Philadelphia Butter Cake Is the Ooey, Gooey Dessert of Your Dreams

philly butter cake

Pure, gooey, buttery bliss: that’s the best way to describe Philadelphia butter cake. It starts with a rich, buttery yeast dough, then gets topped with a buttercream mixture thickened with flour and egg. It’s baked to gooey perfection, sliced into bars, then devoured.

If you’ve never heard if it, you’re not alone. Even in its hometown, you mostly find it on the outskirts of the city, in old-school German-style bakeries. But this cake deserves a comeback. Try it yourself and you’ll want to be part of the revival.

Philadelphia Butter Cake

Yield: One 9″ x 13″ cake (15 to 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
  • ⅔ cup all-purpose flour, sifted
  • Instructions

    1. Mix and Heat

    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 to110 F); add the yeast. Once the yeast begins to bubble, whisk in the egg and vanilla.

    2. Knead and Let it Rise

    In a large bowl, sift together the flour and salt. Pour the milk mixture on top, then stir to combine. Knead by hand for 1 or 2 minutes, until the mixture is cohesive and forms 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.

    3. Press into a Pan

    Generously grease the bottom and sides of a 9″ x 13″ 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 to gently deflate the dough.

    4. Prep the Topping

    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.

    5. Cover the Cake

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

    6. Bake

    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 slicing into bars to serve; store well-wrapped leftovers in the refrigerator.

    Then spread the word about this recipe and make the world a better, more buttery place!

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    One Response to “Philadelphia Butter Cake Is the Ooey, Gooey Dessert of Your Dreams”

    1. Jenn L

      If the base and filling is made and put together the night before, could it be kept in the fridge and pulled out and baked the following day?