On Doberge Cake

You can’t talk about Dobos torte without digressing for at least a short while to Doberge cake. Pronounced Doh-BARE-zh cake, it’s a specialty of New Orleans, and is thought by many to be an Americanized version of Dobos torte. In fact I recall once seeing Emeril Lagasse talk about it on TV. His claim was that Dobos torte was brought to New Orleans by Hungarian immigrants (I think he also claimed that “dobos” was Hungarian for drum, which is erroneous, but a common misconception about Dobos torte).

I’m not from New Orleans, but I’m not aware of it being dominantly Hungarian. More than that, as far as I know doberge cake was invented by a woman by the name of Beulah Ledner, a well-known baker in New Orleans in the middle of the last century. That name is German, unless I miss my guess. But Emeril wasn’t wrong in as far as Ledner herself claimed that she used Dobos torte as a starting point for creating doberge cake. Like Dobos torte, it also has many layers.

However that’s pretty much where the similarity ends. Where Dobos tortes have seven-to-twelve layers, doberge cakes have four-to-six. Where Dobos tortes employ chocolate buttercream between the layers, doberge cakes have a custard filling, often chocolate but also vanilla or lemon. Where Dobos tortes have caramel on the top, doberge cakes are covered with a thin layer of poured fondant which is usually decorated. Also, I think doberge cake layers are sliced versus baked individually. So while doberge cakes might have sprung from Dobos torte, they really aren’t the same animal.

My question is where the name “doberge” came from. The word sounds vaguely French, but I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to what it means. I think the word “auberge” means “inn”, but that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Anyone care to help me out on this?

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11 Responses to On Doberge Cake

  1. Laura says:

    Some accounts state that Beulah Frenchified the name Dobos to make her dessert marketable in New Orleans. (see http://www.myneworleans.com/New-Orleans-Magazine/June-2008/Sweet-Story/)
    This same story indicates that Beulah’s maiden name was Levy and she was born in Louisiana.
    Not to digress, but Dobos Torte was/is popular amongst Jews from Hungary and other parts of Eastern Europe. In fact, it is a whole genre of dessert. Tzipporah Kreizman’s cookbook Delights of the Jewish Kitchen has an entire chapter of these cakes. Some cakes are made with pastry layers, some with sponge, and the frostings/fillings vary. A have a friend whose mother (Ukranian/Hungarian?) makes it with cookie-like layers.

  2. Joe! popped in today to learn your newest pastry lesson and thought I gone to the wrong blog. Did you remodel? Sure hope this is still my old Joe. Been a fan a long time. You do a most excellent job. Yes, I have used you recipes and techniques, which have
    turned out almost like yours. My family enjoys all the goodies that I bake from , as they say “Joe the baker guy. That is a big compliment. Thank you for being here.

    • joepastry says:

      It’s a great compliment indeed! And it’s still the same old me, just in trendier clothes!

  3. I’m wondering if doberge is indeed just d’ auberge spelled by somebody who didn’t spell very well and knew no French. Though my French is rusty and was never good, I think that would be “from the inn,” or “of the inn,” and in English mean “specialty of the inn.” If this is so, the cake wouldn’t have anything to do with Dobos at all.

    My understanding is that New Orleans has a large Italian community, but I never heard of a significant Hungarian one. I’m betting the cake was originally French.

    • joepastry says:

      Thanks Nancy! You know, I had similar suspicions, that it might be a sort of “house specialty” cake or something like that. Hmmm….

  4. Christi says:

    Thank you so much for addressing this issue, Mr Pastry!!

  5. telesma says:

    New Orleans is a port city and has had immigrants from all over the world, but what the first respondent said about it being a Jewish delicacy rings true to this local because there is a significant European Jewish population in New Orleans. No doubt some of them are of Hungarian descent. There is a small Hungarian population here, and even an honorary Hungarian consulate, but I suspect the Jewish angle is more than likely correct.

  6. joepastry says:

    Thank you for the great information, Heather! I love these sorts of details. Now I know how to talk about it the next time I’m in Louisiana!

    Cheers,

    - Joe

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