Ebinger’s Blackout Cake: the legend, the recipe

If you don’t like very chocolately chocolate cake then you should move along quickly.  Perhaps you’d like to read about Fruit Salad on a Stick?  Or Shredded Sauteed Brussels Sprouts?  They actually quite delicious.

Now that we’ve gotten rid of the crazy people…..

Ebinger's Blackout Cake

Ebinger’s Bakery opened in 1898, and grew into a string of 54 bakeries, all over Brooklyn – it was THE bakery, packed with favorites people were crazy about.  Probably the most popular item was the Ebinger’s Blackout Cake, a chocolate monument that Brooklynites lived and died by.  The following was rabid.

And then, abruptly, Ebinger’s went bankrupt in 1972.  The end of an era.  A couple of failed attempts to revive the brand, but no more.  People bought cakes on the last day and froze them, tearfully defrosting them months later, savoring the slightly compromised flavor of a time gone by.

I first read about Ebinger’s Blackout Cake in a wonderful cookbook by Molly O’Neill called The New York Cookbook, published in 1992 and I knew I had to make it for my grandfather for his birthday.  It sounded magical.  He was then in his 80s and had grown up in Brooklyn during the heyday of Ebinger’s, and I knew he would remember it.

I readied myself to bake this legendary cake.  First, the very moist and very chocolatey cake itself.  Not a simple cake, a cake that involved melting chocolate, whipping egg whites, creaming, folding.


While the cake was baking I made the filling, essentially a chocolate pudding in its own right.  More stovetop cooking, lots of whisking, thickening, refrigeration.

Then the frosting: MORE stovetop cooking, 12 tablespoons of butter being added one tablespoon at a time, more whisking, refrigeration.  A total of 25 ingredients in the three components.

The cake was cooled.  And then guess what?  The directions said to slice it into four layers.  HORIZONTALLY.   And crumble one of the layers to sprinkle on top at the end.


The assembly: A layer of cake, a layer of filling, layer of cake, layer of filling, layer of cake.   Then the frosting, top and sides, and finally the crumbs sprinkled on top.  And then the kicker: it must be consumed within 24 hours!

My dad drove and I carefully, carefully brought the finished cake to my grandfather’s apartment in Great Neck Long Island, holding it gingerly on my lap.  We had dinner. I lit the candles and presented the cake, excitedly explaining that it was in fact THE Ebinger’s Blackout Cake of his youth.  The very one people reminisced about, dreamed about.  And here it was.  That very cake.  Right here, for his very own birthday.

The male people in my father’s family are not overly prone to effusive praise, and so at some point I was relegated to asking my grandfather, “So, Grandpa, how do you like the cake?”

“Do you know what I like?” he asked, holding his fork aloft.

“What?” I asked, wondering what he would single out first: The flavor?  The texture?  The wonderful layering of components?

“Lemon,” he declared.

Really???  REALLY??????  I’ll give you a lemon, old man.

Don’t let this diatribe dissuade you.  It’s quite a cake.  I made it last night, to a much warmer reception.

For the Cake:

  • ½ cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons boiling water
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened slightly
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt


  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 ¾ teaspoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • ¾ cup plus ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon cold water (see Note)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

For the Frosting:

  • 12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter
  • ½ cup hot water
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F degrees. Butter and lightly flour two (8-inch) round cake pans.
  2. Make the cake: Place the cocoa in a small bowl and whisk in the boiling water to form a paste.
  3. Combine the chopped chocolate and milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir frequently until the chocolate melts, about three minutes. Remove from the heat. Whisk a small amount of the hot chocolate milk into the cocoa paste to warm it. Whisk the cocoa mixture into the milk mixture. Return the pan to medium heat and stir for one minute. Remove and set aside to cool until tepid.
  4. In the bowl of a mixer, cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, and the vanilla. Slowly stir in the chocolate mixture. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using a spatula or a wooden spoon, slowly add the flour mixture to the chocolate mixture. Fold in until just mixed.
  5. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Using a spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the batter.
  6. Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes. Cool the cakes in the pans on rack for 15 minutes.  Gently remove the cakes from the pans and continue to cool.
  7. While the cake is baking, combine the cocoa and boiling water in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir in the sugar and chocolate. Add the dissolved cornstarch paste and salt to the pan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil for one minute. Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla and butter. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, cover and refrigerate until cool.
  8. Make the frosting: Melt the chocolate in a double boiler over hot, not simmering, water, stirring until smooth. Remove the top of the double boiler from the heat and whisk in the butter, one tablespoon at a time. Return the top to the heat, if necessary, to melt the butter.
  9. Whisk in the hot water all at once and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the corn syrup and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate for up to 15 minutes before using.
  10. Assemble the cake: use a sharp serrated knife to slice each cake layer horizontally in half to form four layers. Set one layer aside. Place one layer on a cake round or plate. Generously swath the layer with one-half of the filling. Add the second layer and repeat. Set the third layer on top. Quickly apply a thin layer of frosting to the top and sides of the cake. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.
  11. Meanwhile, crumble the remaining cake layer. Apply the remaining frosting to the cake. Sprinkle it liberally with the cake crumbs. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.


Also think about:

Raspberry Streusel Coffee Cake with Vanilla Drizzle

Peach Clafoutis

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47 thoughts on “Ebinger’s Blackout Cake: the legend, the recipe”

  1. Christina says:

    First off, reading your story made me giggle. I have gone through that very same problem with my grandparents – I spend a lot of time preparing a meal or dessert for them, only to find out they would’ve preferred something completely different! Ugh.

    BUT, this looks amazing, and I know that *I* will enjoy it! A lot of work, to be sure, but delicious food requires patience, attention and love :) I’ll give her a shot! Maybe my chocoholic father will enjoy this :)

    1. That makes me feel better!

  2. Heather -- as in Irene's mom says:

    I am hitting print RIGHT NOW and will choose my audience carefully. And that will include my allergic-to-chocolate brother-in-law as he decided to marry into an otherwise chocoholic family!

    1. I hope everyone who is NOT allergic is happy!

  3. Dena says:

    Do you know why if there is any special reason it is called blackout cake? (Other than because it is all dark choc and thus very “blacked-out”?)

      1. Don Ullrich says:

        The link in Katie’s response above is correct – created during time of WWII blackouts in NYC.

  4. JO says:

    OMG, I just heard your peice on NPR about this cake and laughed so hard. I, too, went to creat lengths for my grandpa in cooking. As a diabetic, it was dificult for him to have treats. I make a sugar free birthday care in the shape of a 90 for hi 90th birthday. Huge pain! Luckely, he loved it and it was worth the work.
    Cooking is love, even if it is a pain in the ….

    1. Katie Workman says:


  5. BarbInNebraska says:

    Now, about that lemon recipe….

    1. Katie Workman says:


  6. Hillary Woods says:

    I think I missed something. What is done with the last third of the filling?

    1. Katie Workman says:

      the recipe has a mistake in it, and I have corrected it. Just divide the filling into halves, not thirds. Thanks for pointing this out!

  7. Amy says:

    Will not allow me to PIN to Pinterest
    message pops up, ‘image too small’?
    help, please?

    1. mollykay says:

      Hi Amy, uh oh! Sorry you’re having trouble. I’m able to post to Pinterest by hovering over the image I want, and then clicking “Pin it” in the upper left corner. Which image are you trying to pin?

  8. Karen says:

    Why does it HAVE to be consumed within 24hrs? Does it go bad?

    1. Katie Workman says:

      nah. I think that’s just for the super purists who want it super fresh.

      1. Jeff Ahlstrom says:

        Apartments in New York, even the ones with the highest rent are small. Most kitchens have no more than two cupboards and a couple of drawers, and the counter is usually a tiny space between the the stove and sink or fridge, because of space issues, the appliances are generally very small as well, so the typical fridge barely holds the essentials like milk, eggs and some fruits and veggies. Central air in New York apartments is rare, most being cooled by window swamp coolers. The heat and humidity is so extreme that a loaf of bread can go stale and moldy in less than a day, so all food has to be refrigerated. I know people who even put their cereal and potatoe chips in the fridge because even With Tupperware it goes stale and rubbery. New Yorkers shop daily, only buying the ingdetients for that days meals. This is a pretty big cake, and because it would take up so much room to store in the refrigerator is most likely the reason the recipe states being eaten within twenty four hours, because of all the dairy in it, it cant be left out, not just in New York but in every other state.

  9. Fred says:

    What happens if the cake isn’t consumed within 24 hours?

    1. Katie Workman says:

      Oh, I’ve had leftovers for a couple of days — I didn’t find it hard to eat the rest past 24 hours! I guess it’s just for the Ebinger’s fanatics, that have to eat it right away.

  10. The most remarkable thing about this story is that this cake is hardly more difficult than any other layer cake. It’s just that our generation is not used to baking or anything else that takes time and patience. We buy cakes. We buy mixes. We make cupcakes. My niece and her friends are currently circulating a method of making cupcakes that combines cake mix with pudding mix. And they call it a “recipe.” I know time is scarce but you have to spend it somehow, and baking a cake such as this, especially with the memories you have of it, seems like as good as way as any to spend that time–at least once in awhile. Especially if you have someone helping you (at least to clean up) and someone you love to eat it all up. Because that mixv cak you swear is just as good or that store-bought cake that is in fact so beautiful and artisinally made with only the best ingredients. It isn’t quite the same. It lacks the love.

    1. Katie Workman says:


  11. Esther Pereira says:

    Years agoI prepared an exotic meal for my husband’s grandfather. I found a recipe in the New York Times using ground lamb stuffed with whole hard boiled eggs. When his aunt and grandfather arrived for dinner, his comment was, “Could I have a cheese sandwich?”

    1. Katie Workman says:

      Esther, this made me laugh out loud. Thank you.

  12. Marci says:

    I loved reading your post. I found it via Pinterest and am so glad, even though I’m one of the crazy people you would’ve weeded out in the intro (Shredded Brussel Sprouts sounds amazing, I’ll head there next). I hate chocolate cake (baked chocolate is ruined chocolate….), but my husband and father are very sane, so I’ll definitely be trying this for them. ;)

    1. Katie Workman says:

      love that (and I would pick a pile of french fries over chocolate cake, so you know…each to his own).

  13. Wendy says:

    I’m making this now for thanksgiving and I can’t find the “note” on the cornstarch. Do I just mix it with 1TBS of cold water? Any tips would be great!

    1. Katie Workman says:

      you do mix the cornstarch with the water and then into filling, and if it’s too runny for your liking (which is the way it was classically prepared, very runny), you can stir in another 1 or 1 tablespoons cornstarch to thicken it up).

  14. phil says:

    How about a recipe for Ebinger’s Fudge MaryAnn?

  15. Joe says:

    The only thing that I would say, having grown up with Ebingers, and especially Blackout cake, it looks from, the pictures as if you used lighter chocolate, more milk, less dark, than I remember. Otherwise, the recipe is greatly appreciated, and I may just try this as Christmas dessert

    1. Katie Workman says:

      definitely could be the type of chocolate they used!

    2. Mark says:

      My thoughts exactly. These pictures look nothing like the Blackout Cake I grew up eating. My guess is the recipe is a fraud. Sorry to be negative.

      1. Katie Workman says:

        Hi, Mark,

        The cake recipe is from a very well researched book called The New York Cookbook. I followed the recipe to the letter, but of course there are always variances because of type of chocolate, oven temps, etc., not to mention the lighting of this image. People who have eaten the original Ebinger’s Blackout Cake thought it tasted like the real thing — I wish I had been able to try the original to compare!

      2. Jane Delman says:

        The only difference between the picture and the cake I remember is that the layer of crumbs on the top of the cake are larger than I remember and the cake had the crumbs pressed into the frosting on the cake sides.

        1. Katie Workman says:

          I need to make this again! It’s been a while. would be a killer holiday meal grand finale.

  16. Gail M. says:

    Has anyone tried it? Used to get it twice a month. Still recall the texture and silliness of the filling. The cake stuck to the roof of your mouth! IS IT THE AUTHENTIC recipe?
    I’d also love to find the recipe for Bee cake they made. More sophisticated. Loved it even more. If that’s possible.

    1. Katie Workman says:

      Gail, this is from a cookbook called The New York Cookbook, and I know the author researched it seriously — but I never had the original so you’ll have to be the judge! Though my grandfather said it was the real deal.

  17. Sandra Van Rompaey says:

    Hi Katie
    This is now on my to-do list, it looks delicious. However, there is already a lot of sugar in the recipe, and I am not a big fan of corn syrup (not to mention that I am not sure it is even available for sale in Israel). Can I substitute it with flour sugar, or some other, more wholesome type of syrup?

    1. Katie Workman says:

      Sandra, this recipe is completely from Molly O’Neil’s New York Cookbook, and I know she researched it thoroughly, so it’s authentic, but I hear what you’re saying. I’ve only made it a few times, always directly as the recipe instructed, no substitutions or alternations — but I think there’s no harm in trying what you suggest!

  18. Jane Delman says:

    I have tried to make this cake (I remember going to Ebingers with my Mom and buying it) three times and each time it comes out badly. This time the layers didn’t rise to the 2″ height and it very badly over cooked. I’ve never been able to create a “paste” with just 2 Tablespoons of boiling water. among other various problems that I’ve run into.

    I realize that I must be doing something wrong but I’ve followed the recipe to the letter and have no idea what mistakes I’ve made. HELP

    1. Katie Workman says:

      Ugh, that is so frustrating! I haven’t had these issues – as for the cake not rising and burning….are you sure your baking power and baking soda are fresh? And you flour as well….and also check the temperature of your oven – they can start to run much hotter )or cooler) over time without us noticing – use an oven thermometer, and if its not where it should be, call to get that adjusted. Hope this helps!

  19. Melinda Prevost says:

    I made a 6″ version of this cake (just divide the recipe in half) and halfway through I thought I had ruined it because the filling was runny and the layers seemed dry when I sliced them. The icing seemed right, however, so I soldiered on and the cake turned out to be great! My experience was that the filling soaked into the top 1/4 to 1/3 of the cake layer and that became the “filling”. Next time I will slather on the filling, let it soak in a bit and add a little more so that I apply it gradually. I am also going to use more cornstarch and perhaps cook it a bit longer, but it does need to be somewhat runny to soak into the cake. I wish someone had mentioned this in all these posts as I almost threw away a delicious cake! I also used all four layers in the cake itself…did not crumble the fourth layer.

    1. Katie Workman says:

      I am so glad you persevered! Thanks for sharing your tips and feedback.

  20. Melinda Prevost says:

    As a follow up, NYT cooking website has this same recipe except it calls for 1/4 cup cornstarch (4 tablespoons) for the filling and 1/4 cup boiling water for dissolving the cocoa powder. I think this might work better.

    1. Katie Workman says:

      I will note that for the next time I make this! Let me know if you try it….

  21. MIchelle says:

    I have a question- I am getting ready to make this cake for my parents who remember this as the best chocolate cake in all the world. Does it need to be refrigerated after making. I want to make it a day in advance.

    1. Katie Workman says:

      So sorry for the late reply! I would refrigerate it unless you have a very cool area of your kitchen to store it in. And I would take it out a couple of hours before serving. Hope I’m not too late!

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