history lesson

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.


chocolate peanut butter whoopie pies

Russell had oral surgery a few days ago and immediately developed quite a sweet tooth. Nothing like eating cookies and ice cream after spending hundreds on dental work! He was craving chocolate and peanut butter and asked me to make some buckeyes that I used to make when I worked for a cupcake shop. I thought it might be more fun to put a peanut buttery twist on traditional whoopie pies, and made a batch of chocolate peanut butter whoopie pies to satisfy his craving. Needless to say, they really hit the spot.

chocolate peanut butter whoopie pies | Brooklyn Homemaker

In case you’ve been living under a rock somewhere, a whoopie pie is a sandwich cookie made up of two cake-like cookies with a creamy filling between them. Whoopie pies are very popular in the Northeast and New England and, depending on the region, they sometimes go by the names black moon, gob, bob, or “BFO” for Big Fat Oreo. Although they probably originated in the Northeast, they’ve spread throughout the US in the past few decades and are well-known and well-loved all over the country. Traditionally they’re made of some kind of rich chocolate cake and filled with a creamy white vanilla or marshmallow filling. In recent years new varieties have popped up, including red velvet or pumpkin with cream cheese filling, or chocolate with fillings like peanut butter, mint, or caramel buttercream.

chocolate peanut butter whoopie pies | Brooklyn Homemaker

The history of the whoopie pie is something of a mystery. Many regions lay claim to their origins, but there is not enough evidence to prove any one area as their true birthplace. Handheld filled sandwich cakes were popular in Victorian era Europe, and whoever really invented the whoopie pie mostly likely borrowed the idea from these European treats. Victorian sandwich cakes were usually made of sponge cake filled with jam or cream, and were often cut into small slices or slivers and served with tea. Whatever their origins, America’s whoopie pies are decidedly less refined.

chocolate peanut butter whoopie pies | Brooklyn Homemaker

Many people agree that whoopie pies were invented by the Amish of Pennsylvania dutch country. The popular belief in this area is that these cookies were invented in Amish and Pennsylvania German culture and the recipe was passed down through generations without leaving any official paper trail. The legend has it that an Amish homemaker probably used some leftover cake batter to make cookies for her children, topped them with some buttercream, and liked the results so much that she shared the recipe with the surrounding community. The claim is that Amish mothers would pack the cookies into their children’s lunch bags and, on finding them, the kids would shout “Whoopie!”
Today these cookies are commonly sold in Amish country stores and farm stands throughout Pennsylvania and no trip to this region is complete without indulging on a traditional Amish whoopie pie.

chocolate peanut butter whoopie pies | Brooklyn Homemaker

The Berwick Cake Co. in Boston, Massachusetts also claims to have invented this treat. They claim to have started selling whoopie pies in the 1920s or 30, but the oldest printed reference to Berwick making whoopie pies is a newspaper ad from 1950.  Although the bakery closed years ago, the brick building still has the words “Whoopee! Pies” painted on its side. Whether Berwick invented them or not, many people believe they have commercial, rather than Amish, origins. These people believe that a production bakery probably used up some leftover cake batter and came up with a handheld cake by baking the batter on a pan like a cookie.

chocolate peanut butter whoopie pies | Brooklyn Homemaker

The state of Maine also lays a claim to the origins of the whoopie pie. Labadie’s bakery in Lewiston, Maine claims to have been making the confectionery since 1925, but many others think that the idea probably made its way to Maine from another state. Some people believe that the cookie traveled with some Amish groups that left Pennsylvania and moved to Maine. Others say that the whoopie pie came to Maine in the 1930s when a cook book featuring a recipe for a whoopie pie with marshmallow cream filling was published and distributed in New England by the Durkee Mower Company, the manufacturer of Marshmallow Fluff.
Whether whoopie pies were invented in Maine or not, the people of Maine take this cookie very seriously.  In 2011, the Maine State Legislature entertained the idea of naming the whoopie pie the official state dessert, but ultimately decided to name it the “Official State Treat”, choosing wild Maine blueberry pie as the state dessert instead.

chocolate peanut butter whoopie pies | Brooklyn Homemaker

The size of whoopie pies varies greatly depending on the region as well. Especially in Pennsylvania, some whoopie pies are huge sandwich sized confections that can feed two or more people. Other areas produce individual sized cookies, and recently some areas have started making bite sized mini whoopie pies.
The whoopie pies I made aren’t the huge Pennsylvania style, but they’re not the bite-sized variety either. I used a #24 portion scoop, about 3 tablespoons, and my pies ended up being about the serving size of a cupcake. This recipe made 12 finished sandwich cookies for me, but depending on the size you make them, your yield may be much different from mine. If you do decide you want to make your cookies a different size, you may need to adjust your cooking time by a few minutes.

chocolate peanut butter whoopie pies | Brooklyn Homemaker

This recipe produces a deep dark & chocolatey cookie. The addition of a healthy dose of coffee adds even more depth to the dark chocolate notes, and the combination of brown sugar, oil and buttermilk give it a wonderful chewy, moist and pillowy soft texture. Even without the filling, this cookie is phenomenal, and I “accidentally” baked an odd number of cookies and was forced, against my will I might add, to eat one on its own.
The real star here though is the peanut butter buttercream. It’s ultra smooth and creamy, just a little bit salty, a little more sweet, and crazy peanut buttery. It might be a bit too soft and loose to serve on super hot summer days, but this time of year it’s perfect. Briefly refrigerating the finished whoopie pies will help set the filling so it doesn’t smoosh out the sides when you bite down. The combination of these rich chocolate cakes with the sweet smooth creamy peanut buttery goodness of this filling is better than you can even imagine. Are you drooling yet? I  am.

chocolate peanut butter whoopie pies | Brooklyn Homemaker

Chocolate Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies

  • Servings: approximately 12 cookies
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Adapted from Baked Explorations

3½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1¼ teaspoons baking powder
1¼ teaspoons baking soda
¾ cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1/2 cup hot coffee
2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
3/4 cups peanut or canola oil
1 large egg, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk, room temperature, shaken

Preheat oven to 350° F.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda, and set aside.
In another large bowl, whisk together the cocoa and espresso powder. Add the hot coffee and 1/2 cup hot water and whisk until both powders are completely dissolved.
In a medium bowl, stir the brown sugar and oil together. Add this to the cocoa mixture and whisk until combined. Add the egg, vanilla and buttermilk and whisk until smooth. Using a rubber spatula to gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Make sure to scrape down the sides and the bottom of the bowl as you fold.
Use a portion scoop with to drop heaping tablespoons of the dough onto the prepared baking sheets about 1-inch apart. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the cookies are just starting to crack on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cookie comes out clean. Let the cookies cool completely on the pans while you make the filling (recipe below).
Turn half of the cookies so the flat side faces up, and distribute the filling evenly between the overturned cookies using a portion scoop, piping bag, or icing spatula. Top the buttercream with another cookie and press down gently so the filling spreads to the edges of the cookies. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to set the filling, and let the cookies come back to room temperature for 30 minutes before serving. Whoopie pies will keep for up to 3 days in the fridge, on a parchment-lined baking sheet covered with plastic wrap.

Peanut Butter Buttercream

1 cup creamy peanut butter
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar

With the paddle attachment of a stand mixer, cream the softened butter and peanut on high-speed until completely blended and smooth. Add sugar and, on low-speed, mix until combined. Turn up to high and beat until fluffy.

conversation heart mini cakes

Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays that most people either love or hate. Usually you hate it when you’re single, and suddenly appreciate it when you’re in a relationship. Growing up gay in a small town in upstate New York, for most of my life I was on the team against this holiday. Once I started dating I began to like it, but even then usually thought of Valentine’s Day as an excuse for restaurants to pack as many couples as possible into a tight space and charge a small fortune for a “prix fixe” menu. After a bottle (or two) of cheap champagne and several courses of dinner, I was usually done for the night, and that was that. Now that I’m married and don’t have to try so hard to impress my dates or seal the deal or whatever it is people do on Valentine’s day, I finally have a new appreciation for it. My husband Russell and I usually skip the over-priced meals and crowds and try to re-create the date experience at home. We like to use this holiday as an excuse to brighten our home with fresh-cut flowers, cook a nice meal, drink some wine and, of course, buy some chocolates. My favorite part of this holiday was, is, and always will be the chocolates.

conversation heart mini cakes | Brooklyn Homemaker

This day hasn’t always been all about chocolates and flowers though. Valentine’s Day has its roots in ancient Rome, and the holiday’s two namesakes were Roman saints who both shared the name Valentine. Though there are some rumors, there is no evidence linking either saint to the romantic ideas people have about the holiday today. Back then this holiday was strictly about martyrdom and religious beliefs. It wasn’t until the medieval era, when the tradition of courtly love flourished in the spring, that people started tying Saint Valentine’s Day to romance and love.  Men would pick spring flowers and write love songs to try to woo their fair maidens, but even then sugar was a precious commodity in Europe, so candy wasn’t yet a part of the experience.

conversation heart mini cakes | Brooklyn Homemaker

It wasn’t until the 1800s that the British chocolate manufacturer Cadbury started marketing chocolate candies for Valentine’s Day. Before then, chocolate was usually consumed as a hot beverage. When Cadbury made some improvements to its chocolate manufacturing technique they were left with an excess of cocoa butter. It was then that they started to produce a wide array of their “eating chocolate” and recognized Valentine’s Day as a marketing opportunity. Richard Cadbury started designing and selling ornate decorated boxes filled with an assortment of his new chocolate candies.  Victorians were already in the practice of showering each other with cards and gifts for Valentine’s Day, and Cadbury’s chocolate boxes were a wild hit. Within a few decades these elaborately decorated boxes were everywhere, and their popularity continued to grow until governments started rationing sugar during World War II. By then the idea of candy, chocolate, and heart-shaped everything was deeply tied to Valentine’s day, and continues to be today.

conversation heart mini cakes | Brooklyn Homemaker

Another Valentine’s Day confection that roots back to Victorian England is the conversation heart. The English had a tradition of writing phrases and sayings on small pieces of paper embeded inside of small colored sugar candies. The Victorians took this fashion even further by creating “conversation lozenges”, which came in various sizes and shapes, and were common all year round. Some of the more common phrases on them included “Can you Polka?” and “How do you flirt?”, but they were even sometimes used as marketing tools with the names of businesses written on them. In 1866 a device was invented to imprint the phrases into the candies rather than hand writing them, and in 1901 the Necco company, makers of Necco wafers, starting cutting their conversation lozenges into heart shapes and marketing them as Valentine’s Day “Sweethearts”. For decades some of the most popular phrases on conversation hearts were “Be mine”, “Kiss Me”, and “I’m Yours”. In the 1990s the company decided to update some of their phrases and retire others, introducing new phrases like “Email Me”, “Hot Stuff”, and Russell’s favorite, “Fax Me”.

conversation heart mini cakes | Brooklyn Homemakerconversation heart mini cakes | Brooklyn Homemaker

When I was trying to decide on a dessert to make for Russell on Valentine’s Day, I thought it would be really fun to try combining these two traditions. I’m not really a fan of real conversation hearts, but I am a big fan of chocolate! So, prepare to have your mind blown, I decided to make conversation hearts made of chocolate! Boom. Rather than trying to make tiny hearts out of real chocolate I decided that little chocolate cakes were where it’s at.

conversation heart mini cakes | Brooklyn Homemakerconversation heart mini cakes | Brooklyn Homemaker

I started with my favorite recipe for Devil’s Food Cake from Russell’s birthday, but decided to ice them with a traditional American buttercream. For fancy layer cakes I’m usually a bigger fan of meringue buttercream because American buttercream tends to be too sweet and have a slightly gritty texture, but I thought it was the clear choice for these cakes. Since they’re so cutesy and retro, and since they’re the size of large cupcakes, I thought this old school classic would be the perfect complement. I baked three 9-inch layers of Devil’s Food Cake and used a 4-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out twelve Devil’s Food hearts. Then I filled, stacked, and iced the hearts to make 6 mini heart layer cakes. To make the cakes look just like traditional conversation hearts, I chose pastel tones for my icing and piped on phrases in red.

conversation heart mini cakes | Brooklyn Homemaker

Not only are they completely adorable, they’re totally delicious. Super moist, tender & chocolatey cakes covered with rich sweet & creamy icing. Heaven. The recipe below makes 6 cakes, which each feed 2 people at least, so they’re perfect for a party. If you wanted to just make 2 heart cakes you could cut hearts from one layer and freeze the other two layers of cake for another use. If wrapped good and tight in plastic, these cake layers should keep for up to a month in the freezer.

I really hope you give these a try. They might be a little advanced for beginners, but if you are a confident crumb-coater and can pipe a straight line, I promise you can handle it.

conversation heart mini cakes | Brooklyn Homemaker

Conversation Heart Mini Cakes

  • Servings: makes six 2-layer 4-inch heart cakes, serves 12ish
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Devil’s Food Cake

butter and flour for pans
2 cups peanut oil or vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups unsweetened natural cocoa powder
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
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 9 inch round cake pans, line bottoms with parchment paper, butter paper, and dust pans with flour. Whisk together cocoa powder and hot water until smooth.

Sift together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside. Beat oil and sugar 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, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Invert cakes onto rack, peel off parchment, and let cool completely.

Classic American Buttercream
just enough for six 4″ heart cakes

2 cups unsalted butter (4 sticks or 1 pound), room temperature
6-8 cups confectioners sugar, SIFTED
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
4-6 tablespoons milk

Beat butter for a few minutes with a mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed. Add first six cups of confectioners sugar, one cup at a time, with your mixer on the lowest speed until the sugar has been incorporated. Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt, and 4 tablespoons of milk and beat on high for 3 minutes. If your frosting needs a more stiff consistency, add remaining sugar, a cup at a time. If your frosting needs to be thinned out, add remaining milk 1 tablespoons at a time. For these hearts you want the icing fairly stiff.

Assemble the heart cakes

Wrap each 9″ cake layer in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour, or over night. Level each layer with a sharp bread knife or cake leveler, and using a 4″ heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut four hearts out of each layer, giving you 12 hearts. Keep the heart cut-outs cold in the refrigerator while you’re working on each cake.

Divide your icing into 7 bowls. You’ll need about a cup of icing for each of the six cakes, and about 1/2 a cup of icing for the seventh bowl which you’ll use for the writing. Color the writing icing bright red, and then color each of the 6 remaining bowls whichever colors you prefer. Keep in mind that conversation hearts come in pastels so go easy on the food coloring. Fit a piping bag with a medium writing tip, I used a Wilton #7 , and fill the bag with your 1/2 cup of red icing. I used CK Products gel colors (available here) to avoid thinning out the icing. A little goes a long way, so use sparingly.

Working with one color at a time, spread about 1/4 cup of icing on the top of one heart cut-out and layer with another cut-out. Using another 1/4 cup of icing spread a thin layer to cover sides and top of the cake. This is called the crumb coat, and since these cakes are cut-outs they produce a lot of crumbs. This step is very important if you don’t want visible crumbs in your icing. Once your cake is completely crumb coated, refrigerate while you work on remaining five cakes. Repeat until all 6 cakes are crumb coated and each has refrigerated for a minimum of 30 minutes or more.

Working with the same color the cake was crumb coated with, ice each cake with remaining 1/2 cup of icing. Use a small offset icing spatula to get a nice smooth finished surface. Once iced, write your favorite conversation heart phrase on top with red icing. Repeat with remaining five cakes. Take pictures and show your friends, family, co-workers, first grade teachers, and college RAs.

best chunky beef chili

Guess what everyone. It’s winter. Surprise!

best chunky beef chili | winter in brooklyn | Brooklyn Homemaker

We just made our way through a bitter cold front here in New York City, and though it was a bit warmer for a few days, today we’re supposed to be hit with another, along with several more inches of snow. I’m no stranger to harsh winters.  I’ve lived in New York for my entire life and went to school in upstate’s Adirondacks, where I lived in the coldest town in the entire state. Winters in Saranac Lake often saw night-time temperatures dipping 20, 30, even 40 degrees below zero. The lakes would freeze so solid that people used them as extra parking during winter games, packing dozens of cars and trucks onto the ice when the parking lots filled up.
There were nights that were so frosty that the three block walk home after work would cause the condensation in my breath to freeze into my facial hair and turn my upper lip into a mustache-sicle. Winters in Brooklyn are nothing in comparison to the extremes upstate, but that doesn’t stop me from being affected by the seemingly unending frigid days and nights.

best chunky beef chili | Brooklyn Homemaker

If there’s one thing that I’m consistently inspired to do by cold weather, it’s to cook. And to eat. I love making soups, stews, braises and any number of hearty slow-cooked meals during the winter, and one of my favorite cold weather meals is chili. Traditionally chili is thought of as a warm weather meal, something eaten in Texas and the Southwest, but maybe that’s what draws me to it in winter. Cranking the heat and sitting down in flannel pajamas to a big steamy bowl of thick spicy chili helps me forget that outside the wind is whipping snowflakes through the streets of Brooklyn.

best chunky beef chili | Brooklyn Homemakerbest chunky beef chili | Brooklyn Homemakerbest chunky beef chili | Brooklyn Homemaker

Chili is a dish that people take very seriously. Web searches will turn up thousands of pages on the subject. The legendary outlaw Jesse James is said to have declined to rob a bank in McKinney, Texas because the town was home to his favorite chili parlor. The American mystery writer Rex Stout once said that, “Chili is one of the great peasant foods. It is one of the few contributions America has made to world cuisine. Eaten with corn bread, sweet onion, sour cream, it contains all five of the elements deemed essential by the sages of the Orient: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, and bitter.” That is a big reputation to live up to for such a simple, unfussy food.

Chili has a long history in the United States and there are a great many opinions about how this dish should be prepared. I’ve even seen people go so far as to say that adding beans to chili is sacrilegious. The thing is though, that I don’t really care what the chili experts say. I’m not from Texas. I don’t live in the old wild west. I like chili how I like it, and if some “purists” think I’m doing it wrong, so be it. It doesn’t change the fact that this recipe is friggin delicious.

best chunky beef chili | Brooklyn Homemaker

In my defense, not that I  believe I really need defending, not everyone takes chili so seriously. Texas native Carroll Shelby had ideas about chili that were closer to my own and said, “The beauty of chili to me is that it’s really a state of mind.”  “It’s what you want when you make it. You can put anything in there you want, make it hot or mild, any blend of spices you feel like at the time. You make it up to suit your mood.”

I was a vegetarian when I lived in the Adirondacks, and chili with lots and lots of beans was one of my favorite ways to warm myself up on cold days. When I lived in Ithaca, New York, I worked at a restaurant that won a chili cook-off with a recipe that used chunks of stew meat instead of ground beef. My love of spice has grown since I’ve moved to a part of Brooklyn that is heavily dominated by Mexican and Puerto Rican culture. All of my past experiences have helped guide me to the recipe we have here today. Chunky beef chili made with stew meat instead of ground beef, with a variety of beans, and a healthy dose of heat and spice.

When I was growing up, chili was only ever made with ground beef, so when I first saw it made another way and started trying it myself, the idea of using stew meat was completely novel to me. Later I realize that it’s not really so uncommon, and that it’s probably how the dish originated. The idea used to be so foreign to me that I wanted to try to change the name to reflect its unconventional ingredients. The problem was that there’s no delicate way to combine the names chili and stew. No one wants to belly up to a steaming bowl of “Stewli”, no matter how delicious.

No thank you.

best chunky beef chili | Brooklyn Homemaker

So. Chunky chili it is!

This recipe is thickened with corn flour, but if you don’t have corn flour feel free to use all-purpose flour. I used stew meat that was already cut into chunks at the grocery store, but ended up needing to do some cutting of my own to bring the chunks down to the right size. Most stew meat bought in grocery stores comes in pieces about two or three inches in size. This recipe works much better with smaller pieces and I cut them all down to about one inch cubes. I made this recipe with beef this time around, but I’ve made it with venison before and it’s delicious. If you love venison, by all means, knock yourself out.

I think this chili translates to a slow cooker recipe really well too.  I would suggest that you brown all your veggies and meat ahead as stated in the recipe, and follow the steps through to where you scrape up the browned bits from the pot with half a cup of beef stock. Then you would transfer the browned meat and onions to the crock pot, add the remaining ingredients, and cook on high for four hours, or low for eight. The only thing that might be tricky is to get the chili to the correct consistency, so you may need to add more corn flour to help thicken it.

Since I’m usually just feeding myself and Russell, this recipe made plenty of leftovers for us, and I have to say, I think this chili improves with age. The second day the flavors seemed to have really married perfectly and the meat was even more tender and delicious. I suppose this is what he meant when John Steele Gordon said that “Chili is much improved by having had a day to contemplate its fate.”

best chunky beef chili | Brooklyn Homemaker

Best Chunky Chili

adapted from Emeril Lagasse for Food Network

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 to 2 jalapenos, seeded and finely diced
2 pounds stew meat, cut into 1″ cubes
2 tablespoons corn flour (or all-purpose)
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups beef stock
28 oz  can crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup tomato paste
15 oz can red kidney beans
15 oz can black beans

In a large heavy bottom stockpot of dutch oven, heat the vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions and saute for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the vegetables start to wilt. Add jalapenos and garlic and cook 1 to 2 minutes more. Season with salt and cayenne. In a large bowl, stir together corn flour, chili powder, & cumin, and toss and coat meat in the mixture. Brown the meat for 5 to 6 minutes. Add about 1/2 cup of the beef stock and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any brown bits of beef and corn flour stuck to the bottom of the pan. Stir in remaining stock, tomatoes, tomato paste, and beans. Bring the liquid up to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer the liquid uncovered for the first hour, stirring occasionally. Cover the pot and simmer for another hour or until the beef is fork tender.
Taste and re-season with salt and cayenne if necessary. If the chili is too thin, simmer uncovered until it’s thick enough. If too thick, thin it out, a tablespoon at a time, with beef stock. Garnish the chili with the grated cheese, sour cream and avocado. Serve with cornbread.