There are certain foods I just can’t explain. I know they’re delicious, I know what’s in them, but my words somehow fail me when it comes to explaining the taste to other people. Gooey Butter Cake is one of those foods. In reality, its name is pretty prescriptive: it’s gooey, it’s cake, and it sure has a lot of butter in it. But beyond that, I can never quite explain to someone else what they’re in for when they go to take a bite.
According to food historians, Gooey Butter Cake was first made by a St. Louis-area baker in the 1930s. It was the product of a mix up: a new baker used the wrong sort of butter. But as with so many recipes and foods, the mess-up proved lucrative. Gooey Butter Cake was a hit, and a new era of buttery goodness was born.
I first fell in love with Gooey Butter Cake during my time in St. Louis, and have eagerly sought it out ever since. Every now and then I think I see it at a bakery…and then realize it’s just lemon bars, which can look awfully like the buttery bars I seek. I did find it once, by chance, in Alabama. The bakery even had multiple flavors! The owner told me that a customer from St. Louis had suggested it to them, and it’d sold well since.
Alas, the cake remains hard to find in the wild. So to satisfy my cravings, I started baking it myself a few years ago. I’ve tried a few recipes over time, and have come up with a couple favorites I want to share with you today.
There are 2 main approaches to gooey butter cake: one involves a risen base and corn syrup, the other involves cake mix and cream cheese. Neither one is technically considered “correct.” I’ve seen both kinds for sale in St. Louis, and both kinds on food blogs around the web. I personally prefer the yeast-dependent version, but I’ve also made the cake mix version and gotten rave reviews. So I suggest you peek over the recipes below and choose the one that feels most comfortable to you in terms of ingredients, and most appealing to you in terms of pictures and descriptions. Then grab some butter, and get baking!
- My favorite yeast-based recipe can be found at both Brown Eyed Baker and Smitten Kitchen. You have to let the dough rise for a bit so it forms a cake base, then you pour the corn syrup topping over it and bake it altogether
- The cake mix version I’ve made is derived from the cake at a coffee shop called Kaldi’s. I found the recipe via a St. Louis newspaper. It’s a quicker approach, and a bit easier, than the yeast version above
- If you’re more of a cookie person, fear not. These Chocolate Gooey Butter Cookies were really tasty and had a similar gooey texture
Unfortunately I don’t have many suggestions for buying it pre-made. If you happen to find yourself in St. Louis, definitely check out the version at Kaldi’s Coffee Shop. I’ve never tried the cake at Park Avenue Coffee, but I hear great things about their multitude of flavor options. Beyond St. Louis…a friend told me about a similar dessert at a place called Mastro’s in Newport Beach, CA. I recently noticed a butter cake on California Pizza Kitchen’s menu. And of course, there’s always that Alabama bakery! Which, if my memory serves me right, was Heavenly Creations in Fairhope. And in one of my favorite twists on it, Ample Hills Creamery in Brooklyn mixes Gooey Butter Cake into one of their flavors. It’s divine, so if you find yourself in Brooklyn, check it out.