Parents Need to Eat Too

My Contribution to Superbowl Mania: Philadelphia German Butter Cake

My Contribution to Superbowl Mania: Philadelphia German Butter Cake

There are a few things I don’t like to eat (well, more than a few), and most of them center around dairy products: Yogurt. Most cheeses. Sour cream. Plain milk. You get the picture. If it’s too creamy, too tangy, too unctuous, I’ll put my hand over my plate and say No, thanks. S, on the other hand, is a dairy farmer’s dream: he can’t get enough of the stuff. Perhaps this explains his high cholesterol.

When S first discovered my love of baking, he eagerly described to me a delicacy of his south Jersey childhood, a treat his father introduced to him called Philadelphia German Butter Cake. I’d never heard of it, which surprised me—I’m a wee bit vain about my knowledge of regional food specialties, at least in the northeast—but S made it out to be something of a touchstone for him, the food item that encapsulated memories of his youth, but one he hadn’t tasted in decades. A Madeleine, a Rosebud. Dare I say it: a Holy Grail.

I did some research and found a recipe online, and baked it as a gift for our first Hanukkah together. During the preparation I became distraught more than once, convinced that either the recipe was wrong or I’d made some horrible mistake. The cake never seemed to bake through; the top layer was a pretty golden brown but even the slightest movement left it shaking and rippling like loose jello. When the edges were on the verge of burning I pulled it from the oven and left it to cool. Twenty minutes later I returned and nearly cried: the center had collapsed entirely, like a soufflé that’s been banged on a counter. When I presented it to S, it was more to show him that I’d tried, not because I thought he’d actually like it.

The man nearly died with happiness. Who knew—this is exactly what a Philadelphia German Butter Cake is supposed to look like. Eagerly, he cut into it. A great rush of buttery goo oozed out from the wound. I was appalled; S was thrilled.

He ate enthusiastically that December, polishing off an entire 9 x 13 cake in a matter of days. I declined to taste it—it looked a little too much like bodily fluids to me, and besides, if it turned out I liked it that wouldn’t exactly be a good thing anyway. I’d only eat it, and trust me, this is devastatingly fattening. It’s called BUTTER CAKE, for crying out loud. After that happy Hanukkah, S and I agreed this particular treat should be reserved for only the most special occasions.

The Eagles making the Superbowl after a 24-year drought surely counts as such an occasion. S doesn’t watch much sports, and had only followed the team’s march to victory through his brother’s excitement, but when an epochal event like this happens, you just can’t pass it by. As I type S is driving down to his brother’s in south Jersey, Butter Cake on the seat beside him. The plan is to watch the game at the local pub, along with thousands of other eager, on-their-way-to-drunk fans, eat chicken wings, and gorge on Butter Cake.

I figure, if I only have to bake it once every 24 years, that’s fine with me.

Last night S had to “sample” the cake, to make sure it was good enough to take down to its Land of Origin. He started out eating like a regular human, with a decent-sized forkful…

…but once he got a taste of that gooey, disgusting cake, he was a goner.

Philadelphia German Butter Cake

[I found the same recipe on at least a dozen sites, so I don’t know who deserves the credit, exactly…]

Serves 10-12

For the Cake:

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup vegetable shortening (not butter flavored)

¼ t. salt

1 large egg

1 envelope active dry yeast [I used 2 t. SAF instant yeast]

½ cup warm milk [110 degrees, if you’re using active dry yeast & have a thermometer]

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 T. pure vanilla extract

For the Topping:

½ lb unsalted butter (2 sticks)

2/3 cup flour

2 cups extra finely granulated sugar [I put 2 c. sugar in my food processor and whiz it around for a few seconds]

2 large eggs

4-5 T. milk

Make dough:

If using active dry yeast, dissolve in warm milk and set aside to proof. [If using instant yeast, skip this step.]

With a mixer, combine sugar, shortening, and salt. Add egg and beat 1 minute. Add flour, then milk/yeast mixture and vanilla to sugar mix. [If you’re using instant yeast, combine it with the flour first.] Mix 3 minutes with dough hook or by hand.

Turn dough out onto floured board and knead 1 minute. Put into a lightly greased bowl, turning to coat dough. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise for 1 hour or until doubled in bulk.

Meanwhile prepare the topping:

Cream butter. Stir together flour and sugar. Gradually beat sugar/flour mixture into butter. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add milk by teaspoonful to bring the mixture to an easy spreading consistency. Do not make it too runny.

When dough has doubled in size:

Preheat oven to 375.

Decide if you’ll be using two well-greased 8-inch square pans, or one 9×13-inch pan [I use one big one]. If using two pans, divide dough in half. Roll or pat dough to fit bottom of pan(s). Crimp edges half way up the pan to hold the topping.

Prick dough well with a fork to prevent bubbling.

Put topping on cake, and spread over the dough. Let cake rest for 20 minutes.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until done. Do not overbake: topping should be crusty but gooey.

Let the cake cool before cutting. The center will sink considerably—don’t be alarmed; according to S this is perfectly normal.

This Post Has 77 Comments

  1. Mmmm that does look just right! When i was a kid growing up in Philly our neighborhood bakey was German. My buddies and I would all chip in to get a couple of these cakes and eat them with 1/2 gals of ice tea on summer mornings. 1000x tastier than a tastycake.

  2. Gaetano, please tell me you stopped gorging on these cakes at some point! I can't imagine the human heart could take so much butter for very long.

  3. Debbie,

    I tried out your recipe and ate about 1/2 the cake. That's the first bite I've had since the 70's.

    It tasted just like the version I ate, way back when, at Scherrer's Bakery.

  4. Hey, that's great, Gaetano! So glad I could give you a little piece of your youth. Now do me a favor, and don't go eating the other half any time soon–your arteries need a break.

  5. can't believe it this is the recipe that looks just like stocks in philly I moved to DE. and have been googling for months thank you can't wait to bake miss fishtown

  6. So glad I could help, Lorraine! Hope it turns out the way you expected.

  7. This was my favorite cake growing up in Philly. A bakery on the corner of Lawrence St & Girard Ave made it only on week ends. It finally closed after all these years.
    There is a bakery in Riverside NJ that still makes this but the baker refused to share the recipe with me.
    Thanks for this.
    Patrick

  8. Thank you Debbie for the pictures! This looks exactly like the Philadelphia butter cake we would buy from the Daleville "branch" of the Kaltenbach Bakery, Scranton, PA. I plan to make it this coming week for Saturday breakfast when my sister comes this weekend. She will be blown away with the memory!I've looked for the recipe before but wasn't sure it was the right one until I saw your blog with the pictures. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Oh my gosh….finally the real thing. I baked a "buttercake" from the food tv network and it looked like the real thing but was far from the real taste and ooziness. Hopefully yours will be IT. thanks so much….and I'll be back to let you know. Mare from Maine and Bucks Cty

  10. Good luck, Mare! Hope this is the one.

  11. My hopes are high, now that i've finally stumbled upon this recipe. As a kid in Philly my grandmother would take me to the bakery when i was visiting. We would buy a butter cake. I loved it!

  12. Made your recipe, and its very good. The topping has a kind of microscopic bubble, marshmallowy texture. The yeast cake stays soft and nice even til the I was wondering how it would taste if I used buttermilk in the topping. My thought is "ohhhh yummmm!"

  13. So glad you liked it, KK! Thanks for stopping back to let me know. If you do try buttermilk, I'd love to hear about it.

  14. Oh my goodness THANK YOU! I was raised in a small suburb of Philly called Drexel Hill in Upper Darby. Just about every Sunday after church my mom would take me to a place in Havertown on Township Line called the Yummy Bakery ( we always called it YumYum Bake Shop) for breakfast and to pick up a delicious buttercake!
    I have searched and searched and made about 4 different recipes I found online, none of which turned out to be right, but when I saw your photos, and ready your desciption I knew THIS HAD TO BE THE RIGHT ONE!
    I immediately printed this out and am in the process of making it right now. Just waiting for the dough to finish rising.
    I am hoping I finally got this right because I live in South East Texas now, and there simply aren't any corner bakeries, and certainly not one has heard of a buttercake.
    The only question I have is do you grease the pan? You didn't mention whether the pan was greased or ungreased in the directions. I am likely gonna give a light coat of nonstick spray just because I don't want another tragety. But thank you so much for posting and I hope it comes out just like the ooey gooey buttery sweet delight I remember from home!

    1. CastawayKay, I’m from Havertown and grew up with Yummy buttercakes too! I haven’t tried the recipe yet – did it turn out the way you remembered? I think I’ll be making this tomorrow. Unfortunately, Yummy closed a few years ago so I won’t be able to buy one to compare.

    2. Castaway Kay, somewhere in the directions, right after the comment about letting the dough rise, she mentions pattinf dough into well-greased pans – either two 8″ ones, or one,13×9″ one. Hope this helps.

    3. Hello Castaway Kay, When I saw your post my heart kinda skipped a beat. I was a baker at the Yummy Bake Shop for two years in the early 80’s. Baked thousands of these wonderful butter cakes! My kids and grandkids always look forward to me making them during the holidays. Glad to hear of a satisfied customer! Enjoy.

  15. I just found this – and my childhood memories of this cake are very similar to those of the other posters. I *know* I shouldn't make this, because then I'll eat it – probably all of it – but it has been so many years. My parents are gone, but this will bring back memories of Sunday mornings after Mass. Thanks for posting this!

  16. CastawayKay, I'm pretty sure I gave the pan a spritz with nonstick spray–it's nearly automatic when I'm baking. But it's been a while and I honestly don't remember! Did yours work out ok?

    DeborahAnne, thank you so much! I'm thrilled to think this recipe is something that has emotional resonance for so many people.

  17. Actually, CastawayKay, I just re-read the instructions. It does say to use a "well-greased" pan! Hope yours came out ok.

  18. My family still orders butter cake from the Mayfair Bakery in Philly so we can pick them up as we as passing by on our way up and down the east coast. There is nothing like it – and it is not easy to find! I just did a visit to Philly and took a food tour, and the guide had no idea what I was talking about, and a bakery we stopped at could not make it despite numerous attempts. Can’t wait to try this recipe – it looks just like the ones we get! Thank you!

  19. My search is over!Have been trying for years to find this recipe. I have the fondest memories of devouring this gooey dessert when the family had Sunday breakfast together. If you didn’t pre-order or weren’t first in line at Marzel’s you faced disappointment. This cake was sold out in one hour.

    I just began working at a new bakery and can’t wait to offer this delight to our customers. Who knows, Fishtown may be resurrected in Goshen, NY.

  20. Did you have to compare it to “bodily fluids”? A little dramatic, too refusing to even taste it.

  21. Oh. My. God. I have been searching for a butter cake recipe for a while now – I cannot wait to try yours out! My mouth is watering just thinking about it. 🙂 Thanks!!!

  22. My father was a German baker in Bucks County near Philadelphia and made this. Haven’t had it in over 40 years. I’ve been looking for this recipe for ages. This looks exactly like it, can’t wait to make it and bring back great memories. Thanks so much.

    1. Grew up with this cake from Brodbecks (sp) in Penndel Pa.

  23. It’s not the butter that’ll kill you, it’s the sugar, flour & shortening. I would use all butter & try a gluten-free coconut flour mixture. Unfortunately, there is no powdered sugar substitute that’s low carb. I’ll just have to have a tiny piece…..!

    1. You can use palm sugar to get a natural sugar with a low glycemic index. I have not baked much else but banana bread with it yet though.

  24. Yori’s bakery in West Chester, PA, makes authentic, to die for, German Butter Cake. Just finished the one we bought while our daughter was here last week.

  25. I made this for my son’s 10th birthday cake… (this is his FAVORITE). The gooey topping was perfect but the cake itself tasted too much like “yeast” kind of had a pizza crust kind of smell. What do you think I did wrong? I am going to try again with less yeast. Also, here in Philly the bakery we get them from they seem to make their cake bottom with Danish dough. Do you think I could make it with some other kind of dough? Cookie dough? Just a thought! Thanks for the receipe!!! The topping was PERFECT!

    1. Lori, my understanding is that a yeasty smell/taste comes from either using too much yeast, or letting the dough proof (rise) too long or in too warm a spot. Maybe next time try a long, cool rise instead.

  26. in maine now for many years–originally from Huntington Valley Pa–grew up eating butter cake from a bakery on Huntington Pike, Southampton. love the looks of your cake -i am baking it now!

  27. Is a “t” a teaspoon, and a “T” a tablespoon?

    Just the pictures take me back to Philly about sixty years ago.

    1. Yes, Donald, t = teaspoon; T = tablespoon. Glad I was able to take you back!

  28. I never had this as a child but ran across it at Danish Bakers in Rockledge as a young adult. I’ve tried a bunch of recipes over the years, from Paula’s “Gooey Butter Cake” to Deb Perelman’s “St. Louis Butter Cake” (Smitten Kitchen) trying to replicate it since I now live in places either 200 or 500 miles away. Nothing was right. I found this recipe here long ago and have been waiting for just the right audience to try it out, because I think it’s “the one”! I think I’ll try it side-by-side in a taste test my next time in Phila. at 4th of July! THANK YOU for putting this up. I’ll come back with real evaluations of each… you know- the old “compare/contrast”. I can’t wait!

  29. Love this but I use this recipe for the bottom:

    Bottom layer:

    2 cups flour
    1 1/2 cup sugar
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1 egg
    1/2 cup butter (melted)
    2 tablespoons whole milk

    Its a more doughy, less bread like bottom.

    1. Robin,
      Did you let yours set for 20 mins also like the recipe above, or is that because the one above is bread-dough?

  30. I have not tried this version yet, but look forward to doing so. I live din Scranton, PA, in the South Side for almost 20 years, and I fell in love with a German bakery called Kaltenbach’s. That is the only place I have ever known Philadelphia Butter cakes to be sold, so I DO know what one is. That bakery is long since closed, but fond memories of it shall forever be in my mind. I shall let you know how it goes, once I make this. Thank you for having it on your site!

    Emma
    Anderson, SC

  31. Can anyone tell me if this recipe matches the butter cake made be the Fourtown Bakery?

  32. I use to buy butter cake from MacMillians bakery in Haddon Twp. I was born in Philadelphia and apparently my family kept this tasty treat a secret! Unfortunately I just made one using a different recipe from Just A Pinch and am very disappointed . The center never browned while the cake was just getting ready to burn 🙁 Looking forward to making this one!! Thanks !

    1. Sandy, do you remember a bakery (like , WAY back in the day) on the White Horse Pike in Somerdale called Muller’s? They used to sell fabulous butter cakes and I’m wondering if this is the one. Been searching for ages! Btw, MacMillan’s = Best. Cream. Doughnuts. Ever.
      lol
      And thank you for finding this, Debbie!

  33. So happy to finally find this recipe. I grew up on these from a German bakery in Richboro PA. Would stop there after school in the ’70s and eat a whole one – think it was maybe 5×7 size. Plain or cherry or blueberry. I recall very little in the bread layer but the butter topping was to die for! Can’t wait to make it!

  34. My dad grew up in Philadelphia. He has always talked about butter cake, which I thought would be somewhat like a pound cake. For his birthday last year I wanted to surprise him with a butter cake because when we were back east we didn’t have a chance to stop and get one. I searched and searched the internet and finally found this. I made it, and when he opened it up he said, “butter cake, how did you find this?!” I am so glad that you had this recipe up and I will be making it again this year! Thanks!

    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to tell me this, Jeanne! Makes me so happy.

      1. Going on the 3rd year making it! This recipe is practically a birthday tradition now. I hope to get the crust perfect this time, it always comes out a tad thick!

  35. As a child, my parents would take me to Normandy Square on Roosevelt Boulevard, near the Nabiaco Plant. My most vivid memory was the butter cake. We would get it every time.
    I have searched recipes and tried for years to make the butter cake I remember.
    I really think this one is it. I remember the middle. When I saw the picture, I had goosebumps!
    Cannot wait to make this!
    A million thanks!

  36. My grandfather bought these when I went to Philly for a visit as a child. He died when I was 6, but every time I make this ooey, gooey, butter cake, my childhood memories come flooding back and I know he is smiling down at me.

  37. Grew up in Kensington section of Philly. Only place we got butter cake was Schmidts Bakery on Kensington Av. You would cut the thin cake bottom and the gooy topping just filled in the missing section. Now living in the far NE section of Phiily we have found another bakery that is very close to that beloved butter cake. It’s behind Neshaminy Mall.

    1. I grew up in Kensington, also. (D & Indiana). Schmidts was our go to bakery also.

      1. Grew up at 2936 D Street, later Rorer Street. Schmidts was the best I ever found. How did this recipe compare to what you remeber

  38. My Philadelphia grandfather would arrive each Sunday with buttercake, at Christmas with Springerle and Pffefernusse cookies. I had tried various buttercakes, bland – none seem as I remember. Why do I believe there was a taste of almond? I will try the recipe, perhaps adding a touch of almond.

  39. Hello. Does anyone know if I can assemble the cake the day before and bake the next day?
    Also, my husband’s family grew up on butter cakes and it is one of their favorites. I just made this for the family and everyone agrees that aside from the thicker crust, the taste matches perfectly. My mother in law grew up in Kensington. I think they always got theirs from Stock’s. My whole family thanks you for the recipe.

    1. Hi Alice. I’ve never tried assembling everything ahead of time so I can’t say for sure. I would think you could make the crust and the filling separately, refrigerate, and combine when you’re ready to bake. Does that help?

  40. I’ve been telling my Wife about this cake for 25 yrs. I’m also from Drexel Hill and purchased it at Yummy Bakery! So glad we found this recipe! Will be making it for a childhood DH friend when she visits us in FL this week. Been waiting 40yrs to taste again, Thank you !!

    1. yummy bakery had the best german butter cake. never found one better than this!

  41. I cannot wait to try this. I was reminiscing about all the different places to get food in Mayfair/Holmesburg area of Philly she I remembered Bredenbeck’s Bakery at Bleigh and Frankford Aves. They had the best butter cake in the area. I’ve talked about this with my other half and they have never had butter cake before. We live in Phoenix now and I don’t even think I could explain the feeling of euphoria one gets with their first bite of this artery clogging gooey goodness to anyone who has never had the pleasure.

    1. Melissa
      EUPHORIA is right! Lived down the street – it was awesome cake!!!

    2. Melissa – There is still a Bredenbeck’s Bakery on Germantown Ave. in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia.

  42. My aunt from Philly would bring German Butter Cake to our house on the Jersey Shore from time to time to enjoy on a Sunday after church. I so looked forward to her visits, knowing I’d be in butter heaven eating that cake. I hadn’t been to Phila in twenty years or so, and when I went back a few years ago, I asked a few bakeries in the South Street area if they had it. None of the bakers ever heard of it! I tried about 3 other recipes and gave up finding one that could compare to the butter cake of my childhood. Last year my husband (orig. from Philly) found this one and I told him good luck with that. When it was done, I poked my finger in it and felt that gooey texture, and after my first bite I was AMAZED that we finally found the butter cake of our childhood! Thank you so much for this Debbie…we’re going to make another one tomorrow!

  43. Grew up in Philly, one of The best Butter cakes you’ll ever have is at Danish Bakers on Rhawn. Boy did we luck out growing up on this, lots of family memories enjoyed at the table.

    1. I went to the Danish Bakers 2yrs ago when I visited my sister & hometown. It was the BEST I left there with 5 Buttercakes and other Danish had-to-have items (2cakes flew to FL with me). I found a Great recipe once & missed placed it, I hope this is it or the same. Live in North Philly growing up 8th & Butler, got Buttercake & sticky buns every Sunday after church. LOVE IT.

  44. Hey!!! Will I still be able to make this delicious cake without the yeast?? I’m snowed :-\ is their an alternative? ??

    1. Ooo, sorry, I think the yeasted crust is pretty key! Wish I had better news! Lots of other cakes to choose from that don’t use it, though. Good luck!

  45. Thankful to have found this recipe! My grandmother lived in Philly and we would walk to a bakery and get butter cake. The commenter above who didn’t appreciate your sense of humor won’t like this, but here goes! My father called the cake “snot cake” and told my mother she should serve it on Kleenex instead of plates. But he ate his serving of snot cake! I’m trying this for Easter dinner this weekend, thanks again for posting it! 🙂

  46. I remember having this delicious buttercake from the lipton bakery on Baltimore pike, fernwood, pa….I have seen it also made with mashed potatoes..anyone ever tried that yet??…I am going to give this recipe a try and hope it is the same as the one I remember before lipton went out of business…wish me luck…I am also going by the above recommended comments…..

  47. McMillans in Westmont, NJ still makes butter cake as does Stocks in Phila, Best ever!,

  48. I just made this recipe and my butter topping disappeared into the cake. What am I doing wrong?

  49. My grandfather use to bring a delicious butter cake from a bakery on Frankford ave. Near the end of the El. Don’t know the name but can still taste the buttery moist cake.
    When older their use to be a German bakery on Wayne Ave in Philly that made a good one they closed a long time ago.

    1. I’ll bet that’s the stuff my grandmother got. She lived up near the bus garage and cemetery on Bustleton Ave.

  50. Eislens in Roxboro made the best butter cake and the best sticky buns.
    Does anyone know where to get real good sticky buns?

    1. Allen- I used to get it from Eislen’s in Roxboro also. Are they still there? I haven’t tried this recipe yet but soon. I want to use a different crust.

  51. Upper Dublin Bakery had a great cake. This recipe is similar.

  52. I’ve been making this version since it first came out. This tastes most like the original butter cake I remember my Poppop bringing over when they visited. Both I and my family agree that this is our most favorite dessert ever!

  53. This New Orleans girl can’t wait to try this. I saw this on “Cake Boss”, with Buddy making this fabulous cake on 1-19-2017.

  54. Will this work with gluten free flour?

  55. OMG reading all the posts expressing joy at finding THE recipe for Phila Buttercake makes my old heart leap! I also have been looking for years for the right gooey, sugary crunch and tenderness of the real thing. We lived in Churchville in Bucks and every Friday during the early 1960s my dad would bring home a treat after work – often buttercake – from Sketchley’s bakery in Feasterville. Serious nostalgia.

  56. Just the memory of the joy and family this cake brings moves me to tears. I found this recipe and read some of your comments. I too used to live in Havertown and now live in Souheast Texas. We’d get our German Butter Cake from Yummy Bake Shop. I am going to make it and let you know how it turns out. I am a little nervous because I know tht if you bake it too long the gooiness can dry out and not taste as good for all the effort you put into it. <3.

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