Red Velvet Doberge Cake With Cheesecake Custard

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For cookbook author Vallery Lomas, baking our annual December cover cake is a cherished family ritual—and even more so this year because she created the recipe.

Red Velvet Doberge Cake With Cheesecake Custard
Photo:

Antonis Achilleos; Prop Stylist: Lydia Pursell; Food Stylist: Emily Nabors Hall

Active Time:
1 hrs 30 mins
Additional Time:
12 hrs
Total Time:
4 hrs 35 mins
Servings:
16 slices

In my family, Christmas officially starts at our mailbox. We have plenty of traditions—decorating the tree, singing carols around the piano—that put everyone in a holiday mood, but the real sign that the season is here is when the December issue of Southern Living arrives.

When I was a kid growing up in Baton Rouge, it was a treat to come home, check the mail, and admire the spectacular cake on the cover. It was not a question of if we would make it but when. Mom and I devised a game plan: There were shopping lists and baking schedules. We never divided the work but acted in tandem—as one team and four hands in the kitchen. Much more than making a cake, we were creating memories and deepening our bond. When I left my hometown and moved to the West Coast for college, those times in the kitchen during the holidays became all the more special. It was our chance to catch up and fill each other in on the happenings in our lives.

Of all the Southern Living December cakes we’ve baked over the years, there’s one that stands out from the others: the Red Velvet-White Chocolate Cheesecake from 2013. Maybe it was the striking appearance of the alternating red-and-white stripes or the sheer height of the five thick layers. My sisters, who rarely join us in the kitchen for our bakeathons, looked on in awe as we prepared the two cheesecake layers and the three vibrant red cake layers and then assembled them into a towering dessert covered in white frosting.

Vallery Lomas and her mother, Diane Johnson Lomas
Vallery Lomas and her mother, Diane Johnson Lomas.

Cedric Angeles; Prop Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller; Hair, Makeup, and Wardrobe: Candace Corey/Zenobia; Food Styling: Bittersweet Confections

We are traditional about Christmas dinner, which means sitting at the large dining table and passing dishes around. There’s turkey, ham, and all the fixings. We always make multiple desserts—my granny’s million dollar cake, sweet potato pie, and (of course) the cover cake. The tallest confection sits on a stand in the middle of the dining table and makes a festive and enticing centerpiece.

When we sat down to enjoy dinner that year, already full of holiday cheer and eggnog, The Temptations’ Christmas album serenaded us with the Motown version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Things started as usual: "Please pass the candied yams." "Please pass the ham." Then my older sister, Lucy, asked me to pass her the cake. The cake?! "I’m starting with cake," she said. It was so impressive that she didn’t want to wait until the end of the meal. So we all followed her lead, and a new tradition was born.

My Red Velvet Doberge Cake is an ode to that memorable dessert—but with a Louisiana accent. This recipe is a twist on a classic New Orleans cake and uses my favorite red velvet recipe that I developed for my cookbook, Life Is What You Bake It. The Cheesecake Custard filling makes it insanely moist and adds a tangy note, and the white chocolate-based frosting is simply divine. Make it for your own celebration, but be warned: It may upstage the rest of the menu.

Red Velvet Doberge Cake With Cheesecake Custard

Antonis Achilleos; Prop Stylist: Lydia Pursell; Food Stylist: Emily Nabors Hall

What's a Doberge Cake?

Pronounced "DOUGH-bosh" by some, this cake originated in New Orleans and is based on the many-tiered Hungarian Dobos torte. It has at least six thin layers, alternating with custard or pudding filling. It’s traditionally filled with both chocolate and lemon custard and then covered with icing—half brown and half yellow, indicating the flavors inside. Local bakeries offer different varieties to order—caramel, strawberry, even cookies and cream.

How To Cut a Cake Layer in Half

Step 1: Place a completely cooled cake layer on a stand or an elevated plate. Use a paring knife to score a line halfway up the side of the cake and all the way around rotating the stand as you go.

Cutting cake layer in half

Antonis Achilleos; Prop Stylist: Lydia Pursell; Food Stylist: Emily Nabors Hall

Step 2: Use a long serrated knife to carefully slice the layer in half along the scored line. A slow sawing motion will prevent the cake from tearing.

cutting a cake layer in half

Antonis Achilleos; Prop Stylist: Lydia Pursell; Food Stylist: Emily Nabors Hall

Step 3: Gently separate the two layers (using a long offset spatula, if desired), and carefully transfer the top cake layer to a piece of parchment paper.

cutting cake layer in half

Antonis Achilleos; Prop Stylist: Lydia Pursell; Food Stylist: Emily Nabors Hall

Ingredients

Cake Layers

  • Baking spray 

  • 3 1/3 cups bleached cake flour

  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

  • 1 1/4 tsp. kosher salt

  • 2 cups canola oil

  • 2 cups granulated sugar

  • 2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature

  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

  • 1 tsp. red liquid food coloring or 1/2 tsp. red food coloring gel

  • 1 1/3 cups whole buttermilk

  • 2 tsp. white vinegar

  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda

White Chocolate Frosting

  • 1 lb. high-quality white chocolate bars (such as Lindt) (from 4 [4.4-oz.] bars), finely chopped (about 2 2/3 cups)

  • 1 1/3 cups powdered sugar

  • 1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, softened

  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

  • 1/8 tsp. kosher salt

Cheesecake Custard

  • 3 large egg yolks, plus 1 large egg, at room temperature

  • 3 Tbsp. cornstarch

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided

  • 2 cups whole milk

  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt

  • 1 1/2 (8-oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened and cut into 1-inch pieces

Directions

  1. Prepare the Cake Layers: Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in center position. Coat 3 (8-inch) round cake pans with baking spray (or coat with a thin layer of softened butter, and dust with flour).

  2. Sift cake flour and cocoa into a large bowl; whisk in salt, and set aside.

  3. Beat oil and sugar in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on medium-high speed until combined, about 20 seconds. Reduce mixer speed to medium, and add eggs and egg yolk, 1 at a time, beating until each is incorporated before adding the next, 1 minute total. Add vanilla and red food coloring; beat until combined.

  4. Reduce mixer speed to low, and gradually add flour mixture to egg mixture in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Use a spatula to scrape down sides and bottom of bowl as needed. (Batter will be very loose.)

  5. Combine vinegar and baking soda in a bowl (it will fizz). Pour into batter; beat on medium speed until just combined, about 10 seconds. Stop mixer; use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl and thoroughly combine the batter. Pour batter evenly into prepared pans (about 2 cups per pan).

  6. Bake in preheated oven until a wooden pick inserted into centers of cakes comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes. Invert onto wire racks; cool completely, 1 hour. (Cooled cakes may be wrapped in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature up to 2 days.)

  7. Using a long serrated knife, cut each Cake Layer in half horizontally to make 6 layers. (If the cake is crumbly when you start to cut it, wrap the layer in plastic, and freeze until chilled.) Trim cut side of each cake half to make it flat and even, reserving trimmings to yield about 1 cup of crumbs. Wrap layers individually in plastic wrap; set aside at room temperature until ready to use. Place crumbs in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet; let stand at room temperature uncovered, until dry, about 12 hours.

  8. Place 1 Cake Layer, cut side up, on a cake stand or platter. Using a small offset spatula, spread about 2/3 cup Cheesecake Custard, leaving a 1/2-inch border around edges. Top with a second layer, cut side up, and another 2/3 cup custard. Continue alternating layers and custard, ending with top Cake Layer, cut side down. Chill, uncovered, until filling is set, about 1 hour.

  9. Meanwhile, prepare the White Chocolate Frosting. Place chocolate in a large heatproof glass bowl; set aside. Fill a medium saucepan with water to a depth of 2 inches. Bring water to a boil over medium-high; then reduce the heat to a simmer over medium-low. Set bowl on top of saucepan, making sure bottom of bowl doesn't touch water. Stir with a heatproof silicone spatula, carefully scraping bottom and sides of bowl, until chocolate has melted, 2 to 3 minutes. (Take care that the water does not boil.)

  10. Remove bowl from pan; remove pan from heat. Stir melted chocolate with spatula until smooth. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until cooled to almost room temperature but still melted and a thermometer registers 89°F to 90°F, 25 to 30 minutes.

  11. Beat powdered sugar, butter, vanilla, and salt in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on high speed until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl. Reduce speed to low; slowly add cooled white chocolate, beating until smooth, 2 minutes. Set frosting aside at room temperature until ready to use.

  12. Using a large offset spatula, spread a thin layer of frosting (about 1 1/2 cups) over top and sides of chilled cake as a crumb coat. Spread remaining (about 2 1/2 cups) frosting over top and sides of chilled cake.

  13. To make a flower pattern on top of cake, drag an offset spatula from center of top of cake toward edge in a slight arc. Rotate cake slightly; repeat to create parallel arcs that cover the top. Lightly press dried cake crumbs around the bottom edge of cake to create a band about 1 1/2 inches tall.

  14. The finished cake can stand at room temperature up to 4 hours or be stored, uncovered, in refrigerator up to 6 hours. Let chilled cake stand at room temperature for 1 hour before slicing and serving.

Cheesecake Custard

Active 15 min. - Total 15 min., plus 2 hours chilling; Makes about 3 1/3 cup

  1. Whisk together egg yolks, egg, cornstarch, and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a large heatproof bowl until lightened in color, 2 to 3 minutes.

  2. Cook milk and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a medium saucepan over medium, whisking occasionally, until milk just begins to boil, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

  3. While constantly whisking egg mixture, slowly drizzle one-third of the hot milk mixture into egg mixture to temper. Slowly pour egg mixture back into milk mixture in pan, whisking constantly. Whisk in vanilla and salt. Return to stove over medium, whisking bottom and inside edges of pan until thickened and just starting to boil, about 4 minutes. Once bubbles start to erupt on surface, cook, whisking constantly, until thick, about 2 minutes.

  4. Remove pan from heat (strain custard, if needed). Add cream cheese to custard; stir until smooth. Transfer to a bowl. Place a piece of plastic wrap on surface of custard. Chill until cold, 2 hours or up to 2 days.

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