Gooey butter cake
A slice of Gooey butter cake, garnished with powdered sugar and raspberries.
|Place of origin||United States|
|Region or state||St. Louis, Missouri|
|Main ingredient(s)||Wheat flour, butter, sugar, eggs, powdered sugar|
Gooey butter cake is a type of cake traditionally made in the American Midwest city of St. Louis. Gooey butter cake is a flat and dense cake made with wheat cake flour, butter, sugar, and eggs, typically near an inch tall, and dusted with powdered sugar. While sweet and rich, it is somewhat firm, and is able to be cut into pieces similarly to a brownie. Gooey butter cake is generally served as a type of coffee cake and not as a formal dessert cake. There are two distinct variants of the gooey butter: a bakers' gooey butter and a cream cheese and commercial yellow cake mix variant. It is believed to have originated in the 1930s.
The St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission includes a recipe for the cake on its website, calling it "one of St. Louis' popular, quirky foods"; the recipe calls for a bottom layer of butter and yellow cake batter, and a top layer made from eggs, cream cheese, and, in one case, almond extract. The cake is dusted with confectioner's sugar before being served. The cake is best eaten soon after baking it. It should be served at room temperature or warm.
The cream cheese variant of the gooey butter cake recipe, while close enough to the original, is an approximation designed for easier preparation at home. Almost all bakeries in the greater St. Louis area, including those at local grocery chains Schnucks and Dierbergs, use a slightly different recipe based on corn syrup, sugar and powdered eggs—no cake mix or cream cheese is involved.
Origin and popularity
A legend about the cake's origin is included in Saint Louis Days...Saint Louis Nights (ISBN 0-9638298-1-5), a cookbook published in the mid-1990s by the Junior League of St. Louis. The cake was supposedly first made by accident in the 1930s by a St. Louis-area German American baker who was trying to make regular cake batter but reversed the proportions of butter and flour.
John Hoffman was the owner of the bakery where the mistake was made. The real story is there were two types of butter "smears" used in his bakery: a gooey butter and a deep butter. The deep butter was used for deep butter coffee cakes. The gooey butter was used as an adhesive for things like Danish rolls and stollens. The gooey butter was smeared across the surface, then the item was placed in coconut, hazelnuts, peanuts, crumbs or whatever was desired so they would stick to the product.
Hoffman hired a new baker that was supposed to make deep butter cakes, but got the two butter smears mixed up. The mistake wasn't caught until after the cakes came out of the proof box. Rather than throw them away, Hoffman went ahead and baked them up. As this was around the Great Depression that was another reason to be thrifty. The new type of cake sold so well, Hoffman kept producing them and soon, so did the other bakers around St. Louis.
Another St. Louis baker, Fred Heimburger, also remembers the cake coming on the scene in the 1930s, as a slip up that became a popular hit and local acquired taste. He liked it well enough that Mr. Heimburger tried to promote Gooey butter cake by taking samples of it with him when he traveled out of St. Louis to visit other bakers in their shops. They liked it all right, but they couldn't get their customers to buy it, with reactions tending to regard it as looking too much like a mistake, and "a flat gooey mess". And so it remained as a regional favorite for many decades.
Gooey butter cake is also commonly known as "ooey gooey butter cake."
Many St. Louis area grocery stores sell fresh or boxed gooey butter cakes. Haas baking sold a widely distributed, square and packaged version in a box that depicts a colorful, if anachronistic scene of aviator Charles Lindbergh's plane the Spirit of St. Louis flying past downtown St. Louis, the Gateway Arch and the modern cityscape in clouds. Independent or family bakeries make gooey butter cakes, from a time when there were still many neighborhood corner German and Austrian American bakeries in St. Louis, in neighborhoods like Dutchtown, Bevo Mill, and the Tower Grove area, and others. There are now several businesses that specialize in different flavors of gooey butter cake and sell them in coffee shops, or to walk in customers, or by order or shipment.
Panera Bread Company (original name: St. Louis Bread Company) makes a Danish with a gooey butter filling for the St. Louis market. More recently, Walgreens sells wrapped, individual slices of a version of St. Louis gooey butter cake as a snack alongside muffins, brownies, and cookies.
Gooey butter cake is now widely available outside of the St. Louis area, as Walmart has been marketing a version that it calls Paula Deen Baked Goods Original Gooey Butter Cake. However, Walmart calls it "Paula's signature dessert" and makes no mention of its St. Louis origin.
Modern versions of this confection, originally sold as a breakfast pastry or "coffee cake", have shown up on upscale restaurant menus across the Midwest and even the West coast. The first such interpretation is believed to have happened in 1991 at a small fine dining restaurant located in Springfield, Missouri. The restaurant, called Clary's after the surname of the two brothers who originally opened it, offered their customers a blueberry version of the gooey butter cake with vanilla bean ice cream and blueberry sauce. The dessert was originally called Gary's Favorite after Gary Tombridge, a friend of co-owner James Clary, served the chef a raspberry flavored gooey butter cake after dinner at Tombridge's home. The chef remarked what a wonderful pastry it was and wondered why no one had ever served it as a dessert. The dessert, along with Clary's signature souffles, became a staple at the eatery. Clary left the restaurant business in 2008 but says he still serves the gooey butter cake to friends and catering clients. The sweet dessert can now be found on many restaurant menus including the popular Kansas City chain Ya Ya's, Murray's in Columbia, Missouri, and even as far as Seattle, where The Five Spot serves a pumpkin version of the classic pastry.
In popular culture
- St. Louis cuisine
- Butterkuchen, the yeasted, German coffeecake that is topped with flecks of butter
- Coffee cake
- Kuchen, the German name for cakes, the coffee cake style which may be similar to the base cake that Gooey butter cake developed from
- History of Gooey Butter Cake
- "Ooey Gooey Butter Cake". The Sweet Art. Retrieved 3 October 2011.
- "Real St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake". Creative Culinary. Retrieved 25 November 2014.
- Barry, Ann (April 19, 1989). "A Butter Cake That Sticks to the Gums". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 January 2014.
- Real St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake from Creative Culinary, March 18, 2014 (with recipe from scratch that does not involve cake mix or cream cheese)
- A Butter Cake That Sticks to the Gums from the New York Times, April 19, 1989 (with recipe)
- Paula Deen DID NOT Create Gooey Butter Cake ! Controversy over a television cook laying claim to Gooey butter cake described
-  Walgreens also sells a gooey butter cake with "St. Louis Style" on its packaging.