First, There Is No Debbie

The multilayered and surprising story behind Debbie Does Doberge is a sweet one.

Poppy Tooker has spent her life devoted to the cultural essence that food brings to Louisiana, a topic she explores weekly on her NPR-affiliated radio show, Louisiana Eats! From farmers markets to the homes and restaurants where our culinary traditions are revered and renewed, Poppy lends the voice of an insider to interested readers everywhere.

Doberge? Dobosh? How do you say it?

Charlotte McGehee of Debbie Does Doberge says “dobosh,” and in her hands it’s experiencing quite a renaissance.

The New Orleans cake originated at Beulah Ledner’s small Uptown bakery in the 1930s, after Ledner adapted a family recipe for Hungarian Dobos Torte to better suit New Orleans’ climate. Substituting pudding for the buttercream filling, she finished the cake with a thin layer of buttercream topped with poured fondant.
Citing New Orleans’ love for everything French, she named her new version Doberge. Ledner later sold the recipe and the name to Joe Gambino, who continues to make the traditional lemon and chocolate flavors today.

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McGehee’s passion ignited at a summer job at Ambrosia Bakery in Baton Rouge.

“Most people there avoided the job of stacking Doberge layers, but I discovered I loved the process,” she recalled.

Several years later, over late-night drinks at the Milan Lounge, McGehee impulsively shared her passion for Doberge with Amanda Toups, who insisted a business was in order and coined the unforgettable name Debbie Does Doberge. At the time, the two were employed at the Wine Institute of New Orleans, where owner Bryan Burkey welcomed McGehee’s innovative Doberge flavor experiments. Soon, orders were pouring in.

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The Mid-City “craft cocktail dive bar” 12 Mile Limit provided the next home for the growing business.

“It was a natural fit,” owner T. Cole Newton said. “Charlotte was experimenting with petit fours she dubbed ‘Dobites.’ We offered shots with cake chasers that were quite popular — like, a shot of tequila with a lime Dobite.”

With no formal baker’s training, McGehee delved deeply into what she calls armchair food science.

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“Doberge is so labor intensive. Traditionally, the sponge cake must be sliced by hand, layer by layer, as each is filled with pudding. As the cake is stacked, it gets very wiggly,” she cautioned. Seven layers of cake and six layers of pudding are iced with buttercream before the poured fondant finish.

Doberge became McGehee’s artistic medium, with unique variations like bright pink Nectar Cream, Sweet Potato Spiced Latte, Café Brulot, White Chocolate, Fig and Goat Cheese, and the engineering marvel “Rainbow Surprise.” All seven colors of the rainbow appear encased in pearly white almond fondant in a wedding cake favorite. In total, McGehee estimates she has created more than 70 different flavor combinations, including “boozy” versions with high proof fillings.

In 2016, McGehee and partner Charles Mary IV opened Bakery Bar in the Lower Garden District.

“I never wanted a traditional bakery,” she insisted. “I love the restaurant/bar life. Instead of baking birthday cakes and sending them out, I wanted the parties right here at the bakery!”

And what a party it’s become! The everchanging cocktail menu by Vincent Heitz and Joseph Witkowski is designed to pair with Bakery Bar’s sweet and savory offerings, while Executive Chef Lydia Solano’s inventive brunch and dinner menus combine Latin American and Creole influences in unexpected ways. Moules mariniere with banana leaves and perfectly executed oxtail croquettes share the menu with bar fare like burgers and dumpster fries.

As longtime veterans of the hospitality industry, McGehee and Mary have very specific ideas about how to maintain a sustainable workplace for their loyal staff.

“From dishwasher to Debbie, we offer salaried positions paying a livable wage including paid sick leave, vacations and health insurance options,” Mary said.

That formula has allowed for expansion. In Kenner, the duo’s newest location, “Debbie on the Levee,” includes a commissary bakery that has increased production capabilities. McGehee continues to innovate, crafting stickless cake pops she laughingly calls, “Salty Balls,” and oversized cookies that are transformed into decadent sandwiches deservingly known as “Doozies.” McGehee’s genius for flavor shines with combinations like pistachio and dried cherry cookies filled with cherry buttercream and finished with a rolled edge of crushed, roasted pistachios.

Through the online marketplace Goldbelly, Debbie Does Doberge cakes are now available nationwide — offering a sweet way to share a New Orleans culinary treasure.


Catch Poppy Tooker on her radio show, “Louisiana Eats!” Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Mondays at 8 p.m. on WWNO 89.9 FM.


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