Doberge Cake Is The Iconic New Orleans Dessert That Takes Layers To A Whole New Level

Desserts in New Orleans run the gamut from simple beignets to colorful Mardi Gras king cakes to dramatic bananas Foster flambe, but one of the most eye-catching of all may be the doberge cake. No, this dessert was not named for the musical group that brought us "Rhythm of the Night" and a string of other Motown hits (that would be DeBarge cake) but instead is an Americanization, or actually a Frenchification (Franglicisation?) of the Hungarian Dobos torte, which was itself the creation of a 19th-century baker named Jozsef C. Dobos.

The doberge cake, like its Hungarian inspiration, is made in multiple layers, which is something it also has in common with a similar specialty from Maryland called Smith Island cake. While the first doberge cakes were yellow with chocolate buttercream frosting and were made by but a single bakery, today they come in all manner of different flavor combinations and can be found at establishments throughout the Crescent City.

The history of doberge cake

The original recipe for the Hungarian Dobos torte was the farthest thing from a closely kept secret, as Mr. Dobos, upon retiring from his bakery, bequeathed it to the Budapest Confectioner's and Gingerbread Maker's Chamber of Industry with the stipulation that it be made public. Sometime during the first part of the 20th century, the recipe came to the attention of Beulah Ledner, a New Orleans resident who had started selling her home-baked cakes during the Great Depression. Not only did she tweak the cake's name to some extent — she felt that a French-style nom de gâteau would play better in a city of Creoles — but she also altered the recipe to some extent by standardizing the number of layers at eight, using chocolate custard rather than buttercream frosting between those layers, and enrobing the frosted cake in fondant.

While Ledner reigned for many years as the undisputed Doberge Queen of New Orleans, she retired in 1946 and sold both bakery and recipe to one Joe Gambino. Joe Gambino's bakery is still in business, baking doberge cake according to that recipe and adding a few more flavors to the lineup. The name doberge cake isn't patented, however, nor is the cake style, so there are numerous other bakeries and grocery stores that also offer this pastry.

How doberge cake is made

The doberge cake is baked in layers, and according to Ledner's own recipe, or at least the one printed in a cookbook published by her daughter, each thin layer is baked separately. In order to reduce the number of pans needed, however, some cooks choose to bake half as many layers as are needed (which would be eight, if you want to stay true to Beulah Ledner's original creation), then cut each one of those in half through the center. When the layers have cooled down, they are sandwiched together with custard filling, which can either be all one flavor or a combination of several different kinds. The cake layers, too, can also be made in more than one flavor.

Once the doberge cake is assembled, it is then coated with a buttercream frosting which can be any flavor that will coordinate with the cake layers and filling(s). As a finishing touch, the cake may then be topped off with a chocolate ganache or encased in a hard fondant that can serve as a sturdy platform for any desired decorations.

Doberge cake comes in many varieties

The original style of doberge cake, which consisted of yellow layers sandwiched and covered with chocolate, is still being made by Joe Gambino's Bakery, but while this business did purchase the rights to the original recipe, it seems to have made at least one significant alteration since 1946. Yes, shrinkflation is everywhere — the cake that once had eight layers is now down to six. Gambino's has added a few more flavors to its lineup, however, including lemon and caramel doberge cakes as well as cakes that combine these two flavors with each other or the chocolate in a 50/50 split. The bakery also makes doberge squares, although these come in single-flavor varieties only.

Other New Orleans bakeries have gotten even more creative with their doberge cakes, however. One establishment, the rather racily-named Debbie Does Doberge (well, racy if you're old enough to remember a certain '70s adult-themed film, that is), has really widened the cake's horizons. Their offerings include such flavors as sweet potato spiced latte, fig white chocolate goat cheese, caramel apple brandy, and a red velvet Elvis doberge cake with peanut butter-banana frosting and filling. For black tie occasions, there's even a chocolate-caramel doberge cake covered with gold-colored fondant. Voodoo Sweets, another New Orleans bakery, makes a few doberge cakes in non-standard flavors such as pina colada, Chunky Monkey, and peanut butter cup. 

When to eat doberge cake

Doberge cake, as its multiple layers and fairly steep price tag (generally $50 and up) would indicate, is something that's typically seen as a special occasion dessert. For many, they are the birthday cake of choice, but birthdays aren't the only celebrations at which you might see one. Doberge wedding cakes are also a thing, and Debbie Does Doberge has an especially charming one: pristine bridal white on the outside, with seven rainbow cake layers within.

Other holidays, too, get the doberge treatment from time to time. Peppermint bark-flavored doberge cake is a natural fit for Christmas, while pumpkin doberge takes the cake as a Halloween or Thanksgiving dessert that feels a lot more festive than plain old pumpkin pie. One kind of doberge cake combines two New Orleans traditions: the king cake doberge, which is typically frosted in Mardi Gras colors of gold, green, and purple and may come complete with a plastic baby on top

Where to find doberge cake

Doberge cake is something that can be found at bakeries throughout the greater New Orleans area, including the aforementioned Gambino's, Debbies, and Voodoo Sweets as well as others such as Haydel's Bakery, Maurice French Pastries, and La Louisiane Bakery. Bakeries in other parts of Louisiana carry this specialty as well, including Sugar Me Sweet Cakes & Confections in Baton Rouge. You will also find doberge cake at grocery stores including Rouses Markets, a regional grocery chain with locations throughout Louisiana and a few in Alabama and Mississippi. Yet another way to try doberge cake would be ordering it off the dessert menu at certain New Orleans restaurants including the French Quarter's New Orleans Vampire Cafe and Café Amelie.

If you are nowhere near New Orleans, you may still purchase a doberge cake via mail order. Goldbelly offers a wide selection of these cakes from both Gambino's and Debbie Does Doberge, while Haydel's ships its own chocolate or lemon doberge cakes to anywhere in the lower 48 states. A website called Creole Food also allows for mail-order purchases of doberge cakes in chocolate, lemon, or a combination of the two flavors.