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 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


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