Under Cover of Darkness: Ovenly’s Brooklyn Blackout Cake

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I had never heard of Ovenly until Amazon “recommended” their new cookbook back in September based on my previous purchases. One could certainly say that I have a love affair with certain Brooklyn baking establishments (see herehere, and here), so I was immediately intrigued. With a trip to New York looming (last month), I decided that I would visit the bakery before buying the book, because I felt that it would be more fun to be surprised in person. My very first stop on the trip was to the quiet Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint on a rainy October morning. I had just gotten off a red-eye flight and schlepped to my hotel looking like a drowned rat, then hopped on two subway trains to a Brooklyn bus… and Ovenly was a positively *lovely* place to finally relax with some “breakfast” (uhhhh… cake) and coffee.

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Warm, cozy, and high on hipster style, I was instantly enamored with this small hamlet of a café. I hemmed and hawed over what pastries to get (ultimately choosing a number of delicious items), but the one thing I zeroed in on right away was the Brooklyn Blackout Cake, displayed prominently on a countertop cake stand. One cannot help but be mesmerized by this special cake; it is quite simply BLACK, which might sound obvious, but if you’ve seen a chocolate cake or fifty, most of them exist on a spectrum of chocolate-brown, right? This cake… well, I couldn’t take my eyes off it because it was so dark, which generally means ultra decadent, which means I WANT IT. I knew right away what gives it such an unusual hue, and it happens to be one of my all-time favorite (and sadly under-utilized) ingredients, black cocoa powder. FINALLY. Someone else who loves black cocoa as much as I do! (More on that later.)

Brooklyn Blackout Cake - 49I just want to dive into this. Mine was pretty close in color and texture!

The cake was everything I had hoped– rich, moist, soft… and so, so dark. It had that coveted fudgy, dense texture that melts in your mouth; I’ve always strived to achieve this texture with at-home baking, and had never quite figured it out, until now. Interestingly, it was not super sweet, and there was another something in there… stout beer! So it was a black cocoa-stout cake– I didn’t really know what to do with myself at that moment; I’d never experienced anything quite like it. It transported me to an otherworldly cake heaven… *sigh* In addition to the other amazing things I ate, the Brooklyn Blackout Cake made it very clear that Ovenly is a pretty special place– it won’t be my last visit, that’s for sure!

Needless to say, I immediately clicked “Add to Cart” on the Ovenly book when I got home from New York, and it is one of my favorite new books! I loved reading the introductions by the Ovenly owners, Erin Patinkin and Agatha Kulaga, and felt an instant kinship when I learned that they have Eastern European roots like me! Recipe after recipe, I was delighted at their use of spicy and savory flavors, and ingredients that one rarely sees in traditional American baking. They reminded me of the things my mom made when I was growing up, which she learned from her Russian mother. Although I didn’t know my grandmother well, the cooking that she passed down to my mom is still my favorite: the mushroom dumpling soup, cholent, and of course the “yeast cake” (babka). I could tell that I would be spending A LOT of time with my new treasure– I admit that Ovenly is my latest baking girl-crush! 😀 It was hard to decide what to make first: Stumptown Shorties, Cheddar-Mustard Scones, or Dark Chocolate Brownies? I loved them ALL at the bakery… But no– it had to be that gorgeous, luxurious, spectacular Brooklyn Blackout Cake.

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A word (okay, 271 words) about the original Brooklyn Blackout Cake: This cake was made famous by an old bakery in Brooklyn called Ebinger’s, consisting of devil’s food cake layers, pudding filling, ganache frosting/filling, and cake crumbs covering the outside. Understandably, it reached icon status among cakes in the New York area. Ebinger’s closed in 1972 due to bankruptcy, and with it went that cake; many iterations have been made by many a baker in the intervening decades, but as the recipe was never revealed, none of these imposters were quite the same. Thus, it’s become something of a lost legend. (Ignore the recipe in that article– I linked it for the story.) The Ovenly version is not meant to be the “original” BBC; it is a wonderful and creative riff, though definitely an entity unto itself. I had a great laugh reading Yelp reviews of Ovenly, let me tell you! Most were glowing (duh), but there were a handful of people who slammed the Brooklyn Blackout Cake for tasting “sour” or having black food coloring in it, or missing the pudding layer, or simply not being a classic BBC. I just had to shake my head– had they understood what Ovenly is about, they would have known that there is nothing rancid or artificial in their baked goods. Had they at least bothered to ask about the unusual color and flavor, they would have learned that these characteristics are due to the presence of stout beer and black cocoa. For my part, I loved how my tasters, one after the other, remarked about the stunning black color and complex flavors.

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Speaking of black cocoa… This is an ultra-roasted Dutch-processed cocoa powder that imparts a bittersweet chocolate flavor and near-black color to baked goods. It is what makes Oreo cookies look and taste like Oreos– that unique type of chocolate can only be produced by black cocoa. In the roasting process, all the acid is neutralized, so it needs to be combined with an acid in recipes, such as sour cream in this case, in order to react with the baking soda. I discovered it a few years back when I was trying to make an Oreo cupcake from scratch that actually tasted like Oreos– without using any real Oreo cookies. (My first-ever post on Stellina Sweets, in fact!) This magical black powder did just that, and it’s been one of favorite baking ingredients ever since; I’m always looking for ways to use it in various recipes. It is not overly sweet, just intensely chocolaty.

Black cocoa is not likely to be found in your local grocery store, but you can find it online. I use Guittard “Dark Cocoa”, which I located at L’Épicerie and World Wide Chocolate (not available on the Guittard website for some reason). If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can find it at Spun Sugar, a baking supply store in Berkeley. King Arthur Flour also makes a Black Cocoa that I’ve heard good things about. Despite the effort, obtaining this ingredient will allow you to achieve a completely different type of chocolate profile than regular cocoa powder.

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The other special ingredient that I mentioned above is the stout beer. Ovenly uses Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout, which I could not locate here in California, but I’ve had great success making chocolate stout cake with Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout, and it turns out that they make an Organic Chocolate Stout as well, so I felt pretty good about that choice. The chocolate-scented beer imparts a warm malty flavor to the chocolate cake– it is perfection.

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Brooklyn Blackout Cake
Adapted from Ovenly by Agatha Kulaga & Erin Patinkin
Yields one 9″ 2-layer cake

This cake consists of several components and takes the better part of a day to make (uhhh, at least for this slowpoke it did), but I assure you that it’s WELL worth it! I recommend making the pudding first so that you can work on the other parts while it chills in the fridge. Make the cake layers, then the simple buttercream frosting, and finally you’ll incorporate some of the pudding into the frosting. (Best part: you’ll have a generous bowl of luxurious pudding left over!)

Note: Use the best possible ingredients that you can, particularly the chocolate, beer, and butter. These items will make a big difference in your final product.

Salted Dark Chocolate Pudding
Yields about 2 cups (4 servings; less if using for this cake)

  • 2 cups (455mL) whole milk, divided
  • 2½ tablespoons cornstarch
  • ½ cup (100g) granulated sugar
  • 2 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (at least 60% cacao)
  • 3 tablespoons black cocoa powder (dark Dutch-processed cocoa)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt or 1½ teaspoon kosher salt

Whisk together ¼ cup milk with the cornstarch until smooth and set aside.

Place the sugar, chopped chocolate, black cocoa, vanilla, and salt in a medium saucepan and pour in the remaining 1 ¾ cups milk. Over a medium-low burner, heat the ingredients until all are melted and combined, whisking frequently.

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Re-whisk the cornstarch and milk if the cornstarch has settled on the bottom, add to the pan, and whisk thoroughly.

Turn the heat down to low and stir constantly with a spatula or wooden spoon until the mixture thickens and comes to a simmer. After another 1-2 minutes, it should be thick enough to coat your stirring utensil. (This is where I was a little uncertain, as I stirred for about 25 minutes before the mixture started to thicken, and although it was coating the spatula quite well, after 30 minutes it still wasn’t boiling. It was starting to stick to the bottom of the pot, and I didn’t want to overcook it, so I pulled it off the heat, even though it seemed a bit thin for pudding. The consistency was not an issue for the frosting in this cake.)

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Pour the pudding into a bowl and stir for a couple of minutes to release excess heat. Stick a piece of plastic wrap directly to the surface– it forms a skin almost instantaneously. Put the bowl in the fridge and chill until the pudding sets. (I used it for this frosting after about 3 hours.)

Black Chocolate Stout Cake
Yields two 9″ cake layers

  • Softened butter or nonstick cooking spray and all-purpose flour, for preparing the cake pans
  • 1½ cups high-quality stout beer (the bakery uses Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout; I used Samuel Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout)
  • 1½ cups (340g/3 sticks/24 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 1½ cups (125g) black cocoa powder (dark Dutch-processed cocoa)
  • 3 cups (360g) all-purpose flour
  • 2¾ cups (550g) granulated sugar
  • ¾ tablespoon baking soda
  • 1½ teaspoons fine salt or 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup (240g) full-fat sour cream
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature

Preheat an oven to 350°F and position a rack in the center. Butter or spray two 9″ round cake pans and line with parchment circles. Grease the parchment, then dust the pans with flour and knock out the excess.

Place the stout and butter in a medium saucepan and bring them to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the stove and gradually whisk in the black cocoa powder until the mixture is smooth; it will be fairly thick and quite black. Keep stirring for a couple of minutes to release excess heat, and let it cool until it is no longer steaming.

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Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In another bowl, combine the sour cream and eggs, whisking until homogenous.

When the chocolate-stout mixture has cooled a bit (so as not to cook the eggs), pour it into the egg-sour cream bowl; whisk everything until fully incorporated. Gradually add in the dry ingredients and fold with a rubber spatula just until you have a smooth mixture with no lumps or flour streaks; do not overmix.

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Split the batter evenly between the cake pans– weigh them if you want your layers to be exactly the same. Bake the cakes for 35-40 minutes. (The recipe says that a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes should come out clean; I think it’s okay to have some moist crumbs attached because it’s such a moist cake. I let mine go for 40 minutes, but I would take them out at about 37-38 minutes next time.) Transfer to a wire cooling rack; let the cakes cool in the pans for about 20 minutes, then carefully unmold them and allow to cool completely directly on the rack.

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Dark Chocolate Pudding Buttercream
Yields just enough to frost one 2-layer 9″ cake

  • 1 cup (227g/2 sticks/16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 6-7 cups (680-795g) confectioners’ sugar, divided (plus more for thickening, if needed)
  • ¾ cup (215g) Salted Dark Chocolate Pudding
  • ½ cup (42g) black cocoa powder (dark Dutch-processed cocoa)
  • ¼ teaspoon fine salt
  • 1-2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream, if needed for thinning

Place the butter, 3 cups (340g) confectioners’ sugar, and pudding in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the sugar has been incorporated, then increase to medium and beat until all the ingredients are well-mixed, about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. (It comes together very easily, but at this point, it didn’t look emulsified at all; after the next addition of sugar, it was just fine.)

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Add 1 cup (113g) confectioners’ sugar, the cocoa powder, and salt, and mix on low to incorporate; increase speed and mix until the frosting is creamy. The mixture will be quite dark and thick; continue adding confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time and mixing for about a minute each time, until you’ve achieved a thick, yet spreadable consistency. (I added almost all the sugar, but my frosting was very thick; I would err on the side of 6 cups next time.)

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Add a little cream if needed to thin it out; I added 2 tablespoons gradually. The recipe then instructs to beat on medium-high for 3-4 minutes, but I liked the texture as-is at that point, and I didn’t want a stiffer frosting, so I did not do this step.

Cake Assembly

To put your cake together, it’s easiest to use a revolving cake decorating table. If you don’t have one, use a cake stand or some platter that you can turn.

Carefully trim the “domed” tops of your cake layers with a serrated knife to create even layers. Place one layer rightside-up on a cardboard cake circle. Spread about 1 cup of frosting evenly over the cake all the way to the edges using a small offset spatula. The frosting should be about ½-inch thick.

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Place the second layer *upside-down* over the frosting and press down gently. (Having the flat bottom on top will give your frosted cake a more even exterior.)

Spread a thin layer of frosting all over the cake. This is the “crumb coat”, which seals in any loose crumbs. Make sure to fill in the sides where the cake layers meet, as there is likely to be a bigger gap. Refrigerate the cake for about 15 minutes.

Cover the cake with the rest of the frosting, smoothing as much as possible. Because my frosting was so thick, it was difficult to smooth it out, so I created, shall we say, “rustic” ridges on the sides by running the tip of the offset spatula around the cake while turning the table. You can create a smooth, spiral, or swirly frosting design– whatever strikes your fancy as you take in the sight of this gorgeous cake!

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The frosting starts out matte when you spread it, but becomes shiny after it sits for a few seconds. I garnished the top of the cake with Valrhona crunchy chocolate pearls because they’re both elegant and delicious, an idea that I got from my friend Jenn Yee of Deliciously Noted, who put them on top of frosted brownies– brilliant.

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Let your finished cake “cure” overnight, covered at room temperature. The cake and frosting will meld and take on an amazing texture and flavor. The cake scraps from the trimmed tops had seemed a little dry and were not very sweet (I tasted mostly beer), while the frosting alone was chocolaty and DELICIOUS, though very sweet. But together, they balanced and complemented each other beautifully!

This was one of the best cakes I’ve ever made in my life– it is one of those special cakes that I will make time and time again for festive occasions. I hope you try it out and love it as much as I do! 🙂

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© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2014.

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25 Responses

  1. I too was recommended the Ovenly book by Amazon, and ever since have wanted to visit this bakery. So glad the book and bakery lived up to expectations. This cake looks amazing, my only gripe is that you have to wait overnight before eating. That takes some willpower.
    Thank you for this review. Christmas cannot come soon enough-I want this book more than ever.

    1. Hi Nicole! I’m REALLY digging Ovenly– I’m tellin ya, those Brooklyn bakeries have got it going on. 😀 You’ll love the book! This cake is truly a special one. Well, you don’t *have* to wait overnight, but I think it helps the flavors blend. Yeahhhh, that whole “willpower” business is not my forté either… 😉

  2. J’adore the fact that you have these recipes! However, if I may extend a bit of baker’s advice…for the pudding: if you whisk together the cornstarch, cocoa and just enough milk to make it smooth, warm the remaining milk with the sugar and salt, add the cornstarch mixture and cook ”til thickened, THEN add the chocolate and vanilla (it would melt in the residual heat), it won’t be so prone to burning. I’m a production baker and I’ve always had success with this method.

  3. I love your blog! I’m thinking about making this cake to bring to a friend’s birthday – I’d have to fly with it though… Anyway, it’s just for four of us – so I was going to cut it in half – I’m a fan of 6″ 3 layer cakes – would that work for this recipe if I cut the cake part (not the buttercream) in half? Thanks!

    1. Hi and thank you, Sally! Hmm, flying with a cake sounds risky, but sometimes we have to take extreme measures for chocolate. 😀 I don’t see why you couldn’t halve the cake, though I haven’t tried it. The ingredients are pretty easy to split, but I’d suggest weighing the eggs (since there are 3) for an accurate half-quantity. I’d love to see how it turns out– good luck! 🙂

      1. Thanks Dafna! I’m actually thinking of making 1/3 the cake – the division works out – would that work out for batter per pan, do you think? Also, would you add a little less conf sugar to the frosting? I LOVE their cookbook – the rosemary currant scones are amazing, and I made the vegan chocolate chip cookies today – but it drives me nuts that they don’t have weight measurements. I swear that that’s why every cake I’ve made out of Baked Occasions has been perfect – a much better track record than w. the previous cookbooks…

        1. Hmm, I haven’t tried it, but I feel like it would be okay. Yes, I would reduce the confectioners’ sugar– 7 cups yielded a very stiff frosting that was a little too sweet for me– I think 6 would be good. Yessss, Ovenly’s book is so awesome! I am quite smitten with them– I’ll have to try those two recipes. I agree, I wish there were weights– I’ve had problems with a couple recipes. I definitely appreciate the weights in Baked Occasions! Such a fabulous book. ?

  4. thank you so much for answering all of my questions! I ended up dividing the recipe in half (weighed the eggs) and it turned out PERFECTLY in 3 6″ layers, baked for 30 minutes (probably could have baked for 29). I made the full recipe of frosting, and it was delicious – my 8 yo ate the domed scraps dipped in frosting 🙂 The pudding cooked (and simmered, thickened, etc.) in about 10 minutes, and was a perfect texture, so I wonder if it should be on medium-low, which is what I did, after reading how long it took you? My frosting is lighter than yours, but I wonder if that’s because I did whip it for 4 minutes. I added 6 cups of sugar and it was DEFINITELY sweet enough. I couldn’t find your email to email you a photo, so tagged you on instagram. Thanks again!

    1. Hi Sally, you are so welcome. I’m really glad it worked out and that your pretty cake survived the trip! I would love to make this amazing cake in many shapes and sizes (and eat it every day, if I’m being honest), so it’s great to know that it works well in a 6″ version. I definitely need to work on the pudding– thanks for the tip. The frosting on the cake AT Ovenly was super dark, more so than mine was, so I wonder how they do that… Anyway, that’s one lucky 8-year-old! 🙂

  5. my sister got me this cake. my wife and i found it inedible, the worst cake we have ever tasted. and i love real blackout cake. just terrible. the texture is fine but it does not taste like chocolate and has a bad aftertaste. it is a placebo blackout cake.

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