doberge cake

lemon and chocolate doberge cakeIf you live in New Orleans, chances are that for some birthday or another, you had a doberge cake, and if you don’t live in New Orleans, you’re wondering what a doberge cake even is. And it’s because doberge cake, with its impressive towering layers and custard filling, is a strictly local affair, a classic favorite for birthdays. It originated with Beulah Ledner, a crafty German-born, New Orleans bakery owner who created her own spin on the Hungarian dobos torte. She changed the sponge cake to butter cake, swapped the buttercream filling for pudding, and used a poured fondant instead of caramel to top the cake’s buttercream frosting. She then changed the name to “doberge” to fit in with the French-influenced New Orleans. Although both Mrs. Ledner and her original bakery are no longer, several local bakeries immortalize her creation with their own take on doberge cake. The cake most commonly comes in chocolate, lemon, and caramel, but the most popular choice is the half-and-half, the best of both worlds, a half-lemon, half-chocolate creation.
airy batterassembling the cakefirst layerI’ve always wanted to make a homemade doberge cake, so I immediately jumped on the opportunity to recreate this New Orleans bakery classic for my sister’s birthday, and not just in a single flavor, but the beloved half-and-half. If I’m going to go there, I reasoned, I might as well go all the way. I scrapped together a few different sources to make a doberge cake the way I’d like it—soft, buttery layers filled with tart lemon curd and rich chocolate pudding, frosted with a lemon buttercream and chocolate buttercream with a glossy poured fondant.
filled and stackedchocolate sidelemon and chocolate doberge cakeMinus a small incident involving the destruction of fondant via over-boiling, the cake was everything I hoped it would be. The cake itself is light yet sturdy, the perfect vehicle for the thick fillings, which to me are really the stars. It’s easy to see why doberge cake is a perennial favorite, New Orleanian or not.cut intolemon sideremains of doberge cake
Lemon and Chocolate Doberge Cake

This makes a half-lemon, half-chocolate doberge cake as pictured. If you prefer an all-lemon or all-chocolate cake, double the desired filling and frosting recipes.

As described in the directions to assemble the cake, I cut each baked cake layer in half to keep the different flavors separate, but traditionally, the cake remains intact. The chocolate pudding and frosting is spread on one side and the lemon on the other. This method makes for a more level cake (which I didn’t get… the chocolate side was a lot taller) and a more stable cake, but be aware that unless you are very precise with your filling and frosting, the lemon and chocolate will run together where they meet, but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

About those circular decorations on the cake–I attempted to be traditional and use a poured fondant, but I kind of killed it by over-boiling. It was crumbly and gritty and certainly not tasty for a poured fondant. My sister saw the abandoned saucepan of hardened chocolate goop and, being a chocoholic, couldn’t bear not to fit a little more chocolate onto the cake. She had the idea to scoop it out with a teaspoon measure to create little mounds to decorate the chocolate side. It was a creative and delicious solution to a fondant disaster. Try the poured fondant (but don’t let it cook so much), but if, like me, you have trouble with it, you can use it to decorate.

One final note–This looks like an overwhelming amount of work for one cake, and admittedly, it’s not exactly last-minute, but breaking it down over two days makes it a lot more manageable. I made the lemon curd, chocolate pudding, and chocolate and lemon buttercreams one day; I baked the cake, attempted to make the fondant icing, and assembled the next day.

Makes a four-layer, 9-inch cake

adapted from Beulah Ledner’s original doberge cake recipe, as published on 

3 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 eggs, separated
1 1/2 sticks ( 3/4 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup whole milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 375° F. Center a rack in the middle of the oven. Grease the bottom of two 9-inch cake pans with butter, and line the bottoms with a round of parchment paper. Butter and flour the parchment and sides of the cake pan. Tap out any excess flour.

In a large bowl, sift together cake flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a medium bowl with a hand mixer, or in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites until they hold stiff peaks.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks, one at a time, and beat until incorporated. Add the lemon juice and vanilla. Add dry ingredients in three batches alternately with milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.

With a spatula, gently fold in stiffly beaten egg whites.

Pour 1/4 of the batter (about 1 1/2 cups) into each pan, spreading evenly over bottom. Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until lightly golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for about 10 minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack to finish cooling completely. Repeat process once more to make four layers.

When the layers have cooled, assemble the cake. Cut each cake layer in half to make identical semicircles. Spread 1/3 of the lemon curd onto one cake half. Spread an equal amount of chocolate pudding onto the other half. Place a second cake half on top of each side. Repeat with remaining cake layers and fillings until the two cake halves are stacked and filled. (You will not use all the chocolate pudding.) Spread chocolate buttercream on top and sides of the chocolate half. Spread lemon buttercream on top and sides of the lemon half. Push the cake halves together. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Store any leftover cake in the fridge.

Rich Chocolate Pudding
adapted from DamGoodSweet

I usually don’t make pudding with nearly as many egg yolks, if I use them at all, but I wanted more of a thick, rich, custardy filling here. Espresso powder helps deepen the flavor of the chocolate, but you can certainly omit it if you like. Plan for leftover pudding; you probably won’t need all of it to fill the cake.

5 large egg yolks, preferably at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon espresso powder, optional
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 ounces semisweet chocolate (preferably 58%-62% cacao), finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into 4 pieces

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder, espresso powder, if using, and salt.

In a medium saucepan, heat the milk until just simmering. Whisking constantly, gradually drizzle the milk, a little at a time, into the egg mixture. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and whisk over medium heat until it thickens, about 3 to 4 minutes. Continue to cook while whisking until the pudding is glossy, smooth, and quite thick, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes longer. Remove from heat. Add the vanilla, chopped chocolate, and butter and whisk until the chocolate and butter are melted and completely incorporated. Transfer the pudding to a medium bowl.

To prevent a skin from forming, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the pudding. Refrigerate until cool, at least 4 hours. (You can speed this up by setting the bowl of pudding over another, larger bowl filled with mostly ice and some cold water. Stir occasionally until cool.) Keep the pudding chilled until you’re ready to fill the cake.

The leftover pudding will keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 days, covered.

Lemon Curd
adapted from Gourmet, April 2001

2 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
Pinch of salt
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, slightly softened and cut into tablespoon pieces

In a small saucepan, whisk together lemon zest and juice, sugar, eggs, and salt. Add butter all at once and whisk constantly over medium heat until curd has thickened enough to hold whisk marks and a few bubbles appear on the surface, about 10 minutes. Strain curd through a sieve into a medium bowl. Cover the bowl and chill in the fridge until you’re ready to fill the cake. Lemon curd can be prepared up to 1 week ahead.

Chocolate Buttercream

1 stick (1/2 cup/ 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Milk or cream, as needed to thin out

In a medium bowl with a hand mixer, cream together the butter and powdered sugar until fluffy. Add the cocoa powder, then the melted chocolate and vanilla. If the frosting is too thick, add milk or cream, a tablespoons at a time, until the frosting is spreadable. Store in the fridge, but let it come to room temperature before you frost the cake.

Lemon Buttercream
adapted from DamGoodSweet

1 stick (1/2 cup/ 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 drops yellow food coloring, if desired

In a medium bowl with a hand mixer, cream together the butter and powdered sugar until fluffy. Add the lemon juice, vanilla, and food coloring and beat until creamy and fully incorporated. You can add more powdered sugar (for a thicker frosting) or more lemon juice or water (for a thinner frosting) until you get it to a spreadable consistency. Store in the fridge, but let it come to room temperature before you frost the cake.

Chocolate Fondant Icing
adapted from Beulah Ledner’s original  recipe, as published on 

I have to give this recipe with a note of caution: it didn’t work for me.  I over-boiled it, so make sure you monitor the boiling icing carefully.

1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 stick (2 tablespoons) butter, softened
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Combine sugars, chocolate, butter, and heavy cream in a medium saucepan. Bring it to a  boil over medium-low heat, then boil about 10 minutes until it thickens. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Beat vigorously with a whisk or a hand mixer until thick enough to spread.


3 responses to “doberge cake

  1. Stephanie! Uncle Michael raved about this cake. Sorry I missed it but I have decided to be a devoted follower.

  2. Thanks, Aunt Chere! I heard y’all had a great time; we’ll have to come visit soon!

  3. Pingback: banana cream pie | nolabake

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