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TASTE: Ebinger’s Brooklyn blackout cake

During World War II, the area around the Brooklyn Navy Yard in Wallabout was subjected to mandatory nighttime blackout drills run by the Civilian Defense Corps. This was to enable ships to sail out to sea under cover of darkness. To prevent enemy planes from targeting major cities, blackout drills also took place across New York City and around the country, dimming bright spots, such as Times Square, so they could not be spotted from above. Here are images of a blackout in progress in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in May 1942.

One tasty relic of these drills was a cake called the Brooklyn blackout, named in their honor, and made by Ebinger Baking Company, also known as Ebinger’s, which opened in 1898 in Flatbush, Brooklyn—the same year Brooklyn was annexed to New York City. Owned by German immigrants George and Catherine Ebinger, the bakery eventually grew to more than fifty retail outlets across the borough. According to Arthur Schwartz in his book New York City Food, some Jews refused to buy Ebinger’s cakes because they suspected that the sales clerks, many of whom had German accents, were somehow affiliated with the Nazis. The last store closed in the late 1960s, due to bankruptcy. One of the original Ebinger’s factories still stands on the corner of Bedford Avenue and Albemarle Road, and is now home to a CubeSmart self-storage.


Though Ebinger’s sold a variety of German sweets, the blackout cake was far and away its most popular confection. Like its namesake, the cake lasted a brief time: its shelf life was reportely only twenty-four hours. The Ebingers never shared the recipe, and various riffs on it have been attempted since its heyday. But the basic idea is a three-tiered devil’s food cake with chocolate pudding layers and frosting coated in cake crumbs. There are several versions available today, but I limited my search to those in Brooklyn, for authenticity, and came up with a rendition from Ladybird Bakery, in Park Slope, which is the most faithful to the original cake, and one from Ovenly, in Greenpoint, which gets credit for being literally black, and for a density that simulates the blackout experience in taste.


Ovenly’s version is made with unsweetened, ultra-roasted Dutch black cocoa, rather than the standard brown chocolate powder, as well as Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Chocolate Stout. Its flavor is powdery yet moist, malty, and heavy. The almost bitter cake is undercut by the sweet, unctuous relief of the icing. It’s so dense that the cake doesn’t even jiggle as a knife edge passes through its craggy edge. The texture is dry, with a hint of soft crystals. It’s not a friendly cake: it’s forbidding yet impressive to behold, as I imagine the navy ships must have been slipping out of the navy yard as all of Brooklyn was held in abeyance in the dark. It lacks the cake-crumb coating that characterized the Ebinger’s version; instead, its slab of icing forms a formidable—dare I say bulletproof—laddered edge that nevertheless melts in the mouth.

Ovenly also make a cupcake version of its blackout cake, most notable for its shiny, pitch-black swirls of icing. Ovenly uses no artificial ingredients in any of its confections.

Ladybird bakes a friendlier cake, with a recognizable bounce and sweetness. It’s moister, more celebratory, and has the signature crumbs on the outside, a combed surface with rosettes. The icing and cake meld into one another in glutinous glee, and it lacks the slightly grainy quality of the Ovenly version. It definitely squishes and wobbles when cut.

Of the two, my family and I preferred the Ovenly version, despite its lack of authenticity. With each dense bite, we felt transported to a different era, one of national fear and solidarity (not unlike spring 2020). I was also reminded of my own experience of the Northeast blackout of 2003, when one Thursday afternoon in August, all the electricity in New York City was suddenly extinguished As people walked miles home to their apartments, or hitchhiked, bodegas opened their doors and gave away ice and beers, spontaneoous street parties erupted, and the city was similarly enfolded in the glow of unexpected fellowship. For my part, our friends took all our melting ice cream out of our freezers to the roof of our building in Inwood, where we spent the night on blankets under the stars. The view of the darkened landscape below, crosshatched by stripes from cars, was one we’d never forget, or could ever re-create, even in cake form.


Sense & the City is a monthly blog exploring the hidden corners of New York City. Each month’s post is devoted to one of the five senses. Receive daily sensory impressions via Instagram @senseandthecity.

8 thoughts on “TASTE: Ebinger’s Brooklyn blackout cake”

  1. As Caitlin knows, I am a great fan of her blog, but perhaps I can say I was a little disappointed with this one. I really admire when she connects people with the senses she discovers. I would have been fascinated knowing how these two separate bakeries (and their owners) came up with such different versions of the same iconic Brooklyn cake. Did they know of Ebinger’s version. This is a blog entry that I could have written, but Caitlin is better than that! Perhaps an addendum is called for.

    1. Caitlin Van Dusen

      I hear you, Gary! This isn’t my favorite of my own posts. I didn’t have a chance to do as much research as I’d wished due to a family emergency but wanted to get this out by the end of February. I’ll try for an addendum and thank you as always for your support and readership.

  2. marilyn goldberg

    i am thrilled to have your review on Blackout cake..From what you said, I guess I never had one. BUT always thought Entermanns had the recipe. Once or twice a year they
    made a cake that sounded like the one you described. But I don’t see it anymore.

    I don’t drive nor live near the two stores that make a close copy. Maybe I can connect with them anyway in some form.

  3. Hauck Johnson Dianne

    Mom the newly arrived Polish immigrant was a Civil Defense air raid warden in her Greenpoint neighborhood.

    When she lived in Park Slope, Ebingers on 5th avenue, between union and president, had the blackout cake. It was the best, but also the green and brown Ebingers cake box wrapped up expertly with the never ending string from the ceiling dispenser. Nothing was wasted back then- even the string got saved.

    1. Caitlin Van Dusen

      Thank you for sharing this memory! I read about the boxes and strung but was unable to find a photo of them. There was one for sake on eBay for an exorbitant amount, though—should your nostalgia require a madeleine!

  4. I remember going to my grandmother’s apartment in brooklyn where she always had an ebinger chocolate cake, but it looked nothing like the ones shown. It came in a flat foil pan and was two layers, with walnuts on top. This was in the early 1960s. Such a treat!

    1. Caitlin Van Dusen

      Hi Nancy, thanks for sharing the memory!
      I believe Ebinger’s also made other chocolate cakes in the German tradition. Do you remember if this was blackout cake? The sources I used to research the cake never mentioned walnuts. Not I’m curious!

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