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Chocolate covered pizza on a wooden pizza peel

Brooklyn Blackout Pizza: A Labour of Love and Nostalgia

Time flies and cravings change, but whatever current nostalgia hungers for, the sentiment reigns. Nostalgia rules. Present-day curiosity and the traditions of yesteryear collide, kindling fascination — and a longing for something you may never have actually experienced.

If that sounds too heavy for a conversation about pizza, let’s talk about Brooklyn Blackout Cake and the recipe at hand, Brooklyn Blackout Pizza, for a moment. This is a dessert that — whether culinary history matters to you or not — was created to demonstrate affection. In other words, if you’re making it for someone, you probably care deeply about them.

Brooklyn Blackout cake is a dessert obsession for New Yorkers of a certain age (you know who you are). The late New York Times food critic Molly O’Neill explored Gothamites’ nostalgia for it in the 1990s. It’s been written about and riffed on by writers, cake shops and food publications, from Bon Appétit to the Food Network, even as the number of people who can say with inceasingly hazy authority what the original cake tasted like dwindles.

For the uninitiated: Commercial Brooklyn bakery Ebinger’s, founded in 1898 (coincidentally, around the time New York’s first pizzerias rose to prominence), created Brooklyn Blackout Cake at the beginning of the 20th century. The last Ebinger’s outpost closed in 1972, and its most treasured confection became the stuff of legend. A three-layer devil’s food cake layered with chocolate pudding, coated with chocolate frosting and finished with a dusting of cake crumbs, Brooklyn Blackout is a labor of love. (Cookbook author Katie Workman said it’s “a big, fat pain in the butt," calling it “so difficult, she suffers from what she calls PTCS: ‘post-traumatic cake syndrome.’”)

According to a fantastic 2011 Edible Brooklyn article, Brooklyn Blackout Cake was originally called “chocolate fudge cake,” with patriotic customers renaming it in honour of blackout drills performed by the Civilian Defense Corps during World War II. “When the Navy sent ships to sea from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, all city lights were turned off, and windows were covered with black material, lest enemy planes spot the battle-bound vessels,” the article notes.

“There was no other cake like it,” author Tish Boyle further explains. “It had a chocolate-pudding filling, which gave it a limited shelf life of 24 hours and made it something special. It also had a great look. It was like manna to chocolate lovers.”

When the bakery went bankrupt, Ebinger-ites bought the last Brooklyn Blackouts and stored them in freezers (the story goes), carving off slices when cravings became too much to bear. Unfortunately, the original recipe no longer exists. Nevertheless, eager bakers have speculated about, imitated, argued over, lusted after, referenced, and riffed upon the fabled formula since the last morsel of bona fide Brooklyn Blackout cake met its sticky, delicious end (New York Times’ Cooking section founder Sam Sifton referenced it just days ago!).

But what does any of this have to do with pizza

As a New Yorker old enough to have heard the stories, Brooklyn Blackout Cake holds a particular… fascination. A few years ago, Entenmann’s — the Brooklyn-born (now commercial) bakery that was a hallmark of my childhood in the ‘80s — offered a limited-edition take on this lost dessert icon. A friend turned me onto it, sending me on a wild chocolate cake chase to five supermarkets before I found it. So strong was his nostalgia that even a commercial facsimile decades removed from Ebinger’s left a mark on me. 

Now, I’m not really a dessert pizza guy. But the category exists, and the same way I wish there were more savoury cocktails, I wish there was a greater variety of excellent dessert pizzas. 

Nutella pizzas are crowd-pleasers. I get it. These sweet additions to pizzeria menus worldwide come topped with sliced bananas, strawberries, maybe even some marshmallows or whipped cream. There’s nothing technically wrong with them. They’re just… everywhere. For years, I’ve wondered why pizza — the original blank canvas for culinary creativity all over the world — seems to stall at Nutella when it comes to dessert.

Enter Brooklyn Blackout Pizza: A sweet finish that marries the most beloved and nostalgia-ensconced food of New York — pizza — with one of the city’s long-lost desserts. I’ve wished for years that someone else would make it. They haven’t. I got tired of waiting. 

Ridiculous? Definitely. Delicious? Yes. 

To do a pizza riff on a Brooklyn Blackout Cake, you need a chocolate dough base, a pudding recipe and a devil’s food cake recipe. I came across the dough in 2018, when Tommy DeGrezia, a pizza-maker in New York City perhaps best known for his 12-hour-risen DoughDici pizza, started playing with a cocoa pizza dough — his “anti-Nutella dessert pizza.”

DeGrezia, of Midtown East’s Sofia Wine Bar, recently shared his cocoa pizza dough recipe with Ooni. It doesn’t rely on sugar and is the least sweet part of any dessert pizza you make with it. He says it can be slightly difficult dough to work with because of how the cocoa absorbs moisture, but work it does — as a base for chocolate and white chocolate chips, marshmallow and graham crackers, ricotta and thinly-sliced fruit.

With that cocoa base locked in, a dough made with cocoa powder and melted baking chocolate — airy, not too sweet, earthen — I thought, “Why not try to pull off a Brooklyn Blackout Pizza?”

After playing with a few recipes for the pudding filling and devil’s food cake, I settled on some easy and practical approaches that don’t require much more than a bowl, a whisk and a spatula. (You’ll have to wait two days for the cocoa dough to proof, though; no need for further complication.)

Here’s the beautiful thing. Nobody really knows what the original cake tastes like! And Brooklyn Blackout Pizza isn’t a thing. (Well, now it is.) So, you can use MY-T-Fine pudding or whatever commercial option is available, and your favorite cake mix or store-bought chocolate cake for the crumb garnish. Nobody can say you’ve done this wrong — and it will still be an epic dessert pizza the likes of which few have ever seen!

This recipe leaves out the three cake layers in the original iconic dessert, and it skips the frosting. Supposedly, part of the reason the cake got its crumbled finish was to hide frosting imperfections. So, why go there? (And how would you frost a pizza coated with pudding anyway?) 

You won’t want to bake the dough with pudding on it, so you need something to weigh it down. You can blind bake with ice cubes or a steel dish in the center. But here, one of the rumoured secrets to the original cake’s deliciousness — a layer of sweet chocolate (Hershey’s syrup or Brooklyn’s own Fox’s U-bet — holds the key: A layer of chocolate chips on the dough for the bake.)

After cooking, it’s briefly cooled, then slathered with a thick layer of lush, dark chocolate pudding, topped with a dry chocolate cake crumb dusting, and finished with moist chocolate cake crumbs. Three layers. An ode to the original. It’s indulgent, messy, and all chocolate. 

Often, longing outlives understanding. But through doing and reimagining, nostalgia — whether relived or imagined; via elaborate whim or a labor of love; for yourself or for someone else — can reignite the glimmer of a moment of what has been (or what could be). That moment can taste sweet and liberating. In this case, it tastes like chocolate pizza. Crazy? Yeah. But try it. This is a good one. 

Recipes featured in this article:

Arthur Bovino is Ooni’s Head of Pizza Content. Arthur is the founder of the 101 Best Pizzas in America and author of “Buffalo Everything: A Guide to Eating in ‘The Nickel City’” and “The Buffalo New York Cookbook: 70 Recipes from The Nickel City.” You can follow him on Instagram @nycbestpizza.

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