes, Brooklyn Blackout Cake was named during World War II when lights were turned out at night to protect the Brooklyn Navy Yard from possible attack.

It is the richest and darkest of chocolate cakes.

In 1991 Molly O’Neill recreated it and though not the original secret recipe, it did get the thumbs-up from a member of the Ebinger family.

Link to recipe here:

https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1018772-blackout-cake

Another terrific version of the cake comes from Ovenly, a bakery in Brooklyn that offers nationwide shipping.

Link to recipe here:

https://www.oven.ly/recipes/brooklyn-blackout

Cookbook Author Anne Byrn’s Blackout Cake recipe is in her wonderful book American Cake, which goes deep into the history of cake recipes and baking in the U.S. and is a source of constant inspiration for me.

What I remember from Ebinger’s—Mocha Buttercream Cake

There is a different cake that reminds me of Ebinger’s, though. It’s a Mocha Buttercream Yellow Cake with Almonds.

In the late 50’s and early 60’s, my grandmother would regularly take me with her by subway to Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn to pick up this cake.

I was young, maybe four or five, but I remember these trips and that cake.

I’ve re-created it with the help of my brother and what he remembers of it.

Some accounts I’ve read have it covered with hard chocolate, but the one we remember was completely covered in the mocha buttercream (at least that’s how our pre-school memories think it looked) and had sliced almonds.

If anyone reading this remembers this cake or Ebinger’s, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

When I tasted a slice after baking, I was happy —the flavor and texture, the silky and creamy mocha and old-fashioned yellow cake transported me back decades.

Apparently, I liked the taste of coffee in things at an early age.

It’s not exactly the same cake, but it will do.

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A 1937 Recipe for Yellow Cake

To make the layers, I once again turned to Isabel Ely Lord’s Everybody’s Cookbook, only this time to the 1937 edition, a revision of the original 1924 first edition.

Everybody’s Cook Book, 1937

One, Two, Three, Four Cake

This is a classic layer cake that dates back to at least 1908, where it can be found in The Rumford Complete Cookbook.

The recipes for these cakes couldn’t be easier to remember: 1 cup of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of flour, 4 eggs.

What’s fun about Ely’s recipe is that she gives variations. In that spirit, here are my variations from her original recipe:

I used:

  • 1 tsp of vanilla and a splash of almond extract

  • 3 tsp baking powder

  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • the ‘shortening’ I used was unsalted butter

  • I used Cake Flour (but DO NOT use self-rising cake flour)

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 350F

  • Grease two 9-inch round cake pans, lightly flour

  • Cream butter and sugar in a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer till fluffy and pale yellow in color

  • Eggs go in one at a time, make sure they are blended in well

  • Scrape down sides of mixer or bowl throughout

  • Dry ingredients are combined in bowl and added a cup at a time, intermittently with milk which is added 1/2 cup at a time. End with the last of the flour and add the vanilla and almond extract

  • Blend till smooth

  • Divide batter in the pans and use an offset spatula or the back of a spoon to distribute evenly

  • Bake for approx 30 minutes and rotate pans at the 15 minute mark while baking. Should be lightly browned

  • Cool for 15 minutes in pan, run knife around the pan and turn out on rack, (tap back of the pan with a knife to help release) then flip over again so the cakes are smooth-side up

Mocha Buttercream

I made a simple American Butter cream for my cake, but you may want to explore recipes for Italian, Swiss, German or French buttercream recipes.

I made it with Espresso, but you can also dissolve Espresso powder in boiling water (cool and adjust to taste.)

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups confectioners sugar, sifted

  • 2 sticks (1 cup) softened, unsalted butter

  • 4 tablespoons Espresso (liquid)

  • A heaping 1/8 cup cocoa powder

  • Splash vanilla

Method:

  • Cream the butter with the Espresso and vanilla

  • Mix cocoa and confectioners sugar together in bowl

  • Gradually add dry ingredients to butter mixture

  • Mix until creamy and smooth

Let your taste be your guide on this when adding the espresso and cocoa.

Dressing up the Cake

  • Place one layer on flat platter or dish

  • Start with 1/2 cup of frosting and spread evenly - add more as needed to completely cover the top of this bottom layer

  • Place second layer on top, making sure it lines up perfectly with bottom layer

  • Add remaining buttercream on top and with an offset spatula or whatever tool you feel comfortable with, spread over top and sides till covered

  • Add chopped almonds on top if desired

Cut yourself a big slice and enjoy!

Some Nice News

Last week I was honored to be featured in Substack’s ‘What to Read’ section and I want to welcome new subscribers and thank all who have been here from the beginning.

Many thanks!

If you’d like to take a peek, here’s the link to the article:

Substack
What To Read: Jolene Handy is channeling her retro kitchen
This week, we interviewed Jolene Handy, who writes Time Travel Kitchen, a publication that revisits classic recipes of the early 20th century. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity. What's your Substack about in one sentence…
Read more

Next Friday

I’m excited to be featuring a 1920’s recipe for Orange Chiffon Cake next week from one of my baking heroes mentioned earlier in today’s newsletter, fellow Substacker, Anne Byrn. It is delicious!

Here is the link to Anne’s Substack:

See you then and have a great weekend!

Jolene

Photos: Jolene

Cake Tin: 1950’s West Bend Cake Carrier

Credits and Sources:

John B. Manbeck, Ask A Historian: What happened to the famous Ebinger’s bakeries?, Brooklyn Eagle, 2019

Isabel Ely Lord, Everybody’s Cookbook, Harcourt Brace and Company, New York, 1937

Anne Byrn, American Cake, Rodale, New York, 2016

Heather Chin, Where to Find Ebinger’s Beloved Blackout Cake Across Brooklyn and Manhattan, Edible Brooklyn, 2020