Philadelphia German Butter Cake

Phil­adelphia Ger­man But­ter Cake

“I had my first kiss on your street,” said the sales­man who just sold my young­er son, Ted, his first new car. “We were un­der a big, old tree, and I can’t even re­mem­ber the girl’s name.” Turns out that our sales­man grew up in our neigh­bor­hood and had gone to the same grade school as my sons. Our sales guy chuckled as he punched the cal­cu­lat­or to give us the drive-out price. I chuckled as I wondered wheth­er it was that kiss or the com­mis­sion that was bring­ing this man such ob­vi­ous joy.  

Oh! First kiss, first car! The list goes on - the first word spoken, the first step, first grade, the first day in high school, in col­lege and in that first job. We have all ex­per­i­enced many firsts.

Some­times, we need to re­turn to some of the first foods we’ve really en­joyed. Those foods are the ones that we love and some­times crave be­cause we re­mem­ber that first taste. Some­times, it’s the com­fort foods that we need from time to time when we’re look­ing for a culin­ary “hug.” They just make us feel bet­ter. “Have a cook­ie,” I can hear my mom say when I was young and she wanted to of­fer me a fix for whatever ailed me. “Little kids, little prob­lems,” I can hear her say. I some­times still fol­low her sage ad­vice. Now, though, I say, “Just leave the cook­ie jar.” (Just kid­ding!) Al­though food shouldn’t be a pan­acea for life’s struggles, it’s nice to have a little something good to soothe a crav­ing soul.

Gen­er­ally, I do not use much short­en­ing in my cook­ing. But some­times you just have to do what you have to do. This re­cipe for Phil­adelphia Ger­man But­ter Cake re­quires the ad­di­tion of Crisco, but­ter and yeast, and pro­duces a rich, but­tery cake. If baked just long enough, it forms a cake bot­tom and a gooey cen­ter that has a light, crackly top.

The fol­low­ing re­cipe has been in my re­cipe box for many years. Sheer joy, pure bliss, dec­ad­ent in­dul­gence, all de­scribe the first taste that I re­mem­ber when I re­call eat­ing the but­ter cake that was also sold at the loc­al baker shops that were once abund­ant in North­east Phil­adelphia. Al­though a few stores still sell this cake, the fol­low­ing re­cipe is au­then­tic­ally Phil­adelphia But­ter Cake.



1 pack­age act­ive dry yeast

½ cup warm milk

¼ cup gran­u­lated sug­ar

¼ cup short­en­ing (Crisco)

¼ tsp. salt

1 large egg

2¼ cups flour

1 Tb­sp. vanilla ex­tract


1 cup but­ter (2 sticks) at room tem­per­at­ure

2/3 cup flour

2 cups gran­u­lated sug­ar 

2 large eggs

4 to 5 Tb­sp. milk


-Dis­solve yeast in the warm milk. Cov­er mix­ture loosely with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm spot un­til bub­bly, about 5 minutes.  

-Com­bine the sug­ar, short­en­ing and salt in a mix­ing bowl. Add the egg and beat un­til well blen­ded.

-Mix in the flour, then the dis­solved yeast and the vanilla, beat­ing about 1-2 minutes to in­cor­por­ate.

-Place the dough on a lightly floured sur­face and knead for 1 minute. Place in a lightly greased bowl, cov­er with a tow­el, and let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour. 


-Beat the but­ter un­til light and fluffy. Stir to­geth­er the flour and sug­ar, then gradu­ally beat flour mix­ture in­to the but­ter. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Slowly beat in just enough milk to make the top­ping easy to spread, but not runny. Set aside.


-Pre­heat oven to 375 de­grees.

-Punch down dough and di­vide it in half. Roll or pat it in­to two well-greased 8” square pans or one 9” x 13” pan. Push the edges of the dough halfway up the sides of the pan and prick dough in sev­er­al places with a fork to re­lease any air bubbles. Spread top­ping evenly over dough. Let stand for 20 minutes.

-Bake in pre­heated 375-de­gree oven un­til top­ping is golden and crusty but still gooey, about 25-30 minutes. Do not over-bake. Let cool in pan efore cut­ting.

Eat well, live long, en­joy! ull;•

(Ques­tions or tips can be sent to Donna Zit­ter Bor­de­lon at Whats­cook­in­ or in care of the North­east Times, 2512 Met­ro­pol­it­an Drive, Tre­vose, PA 19053)

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