Food & Cooking Blog

Make This Hard-to-Find Philadelphia Butter Cake At Home

Pure buttery bliss. That's the best way to describe this Philadelphia butter cake recipe. 

Philadelphia butter cake

This is a "lost" regional recipe that deserves to be found and enjoyed!

These days, this Philadelphia butter cake is something of a "lost" dessert: Even in the city it hails from, it's mostly found on the outskirts of town, in old-school German-style bakeries. But this extra-special cake deserves to make a comeback and earn a spot in your recipe repertoire.

Philadelphia butter cake

Photos via CakeSpy

What is Philadelphia butter cake?

Made with a rich, buttery yeast dough as the base, Philadelphia butter cake is topped with a flour and egg–thickened buttercream mixture, then baked to gooey perfection. Sliced into bars to serve, it's the perfect treat to enjoy over coffee with a friend.

Butter cake

Philadelphia butter cake

Makes one 9-by-13-inch cake (15-20 bars) 

For the base:

  • ½ cup milk
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened 
  • 1 packet (¼ ounce) active dry yeast
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt 

For the topping:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt 
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour, sifted


Step 1:

In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the milk, sugar and butter on low heat until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and let cool to lukewarm (105-110 F); add the yeast. Once the yeast begins to bubble, whisk in the egg and vanilla. 

Step 2: 

In a large bowl, sift together the flour and salt. Pour the milk mixture on top, and then stir to combine. Knead by hand for 1-2 minutes, or until the mixture is cohesive. It will be an easy-to-handle dough. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover and let rise for about 1 hour, or until doubled in size. 

Dough for butter cake

Step 3: 

Gently deflate the dough. Generously grease the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch Pyrex-style baking pan. Turn the dough into the prepared pan, and pat or press it into the bottom and slightly up the sides (about a third or half way) of the pan. 

Press the dough into the pan

Step 4: 

Prepare the topping/filling. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until smooth, about 2 minutes on high speed. Add the sugar, and continue mixing until fully combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating completely before proceeding. Stir in the vanilla and milk. Add the flour last, mixing on low speed only until incorporated. The mixture will resemble a thick buttercream.

Step 5:

Spread the mixture evenly on top of the prepared crust, then let the unbaked cake sit in the pan for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 F. 

Butter cake topping

Step 6: 

Bake the cake for about 30 minutes, rotating after 15 minutes, or until the edges are browned but the center is still gooey. It will solidify further as it cools. Let the cake cool completely before serving in sliced bars; store well-wrapped leftovers in the refrigerator. 

Sliced butter cake



Susan Wallick

I love gooey cake!! I do not have a stand mixer, can the mixing be done in a food processor?


I’ve never done it that way, susan. My only concern is that creaming the butter might not be quite the same. Personally I might do it by hand or with a hand mixer.

Janis S. TheCookieMomster

I have never heard of this cake….it looks interesting….reminds me of a REALLY gooey, Gooey Butter Cake. Thanks Jessie! 🙂


Thank you! It really is a great cake.

Helen S.

How can this be made gluten free?


Hi Helen, I have never tried it gluten-free but my suggestion would be to use a gluten-free flour mix (such as cup for cup or your favorite gf cake flour mix) for the base, and then to use starch for the top part. Those are just starting points – I have not done it though so please let me know if you try something!

Cathy Reed

I am so excited to try this recipe! I love to bake, however working in corporate America for the past 30 years has given me limited time. I recently lost my job of 13 1/2 years to budget cuts, not the greatest news, but now I am revisiting the passions in life I have ignored for way to long. This recipe reminds me of something my Mamaw would make in her kitchen. Can’t wait to try!


Hi Cathy, I think that baking can be very therapeutic and it sounds like it’s a good time for you to reconnect to some of your passions. I hope you enjoy this cake!


You have no idea how excited I am to make this! I grew up in Philly (and now live in NC) and this was one of my all time fav desserts that my mom bought at the German bakery up the street from our house. I tried to explain it recently to my husband (who is from Chicago) and he had no idea what I was talking about. I plan on making the cake and taking it to share at our church group this weekend. Boy, are they in for a treat! Thank you so much for bringing such a sweet memory of my childhood to life!


Hi Patty! I discovered this cake while living in Philadelphia and now I Live in NC, so we have some things in common! I usually say it’s sort of like gooey butter cake from st louis, but not quite. 🙂

I hope you enjoy it and that it brings back memories!

Amy L

I lived in Philly for 4 months right out of college. Someone brought a buttercake into the office, and I was hooked. Thanks for the recipe! I ‘m going to try it this month.


I have never tasted it but it promises a lot of flavour! Thank you so much: will do for a weekend !

Judy Jones

Gooey butter cake can be found in most bakeries and restaurants in St. Louis, where it is still alive and well! In fact St. Louis claims it as their own creation.


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