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

Instructions

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 salt, 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

 

30 Comments

Susan Wallick

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

Reply
cakespy

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.

Reply
Deborah

You can buy a hand held mixer for around $20. Amazon is a good source. The blade in the processor does yield the same results as a whisk/beater in a stand mixer. Hope this helps.

Reply
Deborah

***The blade in the processor does NOT yield the same results

Reply
Janis S. TheCookieMomster

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

Reply
cakespy

Thank you! It really is a great cake.

Reply
Helen S.

How can this be made gluten free?

Reply
cakespy

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!

Reply
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!

Reply
cakespy

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!

Reply
Patty

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!

Reply
cakespy

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!

Reply
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.

Reply
2pots2cook

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

Reply
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.

Reply
deborah kaempf

I’ve died and gone to heaven… oh wait, I must make this Butter Cake first!
thank you, for this recipe… I haven’t had a butter cake since I moved from Phila 20 years ago
Big Hugs!!!

Reply
deborah kaempf

oh me, oh my
I made it, I ate it, I love it!
am going to make it in 2 smaller pans when I make it next,
so that I can share one with a friend
(we always bought a square one @ the German bakery)
once again, many thanks for this delicious regional recipe!
deborah 🙂

Reply
Jessie Oleson Moore

So glad to hear that!! If making it in 2 smaller pans just watch the cook time, as it will likely be shorter.

Reply
Charlene C

Just responding to the others. This is not the same as a “Gooey Cake”. Slightly different. This is the Philly version. Cannot wait to try. Hope my mom & gram will be proud

Reply
Tab Musci

I have never heard of this cake but it certainly looks scrumptious! I am so glad today is Friday so I can make it tomorrow! Thank you for being so kind to post the recipes and the photos.

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Sherry Howerton

I agree with all the other commenters. It sounds fabulously delicious and I would like to make it this very minute. The only thing holding me up is I do not currently have 9 x 13 Pyrex style glass pan. Would this recipe work using a standard metal 9 x 13 cake pan?
Thank you for sharing this exciting recipe

Reply
Jessie Oleson Moore

Hi Sherry: I can’t answer with 100 percent certainty because I have not tried it in a metal cake pan. But I see no issue with using the same sized metal pan. However, what you’ll need to really be cautious about is baking time. Often I find that darker pans can cook quicker, especially on the bottom. I like the glass pan because i can see how brown the bottom is! Personally I find a glass pan of that size very handy 🙂

Reply
Verley

Could you give the measurement of the yeast in teaspoons please? I don’t know how much yeast is in a packet and don’t have a scale to weigh it. Thanks

Reply
Melissa

The strip contains three packets; each packet in the strip is considered one package. Each package contains 1/4 oz. or 2 1/4 teaspoons of yeast. This is approximately 7 grams, or 11 ml.May 4, 2014

I Googled it. 🙂

Reply
Patti Phillipi

Yeast packets = 2 1/4 teaspoons

Reply
Barbara Conrad

I lived outside Phili for 3 years. There was a bakery in town that made this cake. I was pregnant with my 3rd child. Discovered this cake. Wow. Have been looking for it ever since. Thanks.

Reply
joyce grasso

I can’t have wheat, but I am able to tolerate spelt flour. It is a lighter than wheat, and not as much gluten. I’m going to try this for my butter loving friend. I think I might adjust the wet to dry mix a little bit. Can’t wait to give it a try! Has anyone baked this yummy cake yet?

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Theresa Pinder

Wow! Finally BUTTER CAKE. My sister worked at Finks bakery on Spencer street in the Olney section of Philadelphia many, many, many years ago. She made those cakes and on saturdays she would hide one for the family because on saturdays what ever wasn’t sold went home with the workers. My sister is very sick and has been for many years and she doesn’t recall how to make this cake. I am so happy you have the recipe. Thank you for sharing it. Some places still make this cake but it’s hard to find. Now I can make it at home.

Reply
Vanessa

On the second part for the filling, it doesn’t say when to incorporate the salt, so I accidentally baked without the salt added as I forgot to add it. I had all ingredients set out and realized after it didn’t list when to add the salt. Came out amazing though!!!

Reply
Pat McGlinn

The cake is delicious but it wasn’t gooey, even though I cut the bake time. Can you tell me why this is happening.

Reply

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