A Classic Philly Fluff Cake Is Almost Like A Pound Cake, But Not Quite

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When one hears the words "Philly fluff cake," in that particular order, a specific image likely comes to mind. One is that the cake should be fluffy. In fact, a Philly fluff cake is actually quite dense, more akin to a pound cake than, say, the fluffy-airy angel food cake.

As for the city it is apparently named for, that's also a bit of a misdirect. The Philly fluff cake wasn't created in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but rather in the Long Island town of Great Neck, New York, specifically at Bruce's Bakery by owner Harry Zipes. In "Bruce's Bakery Cookbook" –- compiled and written by Harry's son, for whom the bakery was named –- Bruce Zipes provides a bit of insight into the cake's creation.

"My father, Harry, was constantly trying to make every item in his bakery just a little bit better," wrote Zipes. "In this case, he took a basic pound cake and added extra cream cheese and lots of real butter."

So there you have it. A Philly fluff is not unlike a pound cake, but with more cream cheese and butter to heighten the moist texture and richness. As for the origin of the name, it's not elaborated, but there's a very good chance that the Philly part comes from the iconic brand of cream cheese.

How is it different from a regular pound cake?

While it's not exactly airy, a Philly fluff cake is also not quite as dense as your classic, buttery pound cake. Though it isn't particularly fluffy, the cake is still very moist, thanks in part to all that extra cream cheese and butter. Moist and luxurious, the cake's texture is described as falling somewhere between that of a pound cake and an angel food cake: dense but also still, somehow, rather light. In contrast to the inside, the outer layer of the Philly fluff is a crispy golden brown, creating a mouth-watering textural contrast.

Another factor in the Philly fluff's texture is the use of shortening. There's a drawback here. Shortening is one of those baking ingredients loaded with trans fats and offering little in the way of nutritional value. Of course, when it's dessert you're talking about, nutrition isn't exactly top of the priority list. Still, those keeping an eye on their cholesterol might want to take a cue from recipes like that in Food & Wine, which suggest substituting canola oil and even more butter for a few scoops of Crisco.

Served with a thick layer of powdered sugar on top, it most typically shows up today in a plain vanilla flavor, though according to Bruce Zipes and the Bruce's Bakery Cookbook, it originally had a thick chocolate swirl running through it too.

A staple in New York and New Jersey

Though not from Philadelphia, the Philly fluff cake is still quite the hit in the region of its origin –- southeast New York state and New Jersey. Writing for Epicurious, Zoe Denenberg recalled the Philly fluff as a hit during her childhood in New Jersey, a regular staple at Rosh Hashanah celebrations growing up. She also mentioned Natale's Bakery in Summit, New Jersey, as a particularly popular place to grab a Philly fluff.

To this day, Natale's still sells the Philly fluff cake, not just the plain version but the original chocolate swirl too. It also offers apple and blueberry varieties. It is Natale's best seller, and though it likely shares the basics with most other Philly fluff recipes, the bakery keeps the specifics tightly under wraps.

As for Bruce's in Great Neck, it closed in 2012, with its building sold not long after. Bruce Zipes then moved to Boca Raton in Florida and reopened his bakery and restaurant down there. In 2020, that location had to close too due to the financial strains of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Philly fluff, however, still appears to be thriving in the region of its origin.