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« Cake Byte: Renegade Cupcakes and Music in Cal Anderson Park Tomorrow! | Main | Sweet Art: Caution for Illustration Friday »
Thursday
Aug272009

Butter Me Up: The Famous St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake

Gooey Butter Cake
Photos and recipe c/o CakeSpy buddy Kerry of Lollicakes.

I first learned of the existence of the St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake a while back during the Regional Specialties cake poll. The name alone had me hooked: I had to know more.

But first things first: what is a Gooey Butter Cake, this food that the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission calls "one of St. Louis' popular, quirky foods"? While variations exist, it seems that the most important aspects are a bottom layer of buttery yellow cake and a and a top layer of...well, gooiness: but depending on who you ask, the top layer will consist of either egg and cream cheese, or butter and sugar. But in general, it is served as a coffee cake and not as a dessert cake.

As it turns out though, the foundation of the cake's story is about as soft as its gooey innards: there are varying accounts of who invented it and when.
Gooey Butter cake
Photo credit: Jen V., CakeSpy reader

According to Wikipedia, a legend about the cake's origin is included in Saint Louis Days...Saint Louis Nights, 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 sugar and flour.
But then again, according to What's Cooking America, at least two families take credit for the cake. The first is the Danzer family:

In late 1942 or early 1943, Johnny Hoffman of St. Louis Pastries Bakery was working on a Saturday and made what eventually turned out to be Gooey Butter Cake. You're right, it was a mistake! He subsequently called Herman Danzer, my dad, and told him he thought he may have something and asked to come to my dad's shop on Spring & Gravois to see if they could duplicate it.

They worked all Saturday, and through many trials and errors got it pretty good. The final batch they made, my dad suggested they add glycerin to get it really gooey. It worked - whereupon my mom, Melba Danzer, came into the shop from the store to see what these two guys were doing. When she tried it she said "this sure is gooey" subsequently, the name.
And then there's the Koppe family:

My father, John Koppe, a St. Louis baker, also developed the Gooey Butter Cake in the early 1940s...he owned and operated Koppe Bakery during World War II on California and Arsenal Streets in South St. Louis. His shop was located on the corner of two major bus lines, so people who were transferring would often stop in while waiting for their bus.

The Gooey Butter Cake was a smash hit with customers. The lines of customers spilled out the door and around the block. This cake was very gooey, rich, and exceptionally delicious! I remember that the goody butter cake is best described as very "GOOEY." You could eat it with a spoon! The top was sprinkled with powdered sugar and the edge was slightly crispy to hold it together - almost like a pudding. It was baked in a square shape and, of course, was light colored, like butter.
But while the cake's origins may be up in the air, one thing's for sure: it's a St. Louis institution. One company, Gooey Louie, specializes in a variety of takes on the Gooey Butter cake, including a variety of different flavors (including a "design-your-own-flavor" feature) as well as individual-serving cakes and tiny "Gooey Butter Bites". Around the St. Louis area it's a common cake to find in bakeries. Though not as common elsewhere, at least one savvy Cake Gumshoe sighted a version of it in a Seattle area Safeway!
Gooey Butter Cake
And happily, another Cake Gumshoe, Kerry of Lollicakes, was brave enough to try out the recipe to see for herself. Here's the recipe she used:

The Best St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake Recipe

Ingredients:
  • 1 box yellow cake mix with pudding in the mix (Pillsbury works best) 
  • 4 extra large eggs 
  • 1 stick melted butter 
  • Pure vanilla extract 
  • 1 8 oz. package cream cheese 
  • 1 box powdered sugar (3 1/2 cups)
  • Crisco or pam for greasing pan
Equipment:
  • 9 X 13 Pan 
  • Mixer 
Directions:

BUTTER CAKE MIXTURE:
  1. Get 9 x13 pan and grease with Crisco on the bottom and all sides. 
  2. Put yellow cake mix in mixing bowl. DO NOT FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS ON THE CAKE BOX. Add 2 extra large eggs, 1 stick of melted butter in microwave about 35 seconds, and 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract. Mix together in mixer. Batter will have a very most feel to it. Take cake batter and spread evenly through 9 x 13 pan so it evenly covers the bottom of the pan. 
  3. Clean off mixers and mixing bowl. 

GOOEY MIXTURE:

  1. Melt cream cheese in microwave about 45-50 seconds. 
  2. Put 3/4 of the powdered sugar in mixing bowl setting aside about 1/4 of the box for topping to sprinkle on after the cake is baked and cooled. In mixer add 3/4 powdered sugar, melted cream cheese, and 2 extra large eggs. Mix together in mixer. This will have a very GOOEY consistency as this is the gooey part of the cake. Take the Gooey mixture and layer on top of the cake batter mixture in pan. 

COOKING INSTRUCTIONS:
  1. Here at sea level we bake it at 350 for 30-40 minutes or until the top of the cake is browned (Note: Kerry baked hers for 35 minutes and thought it was perhaps slightly over-baked). You want to make sure the gooey mixture on top of the cake is not too gooey otherwise it will be like a liquid. It is okay if the edges are brown and the top of the cake is lightly browned as well. 
  2. Once cooked remove from oven and let cool about two hours before cutting and adding remaining powdered sugar. Add remaining powdered sugar to coat/cover top of cake, cut like brownies and serve. 

References (2)

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    Response: blog
    Seeking Sweetness in Everyday Life - Seeking Sweetness in Everyday Life - Butter Me Up: The Famous St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake
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    Response: Metsakinnistu ost
    Seeking Sweetness in Everyday Life - Seeking Sweetness in Everyday Life - Butter Me Up: The Famous St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake

Reader Comments (28)

My brother and I were just talking about gooey butter the other day. It's one of those childhood memories that take you back.....
They don't sell that where I live now and wow do we miss it.
Thanks for the recipe I will have to try it, I'm sure it wont be like the original...

Yummy!!! I met a couple of great friends from Saint Luis in Thailand, and they introduced me to this delicious cake, so glad to have found it again!!!
My brother recommended I might like this blog. He was entirely right. This post truly made my day. You can not imagine simply how much time I had spent for this info! Thanks! http://sarahthompson.bravesites.com/entries/general/gucci-clutches---exquisite-and-current
July 13 | Unregistered Commenterdaday
In my family we did eat this as a dessert, not ever with coffee, so I guess it just depends on the individual family :)
August 1 | Unregistered CommenterKristin
I was born and raised in St Louis but moved to Ohio when I was 32. When I went "home" to St Louis, we would always pick up a Gooey Butter cake from the local grocery. I have seen numerous recipes, from Emeril to Paula Deen but the best one I found came from Woman's Day. It's close to this recipe but there's a stick of melted butter in the filling, also. I assure anyone who tries this recipe...it will be just as good as what you remember back home. And, you're friends will not forgive you if you make this cake and don't give them the recipe!!
August 4 | Unregistered CommenterShawn
I was born and raised in St. Louis. I've lived on the East Coast for the last six years. I JUST baked this recipe, and I'm taking it to a friend's party tomorrow. Excited to dig in and to introduce all these New Englanders to Gooey Butter cake!
I was born and raised in St. Louis and was hoping to bring some of my hometown charm to our parish picnic in Portland, Oregon. I found that this recipe was not very specific. "A stick" of butter? How many ounces is that? "A box" of powdered sugar? It would have been helpful to get actual measurements instead of just 1/4 of a box. And the gooey topping isn't supposed to be liquid? What do we do if it is and how long do we beat it? It smells good, but I must say your advice to bake for less time was really not necessary. I am not all that high above sea level and baked for 35 minutes. It came out rather soft and the top doesn't crackle like in the pictures. I really enjoyed the blog portion of this website, but the recipe could have been better. I didn't see that anyone left feedback, so here it is.
September 11 | Unregistered CommenterGoMizzou
Until a few years ago,I had never heard of gooey butter cake,then I saw Paula Deen make one on the foodnetwork,it looked good,so I made her recipe,it was soooooooooooooooo sweet,I didn't care for it,but thought I would try the recipe again and use half the amount of powdered sugar (1 lb) ,haven't done it yet. A few months later, I went to a soul food restaurant that advertised a gooey butter cake,it looked very different from P.Deen's so I tried it,it was DELICIOUS!! I wish I could get their recipe,but no way. I'm going to try this recipe using half the amount of powdered sugar because you describe it likes it's sooooo good.
December 7 | Unregistered Commenterwindella
I wondered if you could add a small can of crushed pineapple drained to cake mixture if this would be good.
February 6 | Unregistered CommenterBsrbara
I made this yesterday, it was gross.
The cake mix was a sticky gross mess stuck to the mixer blade, then try to smear it in a pan, over sweet, will try to find a better home made recipe, no box crap for this girl
February 28 | Unregistered CommenterBunny
I was just in St. Louis and had a Gooey Butter Cake with fresh Blueberries in it! Simply Lovely!
June 17 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth
So is that a grahm cracker crust or does the bottom part just bake like that?
October 11 | Unregistered CommenterNess
This recipe hasn't turned out well once for me. Every time, it comes out of the oven extremely fluffy, not remotely gooey, no matter how much I decrease the time or temperature. It has been a waste of money and electricity.
October 20 | Unregistered Commenterdisappointed
Hi Disappointed. I have passed your comment on to Kerry, who shared the recipe with me. I hope she might have some advice. Sorry it hasn't worked out! When you say fluffy do you mean the top, or inside too?
October 21 | Registered CommenterCakespy
To the person that was disappointed in this recipe. I live in St. Louis and have made thus recipe MANY times. The reason that the cake batter part was too sticky is because you are using too much liquid with the cake mix. I usually use just one egg. Perhaps your eggs are bigger than most. Use one egg and mix in the cake mix, vanilla and butter. The dough should be nice and soft...slightly moist...not sticky at all. Add slightly more egg if needed...probably will never need all of the second egg...if any.

Also...the amount of powdered sugar I use is 4 cups which is 1 pound or 1/2 the bag/box

Try making the recipe again....it's really too good to pass up!
November 13 | Unregistered Commenteraimee domash
Just made this Butter Cake and it was so easy. One of many desserts for Thanksgiving.
November 21 | Unregistered CommenterRobin
Butter cake is a German pastry and sold in the Philly area since the early 1900's. My family has garded the real recipe as a family secret. All i can say is........ the real pastry blows your knockoff out of the water.
March 9 | Unregistered Commenterleigh
the BEST SAINT LOUIS GOOEY BUTTER (and i am a STLer) is the ROUTE 66 St. Louis Cookbook The Mother Load of Recipes from the Mother Road - by Norma Maret Bolen, she has 2 of them in their, both are excellent and they were given by the 30's owners original recipes.
April 8 | Unregistered Commenterphoenix
I learned this recipe from a friend while living in Seattle. She was from St. Louis. The only thing I do differently from this recipe is cook slower (325) until it looks done. By looks done I mean the edges are browned and the gooey top is cracked. I have ruined this recipe by cooking too fast or not checking soon enough. It is always a nerve racking crap shoot since my oven sucks but a good guideline is 325 degrees for about 45 mins. When it comes out right it is crazy delicious and very well liked by all.
June 10 | Unregistered CommenterFindaway
The only version of St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake worth eating is the yeast version from scratch. The yeast cake base cuts the sweetness and provides more support for the top.
August 6 | Unregistered CommenterMark R
I live in the STL metro area. We too serve this for dessert. I make the crust using 1 box of yellow cake mix, 2 medium eggs, along with one stick of melted butter, no vanilla in the crust. I make the filling with 3 3/4's cups powdered sugar, one softened block of cream cheese, 1 large egg, 1/2 tsp. vanilla, and 1 or 2 T of softened butter. I find that I have to cook at a temperature of 325 F for about 35- 40 minutes in order for the crust to not get too dark. Sprinkle more powdered sugar over top after it has cooled a little while, but is still slightly warm.
September 5 | Unregistered CommenterDebbie Ng.
I just made this butter cake. It taste better than some of the store bought cakes That I got. GOD BLESS.
January 9 | Unregistered CommenterEddie Jordan
St. Louis style butter cake is not made with cream cheese.
January 26 | Unregistered Commentersteve
I tried making this today and the directions at some parts were a little vauge. For instance, is it that you need 3/4 cups of powder sugar for the gooey part. Also for the batter I followed the directions and it was more like a bough than a moist batter
January 28 | Unregistered CommenterSteph Malone
BAKING this yummy recipe for the first time for Easter breakfast. How mealty should the cream cheese get? It didn't melt like butter. Will it be okay?
April 19 | Unregistered CommenterSandy K

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