Brooklyn

orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe

So according to the name up at the top of the page, I do most of my cooking, baking, home improvement projects, and general homemaking in a little known town called Brooklyn.

You’ve heard of it maybe?

orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe | Brooklyn Homemaker

I’m not sure how familiar most of you are with the different neighborhoods in Brooklyn, but the area where I live is called Bushwick. Bushwick is pretty much as far north as you can get before accidentally crossing over into Queens, and by subway it’s only a few stops away from it’s bigger, wealthier, more popular sister neighborhood Williamsburg.

orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe | Brooklyn Homemaker

When I first moved to Brooklyn in 2007, Williamsburg was still a growing artist community and Bushwick was an industrial no mans land that hadn’t yet been invaded by more than a handful of hipsters. In those days Williamsburg was still (almost) affordable, and was still home to art galleries, dive bars and record stores, but a good friend of mine had a place in Bushwick and let me crash until I got on my feet, so I landed in Bushwick and never left.

orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe | Brooklyn Homemaker

In the years since, Williamsburg has become a playland for the rich and famous and one of New York’s biggest tourist destinations. Thanks to rising rents forcing young people further out, Bushwick was recently named one of the hippest neighborhoods in the world by Vogue Magazine. In 2007 Bushwick was a very different place. It was one of the most affordable neighborhoods in Brooklyn, which I why I stuck around, but it was also dirty and dangerous and filled with just as many junkies as it was rats.
We’ve gone from dead rats and pepper spray to baby strollers and art galleries. Abandoned buildings and needle exchanges to luxury condos and organic food co-ops.

If I hadn’t found a rent stabilized apartment a few years back I probably couldn’t even afford to live here anymore.

orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe | Brooklyn Homemaker

Bushwick has always been a neighborhood in transition, since the very beginning. Originally a farming community, in the 1800s Bushwick grew into a beer brewing hub filled with German immigrants, their breweries, and their huge mansions lining Bushwick Avenue. Prohibition eventually shuddered most of the breweries though, and by the 1950s Bushwick had become one of New York’s largest Italian neighborhoods.
Big changes came again as post war white families flocked to the suburbs and were replaced largely by Puerto Ricans immigrants and African Americans. According to US Census records, in just one decade Bushwick’s caucasian population dropped from over 90% in 1960 to less than 40% in 1970.

Thanks to the energy crisis of the 1970s and the closures of most of Bushwick’s industry, the neighborhood was quickly overrun with crime, drugs, abandoned buildings, and urban decay. Bushwick was one of the neighborhoods hardest hit by riots and looting during the New York blackout of 1977, forcing even more businesses out of the area. Things didn’t improve any during the 1980s and 90s, but by the late 2000s things finally started to turn around as Williamsburg artists flocked in to take advantage of the neighborhood’s low rents and large loft spaces. I’ve been here for about 8 years and I’ve seen things change so quickly and completely it makes my head spin. I can’t even begin to imagine what this neighborhood will look like in another 10 years.

orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe | Brooklyn Homemaker

One of the easiest places to visualize all this transition first hand is Graham Avenue. Cultures literally clash as streets signs on Graham Ave declare “Avenue of Puerto Rico” south of Metropolitan Ave, but suddenly change to “Via Vespucci” north on up to the BQE. Avenue of Puerto Rico is populated with cheap clothing stores, Iglesias, and Puerto Rican beauty supply shops; but cross Metropolitan Ave and it feels like a whole different neighborhood dotted with Italian restaurants, pizzerias, and wine shops.

orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe | Brooklyn Homemaker

Russell recently heard about an old Italian butcher shop on the Via Vespucci side of Graham Ave called, appropriately enough, The Pork Store. He paid them a visit on his day off and brought home some of the best Italian sausage I’ve ever tasted, along with a gorgeous bag of imported Orecchiette. I knew I wanted to make something amazing to put his Bushwick bounty to good use, but knew I had to keep it simple enough to let these superior ingredients shine.

orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe | Brooklyn Homemaker

All I needed was a big bunch of broccoli rabe, sometimes called rapini, and a bit of nice dry white wine. Broccoli rabe has a grassy bitterness that stands up really well to the unctuous richness of sausage and cream. White wine adds just a touch of sweetness to counteract the bitterness of the rapini, and al dente Orecchiette is nice and thick and adds great texture and happens to be the perfect bite size. A bit of cream gives the reduced white wine a bit of saucy body, and a handful of salty grated parmesan cheese brings everything together.

If you don’t have access to a local Italian butcher shop, just get the freshest and best Italian sausage you can find. If you can’t find orecchiette, any bite sized thick cut pasta, something like penne or bow ties, will do just fine.

This dish is simple, delicious, and perfectly satisfying. The best part though, is how quickly and easily it comes together if you start cooking at the same time you bring the pasta water to a boil. Everything else should be done just in time to drain the pasta and all you have to do is toss it all together and dig in!

orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe | Brooklyn Homemaker

Orecchiette with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe

1 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lb mild italian sausage, casings removed
1 lb broccoli rabe
1 lb orecchiette pasta
1 cup white wine
1 /2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste, if needed

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil on one burner while you prepare the rest of the meal on another.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Sauté onion until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add sausage and break up with a spatula or spoon as it cooks. Once the sausage is fully cooked, add half of the white wine and reduce until almost completely dry. Once reduced add the remaining wine and reduce until almost dry again.

Remove thick woody stems from broccoli rabe and discard. Roughly chop or tear the leaves and heads into large bite sized pieces.

Cook pasta to al dente according to package directions. Meanwhile, add heavy cream and broccoli rabe to the sausage and onion mixture and cook until dark green and wilted through, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add about a half cup ladle of pasta water and reduce for about 5 minutes more. Taste and see if seasoning needs to be adjusted. (I didn’t need to add any salt because my sausage was salty enough for the whole dish.) Drain cooked orecchiette and combine with sausage and broccoli rabe mixture. Add grated parmesan and toss toss toss until well combined.

Serve with an additional shaving of parmesan if desired.

brooklyn blackout cake

I recently went upstate to help my mom out with her new house, and while I was home I took a break to go visit my grandparents.

the rich, dark history of brooklyn blackout cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

My grandfather is a man of few words, and usually contributes little more to dinner table chats than some talk about his vegetable garden. One topic that always gets him talking a blue streak though, is World War II. I don’t know about you, but I think war-time stories are actually pretty fascinating, so when the conversation turned to what life was like for he and his family back then, I was thrilled.

My grandfather was born in Germany in a farming community where he and his family worked building homes and barns for the neighboring farmers. During the war when food was rationed, items like sugar, chocolate, & coffee became rare luxuries that were extremely hard to come by for civilians. Fortunately, my grandfather had family living in the US who would send care packages with items they could trade with their neighbors to help them get by. When my grandfather was fourteen years old his father refused to join the nazi party and was sent away to work in a ball bearing factory in Schweinfurt. This left my grandfather, the oldest child in a large family, in charge. He told me that real coffee was so hard to come by, and in such high demand, that their local butcher once traded them 150 lbs of beef for just one pound of coffee! They grew a lot of their own vegetables, but didn’t usually get to eat much meat, so those coffee care packages meant more to their family than most of us can even understand. After the war my grandfather and many of his siblings moved to the US and settled in upstate New York, where I grew up.

When I heard Grandpa’s story, it reminded me of another story from World War II that I recently read about, the story of the Brooklyn Blackout Cake. I’ve actually been thinking about making this cake and sharing the story with you for a while now, but until my visit home I hadn’t had the inspiration I needed to take on this iconic cake.

the rich, dark history of brooklyn blackout cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

A mix of dutch-process and ultra-dutch black cocoa

In the U.S., just as in Germany, food was being rationed during the war and items like sugar, coffee, & chocolate were hard to come by. Chocolate was especially in short supply because much of what was produced at that time was reserved for the war effort and sent to the front. In Brooklyn, the Rockwood chocolate factory was so busy making chocolate for the war that they became the second-largest chocolate maker in the country, second only to Hershey’s. Rockwood’s government contracts made up so much of their business in fact, that about a decade or so after the war ended and the contracts expired, the company went out of business.

the rich, dark history of brooklyn blackout cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Workers in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, only a few blocks from the chocolate factory, were surrounded by the constant smell of chocolate drifting over from Rockwood, which was a huge tease since they had such limited access to chocolate bars. At the peak of the war, the Brooklyn Navy Yard was one of the most important naval warship building yards in the U.S., and employed over 70,000 people working in shifts 24 hours a day. The navy yard was so important to the war effort that enemy U-boats would sneak through the waters around New York hoping to sink some of the completed ships as they sailed out.

Battleships usually left the yard at night under the cover of darkness, but New York’s bright lights served as an accidental backdrop to the black silhouette of moving ships. After a few tankers were sunk in New York Harbor in January of 1942, the Civilian Defense Corps decided action needed to be taken to protect the ships. Temporary blackout drills were common in European cities to protect them from air raids, but in June 1942 much of New York, especially Brooklyn, went through a permanent ‘dim-out’ that lasted through to the end of the war. City lights were turned off, windows were covered with heavy material, and vehicles drove at night without headlights or street lamps, all to make sure no light could be seen from enemy U-boats. Even the lights of Time’s Square and the Coney Island amusement park went dark through the war. 

the rich, dark history of brooklyn blackout cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

During Brooklyn’s blackout era, there was another chocolate confection maker near the Navy Yard, and this one was open to the public. Ebinger’s Bakery opened their first store in 1898 and soon swelled to a baking institution with 54 locations throughout Brooklyn and Queens. They made all of their treats from scratch daily, and gave their shops an air of authenticity by hiring shop girls with German accents. Before the war they were selling a pudding-filled three-tiered dark chocolate cake, but when the Civilian Defense Corps instituted their lights out policy, Ebinger’s decided to name their cake the “Brooklyn Blackout Cake” to show their support for the city they called home. Whether it was the deep dark chocolate-on-chocolate flavor, or their close proximity to the Navy Yard where workers were constantly smelling chocolate they couldn’t have, the cake was a huge hit. The name stuck well after the war and the cake became an iconic confection, well-known all over the country even though the Ebinger’s chain never left New York. 

the rich, dark history of brooklyn blackout cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Unfortunately, a few decades later, Ebinger’s fell victim to a consumer obsession with diets and health, poor business management, and the country’s fascination with convenient supermarket shopping. The short shelf life and unhealthy ingredients in their home-baked treats couldn’t compete, and Ebinger’s went out of business on August 27, 1972. Their secret family recipes were never released, and though many have tried to replicate them, no one knows the exact details of those original recipes.

the rich, dark history of brooklyn blackout cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Since they went bust more than a decade before I was born, I’ve never actually tasted a genuine Ebinger’s Brooklyn Blackout Cake. If you’re looking for the real, true, authentic recipe, you’ve come to the wrong place. Many bakeries and blogs have tried their best to come up with a close approximation, but since I’ve never tasted the real thing, I decided I was within my rights to take some liberties.
According to food historian Molly O’Neill, a true Brooklyn Blackout Cake consists of “…three layers of devil’s food cake sandwiching a dark chocolate pudding with chocolate frosting and sprinkled with chocolate cake crumbs.” I followed her guideline, but went ahead and used my own recipes for the three components.

the rich, dark history of brooklyn blackout cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

I used my favorite recipe for Devil’s Food Cake but, in place of natural cocoa, I substituted a mix of dutch-process cocoa and ultra-dutched black cocoa to give the cake a deep dark “blackout” flavor. If you’re not familiar with black cocoa, it’s what’s used in Oreos to give them their iconic dark chocolate flavor. It can sometimes be a bit overpowering in a cake though, so I mixed it with dutch-process cocoa to mellow it out a bit. The end result is an impossibly chocolatey cake that is literally black in color. If you don’t have or can’t find black cocoa (available here), feel free to just use dutch-process cocoa. I’m positive you’ll have amazing results either way. 

the rich, dark history of brooklyn blackout cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

For the pudding filling, I decided to add some espresso powder to deepen the chocolate flavor, and to bring a bit of coffee into the cake that I was inspired to bake by my grandfather’s story. If you’re not a coffee fan you could leave it out, but together with the other components, you get just a subtle hint of coffee that backs up the dark chocolatiness of the rest of the cake. To top it all off, I iced the cake with a thick, rich dark chocolate ganache. Then I covered the sides of the cake with crumbs while leaving most of the top clean to show off a swirled design in the icing.

the rich, dark history of brooklyn blackout cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

When making a layer cake, especially one consisting of more than two layers, I think it’s really important to level each layer of cake before assembly. I think it makes for a much more professional looking, impressive, and beautiful cake. I also like that you get an opportunity to taste the cake before serving to be certain no mistakes were made. Luckily, in this recipe, the excess cake gets put to good use too.

the rich, dark history of brooklyn blackout cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

To be perfectly honest, this cake is a LOT of work. Ebinger’s was making this in commercial production bakeries with lots of help, but making this yourself is a bit of an undertaking. If you’re up for the challenge though, the end result is unbelievably delicious, incredibly moist, and outrageously chocolatey. If you are as big of a fan of chocolate as I am, you’ll go crazy for this cake.

the rich, dark history of brooklyn blackout cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Brooklyn Blackout Cake


Black Devil’s Food Cake
makes three 8-inch layers

butter and flour for pans
3/4 cups dutch process cocoa powder
3/4 cups ultra-dutched black cocoa powder *see note
1 1/2 cups hot water
3 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups peanut oil or vegetable oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
4 large eggs
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter three 8 inch round cake pans, line bottoms with parchment paper, butter paper, and dust pans with flour. Whisk together cocoa powders and hot water until smooth.

Sift together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside. Beat oil and sugars together on medium-low speed until combined.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in vanilla and cocoa mixture. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in two batches, alternating with buttermilk and beginning and ending with flour. Beat until just combined.
Divide batter between pans, and bake until a cake tester inserted into centers comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Invert cakes onto rack, peel off parchment, and let cool completely.

*if you don’t have (or can’t find) black cocoa, you can just use all dutch-process instead (for a total of 1 1/2 cups cocoa)

Chocolate Pudding Filling

1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons espresso powder
1-1/2 cups whole milk
3 ounces good dark chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small heavy saucepan, mix sugar, cornstarch, espresso powder and salt. Whisk in milk. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Reduce heat to low; cook and stir 2 minutes longer. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate until melted. Transfer to a bowl; stir in vanilla. Cool slightly, stirring occasionally. Press plastic wrap onto surface of pudding. Refrigerate, covered, at least 2 hours or until cold.

Chocolate Ganache Icing

1 1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
12 oz good dark chocolate, chopped
2 teaspoons vanilla

Heat cream, sugar, and salt over medium heat until just on the verge of boiling. Place chopped chocolate in a heat proof bowl and pour hot cream over it making sure all chocolate is submerged. Let sit for 2 or 3 minutes, and whisk until completely smooth and incorporated. Add vanilla and whisk well. Cover and cool until thick and spreadable. You can try to speed this up in the refrigerator, but check it frequently and be careful not to let it get too cold or it won’t be spreadable.

To assemble cake, make sure all layers, filling & icing are cool or cold. Remove the domed tops of the cake layers with a cake leveler or sharp bread knife. With clean hands, crumble up reserved cake domes into fine, relatively even crumbs, and reserve for decorating use. Place one layer on a cake plate, serving plate, or cake board. Evenly spread half of the pudding over the first layer. Top with another layer and remaining pudding. Top with third layer.

With an icing spatula, spread a thin layer of ganache over top and sides of cake, trying not to squish the pudding out from between the layers. This should take about 1/3 of your ganache. Be sure to fill in any gaps between layers and make the sides and top smooth and flat as possible. This thin layer of icing is referred to as the “crumb coat” and is meant to seal in any crumbs so they’re not seen in your final layer of icing. Refrigerate cake for 15 minutes. Spread most (or all) of remaining ganache evenly over top and sides of cake, trying to get as smooth a surface as possible. If desired, reserve some ganache for piped decoration, otherwise, slather it all on. Press the crumbs against sides of the cake until the sides are well covered. You can decorate the top with a swirl design using a small icing spatula, leave it flat and smooth, pipe a border or design, or cover the top with more crumbs.

This cake is at it’s best the day it’s baked, but can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. If refrigerated, it will need to come up to room temperature before serving.