The annual reminder was just around the corner, yes, August 7th would soon be here. Another year older, another year fatter and another year happier.
I was asked what kind of cake do I want for my birthday, “better than last year,” I replied, since last year for my birthday I had my lingual tonsils removed -- so no cake. But this year would have to be a special cake, I had to make up for last year’s absence of cakey goodness. So the search began...
As I sometimes do, I scrolled through Facebook looking for anything about baking when I saw a post about the Hungarian confectioner Jozsef C. Dobos and his Dobos torte. His five-layer pastry was introduced during an Exhibition in Budapest in 1885. The torte was made of sponge cake, buttercream and caramel. It quickly became popular because of it’s unique appearance and durability to hold up with limited cooling means (lack of refrigeration). Mr. Dobos torte was the inspiration for the Doberge Cake made famous in New Orleans by Beulah Ledner.
Beulah Ledner ?? … who is Beulah Ledner you ask? She is the lady who originated the Doberge Cake and it all started with a lemon meringue pie.
I needed to find a copy of the original Doberge Cake recipe. In my research, I discovered Beulah’s daughter Maxine Wolchansky published a cookbook of Beulah’s recipes. The cookbook entitled, Let’s Bake with Beulah: A legendary New Orleans Lady, was printed in 1987. What luck, I thought - her original recipe. Now - just to get my hand on the book. The cookbook was out of print so I checked with our local and state library, hoping a copy was available. The State Library of Louisiana had access to a couple of copies so I made my request and waited and waited and waited. Finally...the day had come - the cookbook arrived at my local library.
The story of Beulah’s success and how she came to create the Doberge cake is of one of survival during the depression. Beulah’s husband Charles Ledner, operated a furniture business that in 1931 faced declining sales. For years, Beulah friends enjoyed her baked goods especially Lemon Meringue Pies and it was at their urging Beulah opened the Mrs. Charles Ledner Superior Home Baking Company in 1931 to supplement the family income.
Word spread of Beulah’s extraordinary baking talents.
Beulah had an idea to change the original recipe of the Dobos Torte from thin layers of sponge cake to butter cake and from buttercream to custard filling. The changes in the recipe would make the cake more suitable for the French- New Orleans pallette. The change in recipe would require a change in name so the Hungarian Dobos Torte became the Doberge cake.
It was not unusual for Beulah to use a neighbor’s oven as well as her own to get out the increasing number of orders. As her business grew, so did the need for a larger location. In 1937, after the passing of her mother, Beulah relocated again. She operated in this new location on S. Clairborne Avenue until at age 52, when Beulah suffered a heart attack. Beulah was advised to close her business. She sold the bakery, name and recipes to Joe Gambino under the condition she could not reopen in Orleans Parish for 5 years.
Beulah was miserable, as you know a baker’s gotta bake. In 1948 she opened Beulah Lender, Inc. in Jefferson Parish and stayed there until sadly her beloved Charles died in 1952. By this time Beulah was selling wholesale and had expanded to frozen cakes. Beulah’s son, now an Architect, suggested he design and build a place large enough where she could mass produce cakes using her recipes. So in 1970, after nearly 40 years, Beulah Ledner, Inc had a true home.
Beulah worked until her retirement on Mother’s Day in 1981 at the age of 87. She sold the business to a family who would continue the traditions she started years ago. The new owners said they felt Beulah was still around, smiling, nodding her head and saying, Let’em eat cake.
I used Beulah's recipe to make the Doberge Cake for my birthday. It had 8 thin layers, chocolate custard, chocolate buttercream and finished with a pour-able chocolate fudge icing. It was also was made with respect, patience and lots and lots of love.