The Icing on the Butter Cake
As a hopeless neurotic with a fetish for Post-it notes, I regularly edit my “What to Grab in a Fire” list.
The first spot never changes: In the event of an emergency, my shih tzu goes under one arm, despite the fact that he would abandon me, happily, for a piece of bacon. A lick of bacon. If I’m being honest in a way I can’t afford to be at this point in my life? A sniff of bacon.
The runner-up used to be a photo album, an irreplaceable keepsake that seems to be on the rescue list of most well-adjusted people.
But last week, things changed, for I acquired a butter cake T-shirt.
(Not familiar with butter cake? Let me Google that for you, you poor, lost soul.)
I found my new prized possession during a visit to Fox Chase, which included a trip just over the county line to Rockledge for a stop at Danish Bakers, the Weymouth family’s de facto place of worship. There it was, hanging behind the cookie case, smelling vaguely of eclairs: A vintage-styled Duke & Winston tee advertising their piéce de rèsistance.
According to the most perfect and beautiful shirt ever made, Danish Bakers has been serving up butter cake since 1960. But my first memories of it date to the early ’90s, when there always seemed to be a box of it on our dining room table. Two boxes if it was a holiday. Three boxes if someone crashed their parents’ new car, past curfew, while driving with a learner’s permit.
The Danish Bakers’ butter cake was a form of currency in our house, an all-purpose dessert that could act as a simple token of affection or as frenzied hush money, depending on the situation.
This is not to say that my relationship with butter cake has been monogamous. I have dutifully sampled every piece I’ve come across, and have occasionally found some worthy competitors.
With a crunchier top and slightly more substantial cake base, the Mayfair Bakery’s version is a solid contestant that, when briefly warmed in the microwave by an in-the-know Butter Cake Black Belt, can easily compete for the top spot. I have a friend – let’s call her Hero Friend – who routinely smuggles Stock’s extremely buttery, highly addictive rendition into bars. Am I proud to say that I’ve licked the bottom of a Haegele’s Bakery box clean? Maybe a little. (Or maybe a lot. Please endorse me on LinkedIn.)
It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized butter cake was a local delicacy that rarely made it outside of Northeast Philadelphia. Usually, that’s where I’d prefer it to stay, safe from the uneducated masses who might try to “improve” upon its golden goo-to-cake ratio. But even I can admit that some of the nuevo versions, such as the one at Fishtown’s Whipped Bakeshop, are welcome additions to the butter cake pantheon.
If anyone was going to unseat Danish Bakers and pull off a true butter cake upset, I would have bet on my sister. A true aficionado, she recently found a recipe from the only woman who enjoys butter more than herself, Paula Deen, and got to work. The result was perfect — a spongy cake base topped with a gooey layer of fully-realized joy — but no, not quite as perfect as the Danish Bakers.
After all these years, I’m not sure what makes theirs so special. I suppose I could have asked last week. Admittedly, I do feel a little entitled to insider knowledge now that I have a T-shirt, not to mention rather generous hips softened by almost three decades of what I assume is an illegal recipe.
But part of me would rather not know, would rather leave their butter cake — and all butter cake for that matter — a mystery.
I’m confident that the magic is the result of a top-secret recipe, obsessively sourced ingredients and custom-made, fairy-dusted equipment. But if, like so many sacred childhood memories, it’s just Pillsbury crescent rolls, vanilla pudding and dysfunctional nostalgia? Well, that’s not a world I’m prepared to live in right now.