QVC introduced the world to the Diamonique. On Wednesday, March 13, at 5 p.m., the iconic West Chester-based cable shopping channel will introduce another gem: Deborah Streeter-Davitt’s priceless MacDougall’s Irish Victory Cakes.
Buttery, moist and rich, the bundt-shaped Irish Victory Cakes are a popular item at Celtic fairs, including the recent Mid-Winter Scottish & Irish Music Festival. You can also find them in small markets, or purchase them online. The recipe is a secret, handed down through the generations from Streeter-Davitt’s great-grandfather James MacDowell from Belfast. Cakes come in a wide variety of flavors, from just plain butter to tempting little items chock full of chocolate, butterscotch, or marshmallow—and all of them spiked with just a wee bit of whisky.
Demand for Victory Cakes peaks around St. Patrick’s Day, when Streeter-Davitt and a small workforce of friends and relatives band together for marathon baking sessions in a rented kitchen at Paoli Presbyterian Church. There, they turn out nearly a thousand four-inch “minis,” about 150 eight-inch “petite” cakes, and 20 or so of the aptly named 10-inch “mighty” cakes.
It’s a killer production schedule, but with a high-visibility spot on QVC, this St. Paddy’s Day is going to be challenging. And probably equal parts rewarding.
“St. Paddy’s is our Superbowl,” Streeter-Davitt says. “Production gears up over 300 percent to fulfill corporate gifts, inventory in the lovely shops, restaurants and farmers markets that carry our product, and our increased website orders.”
For the QVC campaign, the so-called “head caketress” has partnered with a team of bakers from the Reading area to produce cakes in much larger numbers. Streeter-Davitt says great-grandad’s recipe will remain unchanged, using locally-produced butter, eggs, chocolate and other fresh ingredients.
Streeter-Davitt concocted a new career as a baker a few years ago following a layoff from her job in the financial services industry. Ironically, a connection she made in her old job led to her upcoming QVC debut.
“When I was working in corporate America,” Streeter-Davitt says, “I met this amazing entrepreneur at an area diner. I saw her again shortly after I launched MacDougall’s Irish Victory Cakes, and told her about my new venture. She asked me for a sample and loved it, and through her incredible contacts and savvy she got a MacDougall cake in front of the buyers at QVC’”
Acceptance by the very particular QVC was nothing like a sure thing. Thousands of items are pitched to the QVC producers, but in the end MacDougall’s cakes made the cut—an outcome Streeter-Davitt attributes to the luck of the Irish—with more than a little help from her old corporate colleague. “This amazing lady was on our side. The buyers loved the MacDougall cake and our story, and here we are … on QVC!”
The story is as rich as the cake. “The recipe is my great-granddad’s gold medal-winning butter pound cake from Ireland,” says Streeter-Davitt. “He baked and beautifully decorated cakes for the rich and famous and royalty of the British Isles. Great-granddad sacrificed his fame and accolade to fulfill his dream of bringing his clan to the United States, where he worked in obscurity for his American sponsor in a tiny bakery in Syracuse, N.Y.”
Great-granddad’s cake, Streeter-Davitt says, is all about family, love and perseverance.
Judging by the incredible success of MacDougall’s Irish Victory Cakes, the tradition lives on.