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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. 

 

Reader Comments (18)

And of course the great Paula Deen makes all kinds of versions of gooey butter cake - each more delicious than the next. - B More Sweet

August 27 | Unregistered CommenterBlog Owner

wow this looks delicious! I ve never heard of this cake but surely it looks so good. Have to try this one :)
http://snookysrecipedoodles.blogspot.com/

August 27 | Unregistered CommenterSnooky doodle

Wherever it came from I'm glad it is around. The pictures are great!

August 27 | Unregistered CommenterTender Branson

I've had the Paula Deen version, and it is over-the-top sweet, but so very good.

Google Gooey Cake and somewhere out there (I can't remember where) is a variation that calls for pumpkin pie filling...put it in a spice cake mix and Oh. My. Stars! Autumnal HEAVEN.

Any time you eat gooey cake, the whooshing sound you hear is your arteries clogging. But, oh, so good!!!!

August 27 | Unregistered CommenterGina

Wonderful historic overview, well done! What a fantastic cake, when I have the ingredients on hand I'll go for it. Although I was born in CA, all my peeps are from St Louis so it would be quite fitting. As I was reading the recipe and info I did flash on Paula Deen, so I'm not surprised to see her mentioned in the comments! I think she should have a cardiologist on speed-dial!!! No, really!

August 27 | Unregistered CommenterBonnie Story

I grew up on this stuff! I've moved away from St. Louis and every time I go back, stopping to pick up a Gooey Butter Cake to take home is a MUST.

August 27 | Unregistered CommenterSunny Tuesday

Thanks for the mention! I never knew the history of the cake...just that my arteries were hardening while I ate it...oh, but what a way to go. I want to try it with chocolate cake - and that one with pumpkin sounds like a must for the Macy's Day Parade on Thanksgiving!!!

August 27 | Unregistered CommenterLolliCakes

Oh, delicious! I've never heard of this before, but it looks like a light cheesecake that would make an excellent breakfast. And it's buttery and gooey.

August 27 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

Gooey is great, and that's no hooey! How cool that an accident resulted in something so sweet?

You should try gooey butter cookies... sooooo much better. I love those more than the cake. They're even yummier in chocolate form... Yum!

August 28 | Unregistered CommenterNikiTheo

ooo, i love all things butter and gooo.

August 28 | Unregistered CommenterClevermonkey

Hello from a St. Louis Cake Spy reader! Gooey Butter Cake is to-die for, and we love it here. As much as we love Ted Drewes ice cream, and italian cookies on the hill, Gooey Butter cake is a staple here. Another great variation is chocolate gooey butter cake which happens to be my absolute favorite.

August 28 | Unregistered Commentercloverstl

Um both GOOEY and BUTTER are in the title.... SIGN ME UP!!!

August 28 | Unregistered CommenterEB

Oh my gosh...I just moved to St. Louis and have yet to experience the gooey butter cake. It looks like a heart attack in food form, but I think it is definitely a must-try item. :-)

August 29 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

Here in OK, we call them Neiman Marcus bars and store them in the refrigerator... delish!

http://www.sashasays.com/2007/11/get-in-your-car-right-now.html

Here's my blog post from 07 about it, complete w/ pics!

August 29 | Unregistered CommenterSasha

Here in NYC area, it's been dubbed Buttercrack, and the recipe came via a southern associate, who knew it as Nieman Marcus bars.

But needless to say, Buttercrack is more descriptive!

-Jen

September 8 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous
OMG!

I could eat this now. It's a pity that here in the UK we don't have the cake mixes that are needed. can I substitute anything else?
November 12 | Unregistered CommenterYvonne
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