Philadelphia Butter Cake

Butter Cake Close-up 1

One of the things I miss most about the area in which I grew up is the bakeries. An advantage of living in a place that didn’t just spring up a few decades back is knowing that the recipe used to make the baked good you’re currently scarfing down is the same one used by the grandfather who opened the bakery in the first place. There’s something to be said for tradition and a sense of heritage. And lots of butter, back in the days before trans fats.

Perhaps I’m biased. Perhaps that strip mall bakery is owned by the grandson of an old-world baker. Perhaps I’m totally off-base in my assessment. I stand by it nonetheless.

Back to the subject: Awesome, awesome bakeries which we’d go to for special occasions like graduations and baptisms and 1st Communions. It was tradition. And at one bakery there was one cake in particular which was a total knockout: Butter Cake.

On special occasions Dad would buy Mom one of these cakes. The bottom half was almost bread-like in its density and had a touch of sweetness. But the topping was where the love lived. Living somewhere between between custard and heaven, all golden and rich and insistently sweet.

There was something about the smell and flavor that lingered on in my mind long after the last bite was gone. It haunted me.

But I like food a lot more than I should so maybe you should take that last part with a big grain of salt.

Anyway, years passed. And before I knew it, I was planning a dinner for my Mom. She’d already told me what she’d love to have for the meal (boeuf bourguignon, in case you’re curious, which I’m sure you’re not) but left dessert up to me.

So I thought and thought and voila! The idea came to me! Why not make a butter cake like we used to get way back in the day?

I’m not talking Paula’s Gooey Butter Cake. Sorry, Paula, but for these purposes “your” recipe just doesn’t cut the mustard. And I put “your” in quotation marks because I’ve seen very similar versions, oh, everywhere. It’s a southern thing, or so I’ve read.

No. I wanted the real deal. So after much frustration I came up with the idea of searching “Philadelphia butter cake” and BINGO! There was a recipe which didn’t look like the dozens or so I’d already found. So I gave it a shot.

And can I just tell you that even as I was watching the cake bake, I knew I’d found “the one”?

Butter Cake Close-Up 2

As soon as it came out of the oven I broke off a bit of the crackly crust which had formed on top and popped it in my mouth.

In that one moment my childhood came rushing back. The taste transported me right to the very chair in which I sat in my parents’ dining room, with the blue wallpaper my Dad hung upside down (incidentally this went unnoticed until we realized that the tiny printed flowers weren’t facing the same direction flowers usually face in such situations), and I was taking my first taste of the Very Special Butter Cake.

And that, my friends, is why food is magic.

Butter Cake

Tell me – did you grow up with any special treats that you wish you could recreate today?

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  106 Responses to “Philadelphia Butter Cake”

  1. That’s it, I’m moving in with you.

  2. Oooh! That looks AWESOME!

    • It definitely is. But you can only eat a small amount at a time because it’s so rich – definitely not something to make for a small group! ;)

      • I don’t make it for a small group- I buy it on my way out of town when I leave Philadelphia for home (200 miles away) and I slice off one short end while I’m still in the parking lot. Know what? That butter cake has never made it to my house. So how long does it last? Less than 200 miles. One inch at a time.

  3. That looks incredible. My mouth is watering!

  4. That is absolutely delicious….I can use a piece with my cup of java, right now.

  5. This reminds me of my childhood. Now can you perfect the receipe for a Stock’s bar cake :) Can’t wait to try this

    • RIGHT? Oh my god do you know how hard I’d cry with happiness if I could make a Stock’s cake? If Rob hadn’t already married me he definitely would if I could manage that! ;)

  6. This looks simply amazing and the only thing that could possibly make it better is chocolate.

    • A very interesting idea. For once, though, I have to say that I’d be happy making this just as it is for the rest of my days. And that’s saying something! ;)

  7. This sounds heavenly! I might have to rethink what kind of cake I’m making for my son’s birthday next week.

  8. Oh, that looks so good to me! I need to find myself an awesome bakery, because I have been slacking with my baking lately. :)

  9. Oh man that sounded delicious – but your description was so good, I could taste it.

    • Yay! I think I was too wordy with this post though – seems like lots of people have landed on it but haven’t stuck around. I broke my cardinal rule of not talking too much about the food. Personally I’d want to know how to make this cake happen. *shrugs*

  10. I think I just licked my computer screen. Wait. What?

    *THIS* is how you blog about food. BOOM! ;)

    • Laughed. Out. Loud.

      One day you should pick whatever recipe you want and come over and I’ll make it. For reals.

  11. Oh, yum. I think I need to make this.

    My great aunt would make a red pepper paste that was drool-worthy. It wasn’t hot, but the peppers were charred and then sauteed and then . . . I’m not sure what they were mashed with, but that sweet, tasty concoction is one I’ve not been able to find anywhere. SOOO GOOOD.

  12. This looks amazing! I would love it if you came by and shared some of your recipes with us at Cast Party Wednesday tomorrow.
    I hope to see you there!

  13. this looks rather delicious

  14. Love that post. I have a soft spot in my heart for old time bakeries also. I am so excited to try this. It looks delicious!

  15. Oh, goodness, that looks AMAZING! So glad butter is back on my menu. **grin

    • Butter’s sort of a food group. At least, it should be. They should have let ME redesign the food pyramid! ;)

  16. Please do not tell anyone I just licked my screen. Yum. I have a weakness for gooey desserts!

    I would love for you to stop by and link up to my mommy solution meme!

  17. Oh boy, am I ever glad you stopped by my blog today because this looks AMAZING! I love ‘old-fashioned’ desserts and this one looks perfect. I also loved your story (I’m also a sucker for ‘heritage’ recipes and lots of background information) and will be following you from now on! I’ll be hosting a giveaway – my first – on my blog tomorrow, so stop by if you’re interested!

  18. Oh, that sounds and looks so awesome. I don’t eat cake – I love it but it doesn’t love me, I become wanton around it, but that sure looks good.

    • You are a far stronger woman than I. There are a few things I’m trying to stay away from because I lose control. Self-awareness is no fun sometimes. :(

  19. oh my. that looks absolutely amazing. printed and will try soon!

  20. I want to eat this now! I love that food can transport you to other places and times — that’s why I join you in the ‘I love food too much’ club.

  21. Oh my heck! That just looks heavenly. And with a name like that… I’m all over it! Can’t wait to make this (and devour the entire thing!)

    • Another great part about it is you really can’t eat more than a small amount at a time because it is so rich & sweet. Which helps because otherwise I’d end up in coma. ;)

  22. YUM! Thanks for sharing…the cake looks amazing!

  23. Holy Butter CAKE!! Wowzas! This sounds so good Jen!!! I have got to make this!!

  24. This sounds and looks incredible. I am not a fan of “Gooey Butter Cake” or all its variations (and I am SOUTHERN)…too sweet for me! But THIS…I just may have to try it this weekend for my Philly-born kid. We spent 5 years up there…our cold-weather “exile”…but, oh, the bakeries!!! You’re right about that!!!

    • I’m glad you know what I’m talking about with the bakeries – they’re just the best. If you give it a try, let me know! :)

  25. This looks sooooo yummy! I grew up in St. Louis, where Gooey Butter Cake originated. I would love to try my hand at this! I bet it’s as good as they make it at home!

    • Ahhh, see, I had no idea where it originated – thanks for teaching me something today! :) Let me know if you give it a try, and what you think of it.

  26. wish I could fudge my no sugar maddness for a tiny bite of this goodness!!

  27. Oh, yeah. Even without the mouth watering photos, just looking at the ingredient list let me know it is a good cake.

    I’ve been aching for an old-fashioned bakery, lately…and I completely agree that butter is its own food group. Interestingly enough, back in the 1940s, when we had seven food groups, it was! We should demand that they bring it back!

    #stumbled AND #tweeted

    • I’m with you. We should have been the ones to redesign that food chart, darn it! ;) There would have been a little place of honor for butter. And, possibly, bacon.

  28. I’m a huge fan of what we call Gooey Butter Cake, but it’s similar to Paula Dean’s, and it’s made with a cake mix. Can’t wait to try your recipe that’s made from scratch! stumbled!

    • I’ve made the Paula version as well and I have to say that I like this version better. I love Paula to heck and back, but her version was just cloyingly sweet – in my opinion, anyway. This is sweet but there’s just something different that appeals to me. I hope you do try it, and let me know what you think! :)

  29. This looks terrific! We had a European bakery in D.C. that made the best lemon meringue pieces. The meringue was three inches high.

  30. Yum! That looks so good!!! Stumbled.

  31. The pictures make me want to lick my screen! YUM!

  32. Thank you so much for stopping by Cast Party Wednesday last week. I really appreciate you sharing your recipes with us. I hope you will join us again for another awesome party filled with yummy recipes.
    Thanks Again!

  33. [...] Philadelphia Butter Cake – The Misadventures of Mrs. B. [...]

  34. wow that looks so good!! so nice of you to make that for your mom. you should link this to Give Back Thursdays! A new meme my friend and I started.

  35. This cake looks awesome and I can’t wait to try it. I am making it for an upcoming family reunion. I shared your recipe on my Must Try Tuesday blog post.

    Thanks for sharing!

    The Rickett Chronicles

  36. wow, this brings back the past! I grew up just north of Philly and our family friends ran a bakery that specialised in this cake. I have an incredibly vivid memory of sitting at my mom’s kitchen table and eating it directly out of the box. Thanks!

  37. This cake sounds so good! But I’ll just have to drool over reading the recipe. The minute I saw “knead or stand mixer”, I knew I wouldn’t make this cake. I’ll have to send the recipe to my sister and request it the next time I visit. Much more fun for me that way!

    I grew up around German bakeries. For a few years I moved to an area that only had Italian bakeries. They are not the same.

  38. OMG… Mrs.Jen B. YOU TOOK THE WORDS RIGHT OUT OF MY MOUTH…LOVE THIS CAKE EVER SINCE I WAS A CHILD…SO MANY MEMORIES.I grew up in Philly….Im now in Texas and miss so much the bakery’s we had back then…especially “WEBBS” on Front st.

  39. Oooh, this cake sounds divine! I live about as far south as you can get in the US (S. TX) and I’ve only been to Philadelphia once-ate a cheese steak and scurried on to NY so I’ve never heard of this lovely concoction. Sure, I’ve seen the likes in many recipe books that are like Deen’s, but this does sound yum. My hubs will appreciate you passing this on!; )

    • It’s definitely a lot different from that more southern version of butter cake – at least, what I’ve come to consider the southern version. I mean, they’re both delicious…but as a Philly girl, well, I have to stick with my region. ;)

  40. guess who’s about to be the favorite niece/cousin….. THIS GIRL RIGHT HERE, ME! My mom’s family is from Philly and they LOVE butter cake. I think it’s ok. I’d rather eat chocolate. But maybe that’d be different if I grew up in Philly (my mom moved to Texas and then she met my dad and then she had me). But I can’t wait to make this next time I visit my mom’s side because I know they’re all addicted to this stuff. I’ve been searching for a recipe for this for years just to please them. I wasn’t as lucky as you when I googled it for some reason

    • Ohhhh I hope you get the chance to make it for them! :) there is just something about those regional specialties that takes people back. I’m glad you found me!

  41. Thank you SO much for posting this recipe. I’ve been looking for it, or something like it and not the cake box base verion, for years. I was born in Scranton, PA and for special treats we would get Philadelphia Butter Cakes. We moved when I was 8 and for years after we moved whenever we visited we would order SEVERAL cakes to bring home because there is nothing like the real thing. The bakery closed down in the 80s as I understand it but wonderful memories. Thanks again, I’m hoping this recipe will hit that spot!

    • I am so happy that you found this recipe. I know how thrilled I was when I first made it. There’s just something about those hometown treats, right? Let me know if you make it, and how it works for you.

  42. I just happened to stumble upon this recipe and I think it may be what I have been looking for off and on for maybe the last 20 years. It definitely looks like the butter cakes we used to get at Bauer’s Bakery in NE Philadelphia, which may be the bakery that Kathy above referred to. Mr. Bauer passed away maybe in the 1970′s. The family kept the bakery going for a while, then sold it and it was never quite the same. Then there was a fire, probably in the ’80s, and they never reopened. I also have tried the St. Louis type butter cakes which use the cake mix and you’re right — they’re too sweet and not quite as good. Thank you so much for posting this recipe. I am so going to try this.

    • I lived down the street from Bauer’s in Northeast Philly in early 70′s. They had the best
      cakes and pastries. The best was their gooey butter cake!! This recipe looks like it’s the
      same. Can’t wait to try it. When I was pregnant I could finish off a whole one!! Miss that bakery!!

  43. Could this be the butter cake that we can buy at Dot’s bakery in Ocean City? The one request of my youngest son when he found out that he couldn’t come with me this year to my family reunion was “Can you bring me back a butter cake from Dot’s?”. He will be so happy if I could make this for him. Thank you! Paula Deen’s recipe just didn’t look right to me – but this definitely does!

  44. Hello Mrs. Jen B.,

    Let me first say I was so happy to find your blog and have enjoyed your posts!!

    Secondly, I have been on a quest! I have been searching for the Butter Cake recipe I remember from my childhood. I grew up in Far NE Philadelphia and Bucks County and remember those special butter cakes. Nothing else can compare. I tried the Paul Deen Recipe or the St Louis Butter cake- it is a sad imitation. I tried the recipe you have posted and while it’s close- it just isn’t quite there. It’s just not the one I remember. Our crust was different; Not as bread-like. Although the topping is absolutely divine perfection!

    I am at a complete loss. I have searched high and low. In my searching I have seen that there are a couple of different versions of the crust. Some are more bread-like (like the one you have posted) and some are more shortbread/pastry like.

    I live in California now and do not have access to any examples but was wondering if, in your research, you came across another version of the crust and where I might find the alternate recipe?

    Hope you can help! Thanks!

  45. All I can say is….thank you, thank you, thank you! I have tried many variations of this recipe and was recently at my grandmothers funeral (back in Bucks County, I now live in Florida) and a nephew made 2 of these cakes for my family. I almost forgot how wonderful they were. I haven’t even tried your recipe yet, but I will tomorrow! I know, just from the description that you got it right!
    thanks for sharing–this is a sought after secret!

  46. oh. Oh! OH!!!!
    I’ve been looking for just this recipe for years!
    Thank you!!!

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  48. I still get butter cake here in Philly on Frankford Avenue in Mayfair…there are 2 bakeries that make it. Geiger’s and The Mayfair bakery. I have always wanted to bake my own so I’m going to give this recipe a try. Thanks!!

  49. You have to do the recipe for the bakery cheesecake with the fruit on the bottom. When we get the buttercake we also get the cheesecake and we sisters just devour it.

  50. Mrs. Jen B. you really struck a cord with me. After my Grammie died, my Grampy moved in with my family. Now his nickname since he began dating my grandmother was “Sugar Buns Lou” because whenever he came calling he’d bring a treat for her younger siblings and as he came up the road, her two youngest brothers would call out, “Got any sugar buns Lou?” So as part of his grieving for my grandmother, he visited her grave nearly every day and stop at one of his favorite bakeries on the way home. One had the best pies, another the best hard rolls etc. He’d bring home a tower of white baker’s boxes tied with string and maybe a dozen rolls until my Mother had to beg him to cut back because our family was putting on weight at a truly alarming rate!!! My all time favorite was called simply Peaks- a small disk of chocolate cake topped with a large swirl of vanilla frosting that looked like soft ice cream swirled on a cone then the whole thing was dipped in chocolate. Last one I had was close to 40 years ago but Oh! if I could find a recipe for them I’m sure I’d have the same right back to my childhood experience you had!! BTW have to try this recipe- though it doesn’t sound familiar it sure does sound decadent! Thanks for a great site and God Bless!

  51. I grew up with Oteri’s, Schenk’s & Fink’s Bakeries. I love butter cake. I have tried a few and make them for Christmas. I make one with golden cake and one with chocolate. I also lived with Geiger’s & Mayfair bakery but they were not as good as the Olney bakeries. This recipe is more like the ones from my childhood
    bakery. Can’t wait to make it. Thank you.

  52. Jen…are you from Drexel Hill and was that bakery Yummies? This looks exactly like their cake! Cannot wait to try it. Kudos to you for finding it! Thanks!

  53. [...] the left we have a list of documents, photos (My wife did an article on Philadelphia Butter Cake for her blog, if you were wondering about the photos the search [...]

  54. OK, I grew up ouside of Philadelphia (Drexel Hill) and used to go to Yummies bakery in Pilgrim Gardens! (havertown) It is no longer there, but neither am I. . . I have tried everything to recreate the butter cake of my youth . . . and you are right Paula’s just isnt the same. I will try this next weekend . . . wish me luck!

  55. I have been missing this cake for fifty years. I was so happy to find your recipe. I have made it three times already. Everyone loves it, especially transplanted Philadelphians in this Washington area. Thank you so much.


  56. I read all the comments. They brought back fond memories of Webb’s on Front street in NE Philly and buttercake after mass on Sunday. Bauer’s was also a great bakery. Thanks for the recipe. It’s perfect.

  57. Using regular yeast, I found it hard to get the dough to rise. I used sone rapid rise yeast and it worked much better.

  58. I grew up in Cheltenham Village in Montgomery Township and we used to get our Butter Cake at Schillings Bakery on Ryer’s Avenue back in the early 70′s…..this was something my father walked six blocks for on Saturday mornings and stood in a line to buy warm. It was a huge treat and never forgotten.

  59. I grew up in Cheltenham Village in Montgomery Township (near Philly)and we used to get our Butter Cake at Schillings Bakery on Ryer’s Avenue back in the early 70′s…..this was something my father walked six blocks for on Saturday mornings and stood in a line to buy warm. It was a huge treat and never forgotten.

  60. As I grew up in North Wales, a small town outside of the Philadelphia area, I have never forgotten the wonderful scent and taste of butter cake. My father used to drive to Hatboro to a bakery named Sontheimer’s and they would make a special butter cake for him. I have tried other recipes but none to match. This looks great and I am anxious to try it. So glad I was looking for a recipe and found yours. Have a great day.

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