The elusive Baumann’s butter cake

This cake, from Stardust Bakery, was the closest one I could find to the Baumann's birthday cake of my youth.

This picture of a cake from Stardust Bakery was the closest one I could find to the Baumann’s birthday cake of my youth.

Every year when my birthday rolls around, as it did last week, I find myself pining for the bake shop of my youth: Baumann’s Bakery in the Burholme section of Northeast Philadelphia.

My dad with his birthday cake in 1963.

My dad with his birthday cake in 1963.

Baumann’s was an old-fashioned German bakery in an old-fashioned, largely German neighborhood. The green-sided shop with big plate windows was on the corner of Tabor and Cottman, with the entrance right at the corner. For my entire childhood it was our go-to bakery.

Whenever anyone in the family – my parents or the three children – had a birthday, my mom would order a Baumann’s birthday cake, even if we weren’t having a party and there were only the five of us to eat it.

The 10-inch layer cakes were decorated with colorful swirls and flowers – and our name, written in loopy icing!

Our name in print (or icing)

I passed Baumann’s several times a day on my way to and from school (we also went home at lunchtime). It was always a thrill to see my cake on display in the window, with “Happy Birthday Barbara” embossed on it in pink icing (I wasn’t Bobbie until my teens).

After my mother discovered the cakes could be customized with more than just a name, my sister, whose birthday is right before Halloween, would often get a chocolate-iced cake decorated with pumpkins and ghosts. My dad’s cake sometimes had icing tennis rackets to reflect his favorite pastime.

Baumann’s is gone now, but its memory lingers on. The bake shop made wonderful cinnamon bread, raisin tea cakes, tasty Linzer torte cookies, and killer cinnamon sticky buns loaded with pecans. The filling in their custard and whipped cream doughnuts was so fresh they kept them in a refrigerated case.

The corner where Baumann's once stood is now home to a barber shop.

The corner where Baumann’s once stood is now home to a barber shop.

Our favorite dessert of all was Baumann’s butter cake.

Buttery nirvana

Imagine a thin, yeasty base topped with a layer of buttery, melt-in-your mouth, vanilla-scented custard. The top was slightly browned, letting you see the luscious yellow, moist filling. It was baked in a sheet pan, and you ordered a hunk of a certain size, which was cut off, weighed so you could pay by the pound, and packed up in a square cardboard box tied with string.

I have never found anything like Baumann’s butter cake anywhere else.

Determined to recreate it myself, if necessary, I searched for a “German butter cake” recipe. Most of the recipes sounded like ordinary cakes made with butter – not a custard-topped yeast cake.

One recipe called “St. Louis-Style GooeyButter Cake,” sounded promising, but it used cream cheese in addition to the butter, something I knew Baumann’s hadn’t done. And it was based on yellow cake mix, not yeast dough. I tried it, and it was delicious – but it wasn’t Baumann’s butter cake.

My version of Baumann's butter cake.

My version of Baumann’s butter cake.

“Philadelphia” is the key

Then inspiration struck. I did a Web search for “Philadelphia butter cake.” Success!

Sort of. Again, it was a delicious cake, and it was pretty darn close to the Baumann’s version. I thought it was too thick. I made it in a 9 x 13-inch pan as the recipe directs.  Using two 8 x 8-inch pans would probably make it a little thinner, which I will probably do next time.

I’m not sure when “next time” will be. This is an extremely rich dessert, and the recipe makes a large cake. (If you make two smaller cakes you can probably freeze one.) But if you’re planning a special meal and want to impress your guests – or if you want to wow someone who grew up in Philadelphia – give this yummy confection a try.

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  1. Janet Rowe says

    Oh, yes! I remember Baumsns zbakery! I grew up on Dngan Road in
    Burholme. And, I remember butter cake.
    Can’t wait to make this cake. The last time I had a piece of this cake was nearly 60 years ago.

    • Bobbie Lewis says

      Hi Janet, thanks for your comment! I grew up on Dungan Road too, between Princeton and St. Vincent!

  2. Chuck Thomas says

    So this is your recipe or one you discovered with your web search? Just curious… It looks like a good recipe for buttercakes as they were made by bakeries. No bakery in Philly or St. Louis would make a buttercake using yellow cake mix for the base and/or a filling which included cream cheese. I grew up on the St. Louis style of buttercake and then lived around Philly for 13 years, so I’ve enjoyed both. The biggest difference between the two city’s buttercakes is that Philly buttercakes tend to be more runny.
    Anyway, I enjoyed reading your story and for the record, my favorite bakery buttercakes in that area are from Stock’s Bakery in Philly, and Pisker’s Bakery across the river in Westville, NJ.

    • Bobbie Lewis says

      Thanks for writing! Not my recipe, got it on the Web.It was a good cake, though I confess I do not make it often — who wan ts to eat that much butter these days?

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