layer cake

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.


Devil’s Food Cake with Heavenly Marshmallow Icing

I mentioned in my last post that we recently celebrated Russell’s birthday with a night out on the town with friends. We did dinner, drinks and merriment over the weekend, but his actual birthday was on a Monday so that night we stayed in and made dinner. Later in the evening we invited a friend over to help us eat some cake and drink champagne.

devil's food cake with heavenly marshmallow icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Russell loves all things 80s. The tackier and more out-there, the better. He appreciates 80s music, pop culture, art, celebrities, you name it, so for his birthday I wanted to go all out and bring that era back for him. I went crazy with hot pink animal print wrapping paper, black satin ribbon, expensive champagne, and hot pink candles. Of course I had to have a cake to put those candles into, and there’s something about Devil’s Food Cake that just screams 80s to me. To be honest, I’m not even really sure why. I was 7 years old when the 80s came to a close, so I don’t really remember all that much of it, but the 80s were all about excess and Devils’s Food Cake is certainly a more-is-more kind of cake.

devil's food cake with heavenly marshmallow icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

This cake calls for natural cocoa instead of dutch process. Dutch process cocoa has a deep dark intensely chocolatey flavor, but natural cocoa has a subtler, warmer taste that reads more “cocoa” than chocolate. I don’t know if that makes sense, but try to think of the difference between a dark chocolate bar or flourless chocolate cake and the taste of hot cocoa or plain chocolate ice cream. So, while this type of cocoa is warmer and less in-your-face, a full cup and a half of it goes into the mix to make sure this cake is supremely chocolatey and really screams “Devil’s Food Cake!”

Much like the red velvet cake I made a while ago, this recipe also calls for cake flour to ensure a light and tender crumb, and uses buttermilk to help add moisture and give the cake a very subtle tanginess that really helps the cocoa feel richer and more complex. There’s also a bit of brown sugar that helps the cake keep moist and adds just a bit of dark caramel-y depth. Yum.

devil's food cake with heavenly marshmallow icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

I decided to pair this cake with a fluffy marshmallow icing, which was not only delicious, but also absolutely gorgeous. This beautiful tall cake covered in white marshmallowy roses was a real stunner. It was just as impressive when sliced with the perfect white icing in sharp contrast against the dark interior of the cake.  The recipe provided below will make enough icing to fill the cake and cover it with a generous layer of icing, but if you want to decorate it in the rosette design I used, you’ll need to multiply the recipe by 1.5.  I used an Ateco 824 tip, but any large open star tip will work. If you are using a stiffer icing, you could also use a closed star tip.

I am absolutely no pro when it comes to working with piping bags and tips, but this design was quite easy to do. I have shaky hands so small delicate piping is difficult for me, but this design is little more than large swirls repeated over and over. After filling and crumb coating the cake, I basically started with one swirl in the center of the top of the cake, with two rows of swirls wrapping around the one in the center. Any small spaces that weren’t covered by the swirls were filled by a dab with the piping bag. The top of the cake is easier to do than the sides, so I think starting there lets you get the hang of it before you try to do the design vertically. On the sides I did three rows, starting at the top and working my way down. Having a lazy susan or turntable really makes this job a gazillion times easier.

devil's food cake with heavenly marshmallow icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

I’ve already said this, but this cake has such a great chocolatey cocoa flavor. It’s spongy and light and airy and moist and amazing. I’m gushing. Traditionally Devil’s Food Cake is paired with a rich chocolate buttercream, but I really think that the cake is already so chocolatey that chocolate icing would be overkill. This marshmallow icing is perfectly light and fluffy and not at all heavy and it pairs perfectly with this cake. Instead of competing with the cake or weighing it down and making it too rich, it lets the cake take center stage. Since it’s made with little more than egg whites and sugar, the icing is also fat-free, so you know, bonus.

I will admit that the icing is a bit fussy to make but I think it is totally worth it. I wouldn’t recommend trying this without a stand mixer, I think a hand-held mixer would make a mess. I also think a candy thermometer would help a lot, but I actually didn’t use one.
If you don’t want all the fuss of the marshmallow icing, but don’t want chocolate on chocolate overkill, I’d suggest a nice traditional vanilla buttercream.

Now, go butter those cake pans and preheat that oven!

devil's food cake with heavenly marshmallow icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Devil's Food Cake with Heavenly Marshmallow Icing

Devil’s Food Cake
makes three 8-inch layers

butter and flour for pans
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
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 powder 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.

Heavenly Marshmallow Icing:
recipe from Cake Duchess

1 cup of granulated sugar (not confectioners sugar)
4 egg whites, room temperature
1/3 cup of water
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a medium saucepan, bring the 1/3 cup of water, sugar, cream of tartar to a boil. Do not stir the sugar mixture as it will cause the sugar to crystallize. Boil until you have thick clear bubbles ( should only take about 5 minutes and reads a temperature of 245 F). Be very careful not to let the mixture caramelize.
Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg whites to soft peaks. With the mixer on medium high, slowly and very carefully add the sugar syrup in a thin steady stream, beating for a total of 7 minutes.  Be careful not to burn yourself with the hot sugar syrup, and be careful not to add too much at once. At the last minute, mix in the vanilla.
To assemble the cake, level the layers with a sharp serrated knife or cake leveler. Spread a layer of icing between each layer of cake, and then spread a thin layer of icing on top and sides of cake to seal in crumbs. Finish by spreading (or piping) another layer of icing on top and sides and decorate as desired. For the rosette design I made on this cake I multiplied the icing recipe by 1.5, but 1 recipe is plenty for icing regularly.

Red Velvet Cake with Ermine Icing

Okay so here’s the thing about red velvet… I don’t get it.

I used to work at a cupcake shop for a while, and our red velvet cupcakes were probably the best selling item on the menu. People went nuts for those cupcakes. Every day just as many red velvet cupcakes were baked as were all the other flavors combined, and on most days the red velvets were sold out before anything else. I thought most of the cupcakes there were phenomenal, but the red velvet was probably my least favorite. It was kind of bland, with no distinct flavor beside the cream cheese icing swirled on top. Not enough vanilla to be vanilla cake, so little cocoa flavor that I’m not convinced any was actually used. There were plenty of tastier and more interesting flavors to choose from, and I could never figure out why people always went for the red velvets. Are people really just into red velvet because it’s red? There has to be more to it than just the color right?

red velvet cake with ermine icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Curiosity got the best of me and I started doing some digging on the internet. It turns out that the history of red velvet, the roots of it’s popularity and the original recipe, are pretty tough to nail down. There are almost as many stories about the origins of red velvet as there are recipes for “real” red velvet. “Real” red velvet means very different things to different people.

I’d always heard that red velvet cake originally turned “red” because of a chemical reaction between acid in buttermilk or vinegar and natural cocoa powder. This wouldn’t actually turn a cake RED, but it would, supposedly, produce a very slight reddish hue in a cocoa cake. The same is supposed to be true of the origins of devil’s food cake, but with a lot more cocoa. This sounded believable-ish to me, so in my mind the real “original” red velvet cake was supposed to be deep reddish brown, with a slight cocoa flavor, and of course, topped with cream cheese icing.

red velvet cake with ermine icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Once I started digging though, I started running into some problems. First there were the various origin stories. Some people think the cake was invented in Canada by the wife of a wealthy department store president, others convinced that this quintessential southern cake was invented in the south, and others still are certain that it was invented at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City.

Then there were the recipes. Everyone believes that their red velvet recipe is the one true way it should be done. Google “real red velvet” and you’re going to come up with some wildly varied recipes. There are also a lot of “rules” about red velvet out there, many of them conflicting with the rules of the next guy. Most of the rules dictate something about the color, flavor, or icing of this iconic cake.

red velvet cake with ermine icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

According to the internets, the color of red velvet should always come from artificial color. If you don’t pour in the red food color, it’s not red velvet. Also, red velvet cake should never contain artificial color. If you’re using red food color, you’re doing it wrong. The color should come from cocoa powder and buttermilk, or vinegar, or both. The truth is that the red in red velvet cake needs a boost, but not from food color. Along with the cocoa and acid reaction, an additional boost of red should come from red wine. Actually it should come from beet juice.

Red velvet cake should have a very specific flavor profile that should not be messed with. It seems that red velvet cake is supposed to be a mildly chocolatey cocoa cake, since the red color comes mostly from natural cocoa’s reaction with acidic ingredients. Also, red velvet cake should have only a very slight, almost indistinguishable, cocoa flavor, since the color of this cake should be the star and too much cocoa would muddy the color. At the same time, recipes for red velvet cake should never contain any cocoa powder. Red velvet cake is a bright red buttermilk cake and cocoa would ruin both the color and flavor of this beloved cake.

The one thing I thought everyone agreed on was the icing. Everyone knows that red velvet cake calls for tangy cream cheese icing, always. Well, yeah. It turns out that some people think that the OG icing for red velvet was ermine icing, also known as butter roux icing, or boiled milk icing.

red velvet cake with ermine icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Once I started weeding through the conflicting stories and varied rules and recipes, I started to uncover some facts. It seems that the name most likely evolved as the public’s tastes in sweets were changing at the turn of the last century. At first the name was mostly symbolic and never really had anything to do with the color of the cake.

In the late 1800s what we know as brown sugar used to be commonly known as red sugar. Any cake that used finely ground cake flour and had a fine crumb was referred to as a “Velvet” cake. So, at that time any cake with “red sugar” and fine cake flour could be referred to as a red velvet, but no one was really going crazy for red velvet yet, and there is little evidence of any printed recipes for anything like what we have today. At that time natural cocoa was the most commonly available cocoa on the market. Unlike today’s more common dutch process cocoa, the PH of natural cocoa does cause a chemical reaction with acid causing a very slight reddish hue. Devil’s food cake made with natural cocoa would have a slight reddish hue to the deep dark chocolate cake, and that is most likely the origin of that name. Red velvet cake is devil’s food’s less chocolatey cousin, but again, the cake was never really RED. At the time, these cocoa cakes were often referred to as “mahogany cakes”.

It wasn’t until the depression that red velvet cake turned truly red. Food additive and extract companies were struggling at the time because most Americans were cutting back on such luxury items. As a way to boost sales, the Adams Extract Company started marketing their food coloring and flavorings by giving out recipes for a truly red red velvet cake, complete with color photo, in grocery stores. That was when red velvet started taking off, especially in the south. The popularity waxed and waned for generations, and then there was the groom’s cake in Steel Magnolias. Boom. Everyone knew and wanted red velvet. And then a decade or so later, the cupcakes shops started popping up and pushing the red velvet on us.

red velvet cake with ermine icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

I’m no historian, and I don’t claim to know that any of what I’ve read is the absolute truth, but this seems like the most likely story. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to dig up the depression era recipe that made red velvet the popular cake that it is today. So, the “real” recipe still seems to be something of a mystery, but based on the history I think that natural cocoa is as important to the recipe as the red food color.

red velvet cake with ermine icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Another point of contention is the icing. I’d always heard, and believed, that cream cheese was king when it came to red velvet cakes, and I was shocked to find out that this wasn’t always so. Cream cheese icing wasn’t really common with red velvet until the mid-twentieth century. Before that the traditional topping for red velvet was a creamy and light icing made by cooking milk and flour together, and whipping into creamed sugar and butter. It can be called Butter Roux frosting or Ermine frosting. In the south this icing was very popular because it’s whipped texture is similar to whipped cream, but it’s much more heat stable and keeps better.

red velvet cake with ermine icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

When I set out to bake my first red velvet cake, I knew I had plenty of recipes to choose from but had to decide which one would produce the cake that I wanted to end up with. I kept going back to natural cocoa and buttermilk but decided that adding red color was just fine with me. So, I checked in with my favorite food blog, Smitten Kitchen, and guess what, she had a recipe that sounded like exactly what I was looking for. I also decided I wanted to ditch the cream cheese icing and go back to the traditional ermine icing.

This recipe calls for a LOT of red food color. At first I thought it might be a typo. It’s not. Since there is more cocoa in this recipe than most, a lot of food color is needed to bring the red forward over the brown. Well. This cake is red alright. The batter before baking is literally beet red. It gets a bit darker in the oven, but even still, the finished cake is a deep dark RED. Pretty much the color you’d see if you sliced into an armadillo. Just sayin’.

red velvet cake with ermine icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

As a former red velvet naysayer, I have to admit that this cake is pretty amazing. The texture is perfect, super moist, with a very delicate light & fluffy crumb from the cake flour. You can definitely taste the cocoa, even though it doesn’t really scream chocolate. It also has a really pleasant delicate tang from the buttermilk and vinegar, which I think would be completely lost if I’d gone with the modern traditional cream cheese icing instead of the ermine. I totally love this icing, btw. It’s much easier to make than a meringue buttercream, but has a very similar stability, mouth feel and texture. It is easy to work with, frosts smoothly and tastes whipped, creamy, light and just sweet enough.

To be perfectly honest, if I’m going to make a cocoa cake I’d like even more chocolate flavor, and even though it’s kind of fun, the amount of food color that goes into this recipe makes me ever-so-slightly uncomfortable. If I’m baking a cake for me, I think I’d rather go for a devil’s food cake, which I think would be delicious (and beautiful) with this same icing. But for special occasions, or for people who love red velvet, this cake is a force to be reckoned with. Perfectly moist & fluffy, with just enough cocoa and buttermilk, and red red RED!

red velvet cake with ermine icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Red Velvet Cake

  • Servings: makes one 3 layer 8 inch cake, feeds 12-16ish
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adapted from Smitten Kitchen

2 tablespoons butter
3 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 cup unsweetened natural cocoa (not Dutch process)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups peanut or canola oil
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) red food coloring (or 1 teaspoon red gel food coloring dissolved in 6 tablespoons of water)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon white vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place teaspoon of butter in each of 3 round 8-inch layer cake pans and place pans in oven for a few minutes until butter melts. Remove pans from oven, brush interior bottom and sides of each with butter and line bottoms with parchment.

Whisk cake flour, cocoa and salt in a bowl.

Place oil and sugar in bowl of an electric mixer and beat at medium speed until well-blended. Beat in eggs one at a time. With machine on low, very slowly add red food coloring, being careful it doesn’t splash. Add vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk in two batches. Scrape down bowl and beat just long enough to combine.

Place baking soda in a small dish, stir in vinegar and add to batter with machine running. Beat for 10 seconds.

Divide batter among pans, place in oven and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in pans 20 minutes. Then remove from pans, flip layers over and peel off parchment. Cool completely, and level layers with a cake leveler or sharp bread knife. Fill and crumb coat with ermine icing, and place in refrigerator for 30 minutes or more. Then ice and decorate as desired with remaining icing.

Ermine Icing
adapted from Tasty Kitchen 

7  tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups milk
2  teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
1 1/2 cup Granulated Sugar

In a small saucepan, whisk flour into milk and heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens. You want it to be very thick, almost like brownie batter. Remove from heat and let it cool to room temperature. It must be completely cool before you use it in the next step. Stir in vanilla.

While the mixture is cooling, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. You don’t want any sugar graininess left. Then add the completely cooled milk/flour/vanilla mixture and beat the living daylights out of it. If it looks separated, you haven’t beaten it enough! Beat it until it all combines and resembles whipped cream.

Aunt Sassy Cake

Well hello there! Welcome to Brooklyn Homemaker!
I’m Tux. I live in Bushwick, Brooklyn with my husband Russell and our two miniature schnauzers, Doris and Betty. Nothing makes me happier than cooking, baking, and making our home a beautiful comfortable place.

Over the weekend we hosted a brunch for our friends who were recently engaged to discuss wedding planning, and see if they wanted to take any of our wedding supplies off our hands and free ups some space in our guest room. After brunch and a few cocktails I sliced into a cake I’d baked and our friends DEMANDED that I start blogging. They would not take no for an answer and all my excuses and what if’s were ignored and met with more insistence. This is not the first time I’ve been told I should blog, and It’s not the first time I’ve considered it. I’m really good at talking myself out of things in the name of being “realistic”, but my friends helped me break through that this weekend. I don’t know if it was their enthusiasm, the unearthly delicious cake, or the multiple cocktails consumed over the course of a few hours, but here I am.
As much as I love cooking, especially baking, turning a bag of groceries into a meal is not my only interest. Since blogging tends to be an exercise in self-indulgence, I’ve decided that I’m not going to limit the subject of Brooklyn Homemaker to any one subject. Along with cooking, I also love interior design, gardening, furniture restoration, event planning and party hosting, and a number of other things that manifest themselves in my life and home on a daily basis. I’d love nothing more than to share all of those interests with you here, so please, keep coming back and seeing what I’m up to!

So here I am, writing my first official post on Brooklyn Homemaker.
After months of drooling over photos of Baked’s Aunt Sassy Cake, I decided to go for it. It was clear from the recipe that this cake was to be saved for a special occasion, and from the day this cookbook came into my home I would look a this recipe and think, one day. This past weekend, one day finally came and I have to say that this 3 layer pistachio cake with honey buttercream was worth the wait.

Aunt Sassy Cake | Pistachio cake with honey buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

This cake is filled with ground pistachios but somehow manages to be heavenly light and fluffy thanks to the addition of whipped egg whites that are folded in at the end. Be careful not to over mix the batter after they’re combined or you can squeeze out some of that airy lightness. The fluffiness of this cake really takes it to an almost ethereal place, so you want to make sure keep it as light as possible.

Aunt Sassy Cake | Pistachio cake with honey buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

Full disclosure: I had a little bit of trouble getting my cakes out of the pans. I have pre-cut parchment rounds that fit 9 inch pans, but had to cut my own for the 8 inchers and they came out a little too small and they didn’t reach the edges of the pans. Since this cake is so fluffy and moist it wants to stick to the pans, so I’d suggest taking the extra time to make sure your parchment fits properly so you can get it out. They came out mostly fine but one of the layers got a little bit stuck and I had to do some quick cake surgery to get it back together. Once the crumb coat went on the cake everything was hidden.  I firmly believe that beyond keeping a cake from drying out, icing helps hide a multitude of sins. That was certainly true with this cake, and when the cake was sliced there was no telling that anything had happened.
I brought my icing opinions up during brunch and may have inadvertently made the bride-to-be think twice about her dream for a naked wedding cake. I think naked cakes can be gorgeous, but if the cake layers are not completely perfect the cake will look messy, and if the cake isn’t super moist it can dry out since it’s not encased in layers of fat and sugar.

Aunt Sassy Cake | Pistachio cake with honey buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

Speaking of layers of fat and sugar, the honey buttercream icing on this cake is unbelievable. This is not like any icing I’ve ever made before, but I will definitely be making it again. This is a cooked icing with an end result similar to a meringue buttercream, stable and thick, but at the same time creamy and smooth. Instead of cooked egg whites though, this frosting uses flour for thickening. It’s a similar concept to the old school Ermine icing traditional for red velvet cake, but instead of just boiling the flour and milk, the sugar also gets boiled in this recipe. This means that the sugar completely dissolves and begins to cook so that gluten isn’t the only thing thickening this icing. Once the boiled milk mixture is whipped cool, unsalted butter is whipped in until silky smooth. Last, a bit of honey goes in with vanilla to add some depth and an almost floral quality.

Aunt Sassy Cake | Pistachio cake with honey buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

Obviously I took these pictures with my iPhone. I know they’re not great, but they’re the only evidence I have of the amazing Aunt Sassy Cake. Now that I’m going to start blogging I’m looking into buying a real camera, but I need to weigh my options and see what I can afford and what would work best for my needs. I live in a railroad apartment with no window and no natural light in my kitchen, so that can be tough. I also have a benign tremor in my hands that means I have a very slight but rapid shake that makes getting a camera to focus challenging. Does anyone out there have any suggestions?

Aunt Sassy Cake

  • Servings: makes one 8 inch 3 layer cake, serves 12-16ish
  • Print
Adapted, just barely, from Baked Explorations, page 165

1 cup shelled pistachios (plus 1/3 cup for decorating)
2 1/2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups ice-cold water
1/4 tsp cream of tartar

Honey Vanilla Buttercream:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoon honey

Make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 325° F. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment rounds, butter the parchment, and lightly dust with flour. Knock out any excess flour.

Pulse the pistachios in a food processor until they are coarsely chopped. Reserve about 2 tablespoons of coarsely chopped pistachios in a large bowl. Process the rest of the pistachios until they are almost powdery. Stir the pistachio powder in with the reserved coarse pistachios; add the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt; and whisk well to combine.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until light and creamy, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the whole egg, and beat until just combined. Turn the mixture to low.

In a measuring cup, measure out 1 1/2 cups ice water. Add the flour mixture to the mixer in three parts, alternating with the ice water, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. For each addition, turn the mixer to low to add ingredients, then up to medium speed for a few seconds until incorporated. Scrape down the bowl, then mix on low-speed for a few more seconds.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form (I promise you can handle doing this by hand. Don’t be intimidated, it should only take 5 minutes max, probably less). Do not over beat. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter.

Divide the batter among the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 40-45 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Transfer cakes to a wire rack and let cool for at 20 to 30 minutes. Line your cooling rack with parchment and turn the cakes out onto the rack. Let cool completely. Remove the parchment rounds.

Make the honey vanilla buttercream:
In a medium sized heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together. Add milk and cream and cook over medium heat whisking regularly, until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a standing mixer with paddle attachment. Beat on high until cool (this should take about 10 or 15 minutes of mixing). You may want to cover the mixer with a towel to keep the mixture from splashing your kitchen. Add the softened butter and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until frosting is light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the vanilla and honey and mix until combined. If the icing is too soft, you can put the bowl in the refrigerator to chill slightly, then beat again until it is proper consistency. If the icing is too firm, you can set the bowl over a pot of very gently simmering water and beat with a wooden spoon until it is the proper consistency.

Assemble the cake:
Place one cake layer on a serving platter. If necessary, trim the top with a cake leveler or sharp serrated knife to create a flat surface. Evenly spread just over a cup of icing on top. Add the next layer, trim and frost it with the same amount of icing, then add the third layer. Spread a very thin layer of frosting over the sides and top of the cake and put it in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to firm up. (This is known as the crumb coating and will help keep loose cake crumbs from showing in the final layer of icing.) Spread the sides and top of the cake with the remaining icing. Garnish the cake with crushed pistachios and refrigerate it for 15 minutes to it firm up before serving. If you want to refrigerate it longer before serving, take it out to come up to room temperature at least an hour or two before serving.

This cake will keep well in a cake saver at room temperature for up to 3 days, if the weather is not too hot or humid. Otherwise, put the cake saver in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.