Philadelphia Butter Cake Recipe

Square of Philadelphia butter cake with cartoon face

Jessie Moore / CakeSpy

Why It Works

  • Pressing the dough against the sides of your baking pan holds in the sweet filling.
  • The addition of yeast makes this cake rise higher than the St. Louis version.

Editor’s Note: This recipe originally appeared as part of a dessert recipe series by Jessie Oleson Moore, based on work from her popular dessert blog, CakeSpy.

Philadelphia Butter Cake. If you've never heard of it, are you ever in for a treat.

Philadelphia Butter Cake is a rich, buttery cake with a gooey center that's served in bar form. Judging by the picture and the name, you might be tempted to think that Philadelphia Butter Cake is similar to Gooey Butter Cake, a St. Louis specialty. But you're not quite right: while they have some similar characteristics, I'd call them more "cousins" than "twins." The Philadelphia version has two distinct differences from Gooey Butter Cake: first, the topping does not include cream cheese, and second, the base contains yeast.

If light-as-air-cakes are what you crave, then don't bother with this one. Though the flavor and appearance are in some ways quite simple, it's still definitely an indulgence. Philadelphia Butter Cake is almost indescribably rich: if you can imagine Gooey Butter cake without the cream cheese, and with a base that is somewhat like a crushed, compressed Danish, then you're getting the right idea. It's like an opportunity to savor the very soul of butter in a compact, sweet square of pleasure.

Recipe Facts

Prep: 80 mins
Cook: 30 mins
Rest/Cool: 60 mins
Total: 2 hrs 50 mins
Serves: 16 servings

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Ingredients

For the Base:

  • 1/4 cup (about 2 ounces) granulated sugar

  • 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) salted butter

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1 large egg

  • 1 (1/4 ounce) packet active dry yeast

  • 1/2 cup warm milk (105-115°F)

  • 2 1/4 cups (about 12 ounces) flour, sifted

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (clear or regular)

For the Topping:

  • 1 cup (16 tablespoons, or 2 sticks) unsalted butter

  • 2/3 cup (about 3 ounces) flour

  • 2 cups (about 16 ounces) superfine sugar

  • 2 large eggs

  • 4 tablespoons milk

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (clear or regular)

Directions

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix sugar, butter, and salt on low speed until combined. Add egg, and beat on medium speed for 1 minute.

  2. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm milk.

  3. To egg/sugar mixture, add flour, then yeast mixture and vanilla, beating about 3 minutes (with dough hook or by hand). Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board and knead for 90 seconds. Place in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a towel, and allow the dough to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

  4. Toward the end of the rising period, start preparing the topping. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes on medium speed. Add the flour and sugar to the mixture, and continue beating on medium speed until fully combined. Add the eggs one at a time, allowing the first to fully incorporate into the batter before adding the second. Add in the vanilla. Add the milk, 1 tablespoon at a time. If the consistency is any thinner than a pancake batter, don't add any more milk.

  5. Grease or line a 9- by 13-inch aluminum pan with parchment paper.

  6. Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down. Remove it from the bowl, and pat into the bottom of your prepared pan. Crimp the edges of the crust halfway up the sides of the container so that they will hold in the filling.

  7. Spread the topping evenly over the dough. Let stand for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375°F and position a rack in the middle position.

  8. Bake 30 minutes, or until browned on the edges but still quite gooey in the middle. It will solidify as it cools. Wait until it has cooled completely before serving; store in the refrigerator.

Note: Salted butter is suggested for the base, but not necessary; if you only stock unsalted butter, feel free to use that with a pinch of salt, or just on its own.

Regarding the vanilla extract, if you want a pale yellow hue, use clear vanilla extract; if you don't mind about a lemony hue, use regular vanilla extract; it tastes good both ways.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
342 Calories
16g Fat
46g Carbs
4g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 16
Amount per serving
Calories 342
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 16g 20%
Saturated Fat 9g 47%
Cholesterol 74mg 25%
Sodium 80mg 3%
Total Carbohydrate 46g 17%
Dietary Fiber 1g 3%
Total Sugars 29g
Protein 4g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 27mg 2%
Iron 1mg 7%
Potassium 64mg 1%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)