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Gooey Butter Cake Recipes Vary Throughout St. Louis

Baked crisp or extra gooey. No matter the style or recipe St. Louis bakers know how to satisfy customers cravings for St Louis' favorite cake: Gooey Butter.

St. Louis’ gooey butter cake takes many forms. The classic recipe is built on a Danish-like coffee cake dough topped with a generous amount of chewy, vanilla buttery gooeyness. Other versions are built on everything from a shortbread crust to a dense cake that becomes the platform for the gooey filling. Which version is right?  It depends on what you grew up eating and how thick you like the filling.

I grew up eating the coffee cake version with a 50/50 spilt of dough and filling that was baked by the Haas Bakery, a South County commercial bakery that operated since 1925—and sadly closed last week. Thankfully, the gooey butter tradition continues. 

“You’re not a St. Louis bakery if you don’t have a gooey butter cake,” said owner Catherine Kidder, who mastered the art of the gooey butter after moving to St Louis. “I grew up in Michigan and didn’t come to St Louis until 1984. When people talked about the gooey butter cake I thought 'Gooey butter?' Seriously?”

Kidder learned quickly that gooey butter was no joke and people are passionate about the cake. According to Kidder, the hard part of making gooey butter is finding the happy medium. Some people like it crisp while others like lots of gooey filling.

“We sell at least a few dozen a day,” said Kidder who makes a variety at the  bakery that includes the original vanilla flavor, chocolate caramel pecan, along with caramel apple and such seasonal fresh fruits as cherry, blueberry or raspberry.

Russell Ping’s version of gooey butter is not the norm but it has won rave reviews and fans since he opened .

“Our gooey butter is a little bit different than others, which is why I think it gets a lot of attention,” said Ping, another St Louis transplant who added the local confection to his menu to satisfy customer requests.  “We don’t call it a gooey butter cake. It’s just gooey butter because we make ours on a shortbread cookie crust—my own variation of the recipe that sets it apart from the traditional gooey butter cake.”

Russell is a talented baker who says his background is in fine dining and considers baking is a hobby. However, as a professional chef, his dedication to using fresh, seasonal ingredients is reflected in his gooey butter recipes.

“I’m big on seasonal cooking and I reflect that in my baking,” said Russell. " In the spring and summer we feature a triple-berry gooey butter and in fall we have pumpkin.”

Russell’s standard gooey butter flavors are the original, chocolate chip, peanut butter with a chocolate ganache drizzle and toasted coconut, which Russell describes as similar to a Mounds candy bar.  There’s also lemon that was created was a result of a customer request.

“We get inspiration for flavors from our customers. People have asked us about a key lime flavor but we haven’t done it yet,” said Russell.

Ping and Kidder both guard their gooey butter recipes but offered the following advice. Ping’s recommendation for best results is to find a simple recipe. Kidder's advice? “The trick to a good gooey butter is in the process and lots and lots of butter.”

Old Fashioned Gooey Butter Cake

Cake:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 extra large egg

Topping:

  • 8-oz package cream cheese
  • 2 extra large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 16 ounces confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted

Heat over to 3350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking pan

For the cake, combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. In another mixing bowl whisk together the sugar, melted butter and egg. Add in flour mixture then spread on bottom of the baking dish.

For the topping, beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Reserve two tablespoons of confectioners sugar for finishing. Add remaining confectioners sugar to cream cheese mixture along with melted butter. Pour over top of cake dough, spreading evenly over the entire surface of cake. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes or until top is set and obtains a golden brown crust but is still gooey and soft. Remove from the oven and cool. Sprinkle top of cake with reserved confectioners sugar. Cut cake into 16 squares. 

Simple Gooey Butter Cake

  • 1 yellow cake mix
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 cups confectioner’s sugar

Heat over to 350 degrees. Mix cake mix, melted butter, vanilla and 2 eggs together. Pat mixture into the bottom of a lightly greased 9x13-inch baking pan.

Using an electric mixer blend together the cream cheese, remaining eggs, vanilla and confectioner’s sugar. Pour over cake layer and bake 40 –45 minutes. Cool. Dust top with confectioner’s sugar, if desired. Makes one cake – about 16-18 servings.

Chocolate Gooey Butter Cake

  • 1 box chocolate cake mix, your choice
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla, divided
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 8–ounce package cream cheese
  • 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder

Heat over to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x23-inch baking pan. In a large mixing bowl beat together the cake mix, melted butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 2 eggs and walnuts.  Pat the dough into bottom of the baking pan.

Using the same bowl used for dough, mix together the eggs, vanilla, cream cheese and confectioner’s sugar. Pour filling over cake and bake 40 –45 minutes. Cool. Cut into squares. Cake can be garnished with a sprinkle of confectioners sugar or a drizzle of chocolate icing. Makes one cake.

About this column: Suzanne Corbett is an award-winning writer/producer and culinary teacher, but her passion is as a food historian. She has written for Better Homes & Gardens, and was the radio host of Hot Plates, which aired on KSLG. She is the author of the award winning, "Pushcarts & Stalls: The Soulard Market History Cookbook."

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