Philly Fluff Cake Recipe

This mysterious chocolate-swirled cake is delicious, despite not being particularly fluffy.

Overhead view of Philly fluff cake.

Serious Eats / Liz Gutman

Why This Recipe Works

  • Vegetable shortening keeps the texture moist.
  • Cream cheese adds a pleasant lactic tang.
  • Swirling melted chocolate into the batter adds another layer of flavor as well as visual interest.

I had a cake not too long ago that I'd never heard of before. It was at a big holiday dinner, and it had been purchased specifically for one person who didn't like dessert. Not even a little. Wouldn't go near the stuff. Except for this cake.

All I knew is that it was called Philly fluff, and there's this one bakery that specializes in making it (though it seems there are always several "this one" type bakeries when a signature item is involved...) When I saw it, I can't say I was super impressed. It looked like an angel food cake with powdered sugar dusted on top. Big deal, right?

The flavor? It wasn't bold or assertive at all; or really even a flavor (besides vanilla). But it was sweet, moist, squishy, and buttery, with drifts of powdered sugar on top. A big loaf of comfort, more or less.

The moistness made me think there was oil involved, but from the taste it was pretty clear that a heavy dose of butter had been on the scene as well. I could see how this might appeal to someone who's not into shi-shi or overly complicated sweets. I was intrigued. Where exactly in Philly did this cake come from? Who named it Philly fluff? And why wasn't it the least bit fluffy in texture?

I forgot about it until my mom attempted a recreation a month or two later. It was really good—but it wasn't a Philly fluff. It was a plain ol' delicious pound cake. I figured it must have been the wrong recipe. So I did some research of my own, and settled on a chocolate-swirled version that popped up the most often.

A rubber spatula smeared with cream cheese.

Serious Eats / Liz Gutman

"Philly, I can only assume, refers to the cream cheese in the recipe."

Philly, I can only assume, refers to the cream cheese in the recipe. The cake apparently originated in Long Island, and I wonder if we'll ever know where the "fluff" came from. But the cream cheese does lend it a faint tang, and keeps the crumb tender and moist. Well, that, and the shortening.

Now, I don't use shortening that often when I bake. I know it can have a place in a pie crust but I prefer the flavor of butter. If I want moistness in a cake or something, I use oil or applesauce or a combination of the two. Shelf-stable fat kind of creeps me out. But here's the thing: Shortening makes baked goods reeeeeally delicious in a grocery-store muffin kind of way, or like those little pound cake slices that come individually wrapped.

So this Philly fluff, while still falling short of the one baked by the pros, came out richly flavored yet not heavy with a delightfully crispy brown crust on the outside. This is a very lightly adapted Bruce Zipes recipe from Bruce's Bakery Cookbook. The end result is big, so it's good for a potluck offering. If you have extra, just wrap it up and freeze it. You can thaw it out when you have some berries and whipped cream handy (or when you just want a slice of cake).

Close-up of a slice of the finished Philly fluff cake. The chocolate swirl is prominent, as is the browned outer layer.

Serious Eats / Liz Gutman

In Conclusion...

1. Philly Fluff is not actually that fluffy.

2. A little shortening can have its place.

3. For the love of Pete, invite some friends over if you make this. It's a lot of cake.

February 2011

Recipe Details

Philly Fluff Cake Recipe

Active 25 mins
Total 90 mins
Serves 16 servings

This mysterious chocolate-swirled cake is delicious, despite not being particularly fluffy.


  • 10 ounces cream cheese, softened

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 2 cups granulated sugar, divided

  • 6 large eggs

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled

  • Confectioners' sugar, for dusting


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease and flour a 12-cup Bundt or tube pan.

    A tube pan.

    Serious Eats / Liz Gutman

  2. In a large bowl, cream together cream cheese, butter, and shortening with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. In a smaller bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture to creamed mixture and mix on low speed until blended - it will be very thick.

    The creamcheese, butter, and shortening are mixed in a bowl.

    Serious Eats / Liz Gutman

  3. Gradually add 1 cup of sugar and eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and remaining 1 cup sugar and continue beating, scraping down sides of bowl once or twice, until batter is smooth.

    Sugar, eggs, and vanilla are mixed in to make a smooth batter.

    Serious Eats / Liz Gutman

  4. Pour half of mixture into prepared pan. Top with melted chocolate and swirl a knife through the batter to marble it. Top with remaining batter.

    Melted chocolate is swirled in with a butter knife.

    Serious Eats / Liz Gutman

  5. Bake for 60 to 65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Invert cake onto a platter and cool completely. Before serving, dust with a generous amount of confectioners' sugar.

    The baked cake, still in its tube pan.

    Serious Eats / Liz Gutman

Special Equipment

Hand mixer, tube or Bundt pan

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
411 Calories
25g Fat
41g Carbs
6g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 16
Amount per serving
Calories 411
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 25g 32%
Saturated Fat 13g 66%
Cholesterol 107mg 36%
Sodium 279mg 12%
Total Carbohydrate 41g 15%
Dietary Fiber 2g 7%
Total Sugars 26g
Protein 6g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 75mg 6%
Iron 3mg 15%
Potassium 142mg 3%
*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.)