Is St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake dessert, or breakfast? The answer is yes. I happily eat this delicious yeasted cake topped with vanilla-y, buttery goo with any meal of the day!
I've made St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake on this site more than once, but this is the best recipe I've made yet.
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What is Gooey Butter Cake?
Gooey Butter Cake is a delicious dessert that originated in St. Louis, Missouri. It's a layer of soft, sweet, buttery goo on top of a thin, tender yeasted cake.
It's a bit similar to lemon bars - which are also soft goo on top of a buttery crust. But where lemon bars are topped with smooth lemon curd (and have a shortbread crust), gooey butter cake has a more batter/cake-like goo.
Thinking about it more, Gooey Butter Cake is a bit more like a coffee cake. Definitely sweet but not so sweet you couldn't eat it with your morning coffee.
I didn't actually discover this dessert when I lived in St. Louis the first time - I was introduced to it at work by a coworker in Illinois who would make the Paula Deen, cake mix version for any potluck we had. I made those a few times too, 10 years ago.
Unfortunately, I also didn't eat much of it when I lived in St. Louis for a second time, either. Although, most restaurants we had cater lunch would give us gooey butter cookies for dessert. I lived for those leftovers. The cookie version is amazing.
Back to the cake.
It originated in the 1930s in STL, likely from a happy mix-up (as many delicious things are) of ingredient proportions; someone switched the amounts of butter and flour in a cake recipe. Waste not, want not, as the axiom says, so they sold the cakes, and they became popular.
I've seen butter cakes locally here in New Jersey and also in Philadelphia. Let me tell you, though, they're not as good as what you get in St. Louis, and definitely not as good as what I make here.
I've made several gooey butter cakes, but this is the best one. Others I've tried included a gooey butter cake recipe from the NY Times (my review here), which the instructions severely overbaked, and the original recipe from Old St. Louis Bakery via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (my review here). The recipe below is adapted from King Arthur Baking, and is very similar to the original recipe.
Ingredients are simple things you likely just have around already. All-purpose flour, granulated sugar, eggs, and of course, butter.
I always use unsalted butter. Butter's a major component of this cake, so make sure your butter is fresh, and not something that's been in the back of the fridge for ages.
Yeast makes the cake layer puff and rise a little bit. You can use active dry yeast, which I use, or instant if you'd prefer.
A little bit of milk helps tenderize the cake layer.
Lots of vanilla goes in the gooey layer. This is your flavor other than butter and sugar. Use good vanilla.
Corn syrup is what helps keep the gooey layer gooey. Don't skip it. Its neutral flavor doesn't interfere with the butter or vanilla. In this recipe, the liquid corn syrup is an invert sugar or syrup, and it improves the texture of the goo and keeps the cake tastier and softer for longer.
Remember, light corn syrup (like Karo brand) IS NOT the same as high-fructose corn syrup. Corn syrup is 100% glucose, unlike high-fructose corn syrup, which is much sweeter. If you're still opposed to corn syrup, you can try honey or agave, but they will impact the flavor and may not bake the same.
So, you've softened your butter for the cake's base. Let get started!
First, in a small glass or measuring cup, combine the yeast with milk and lukewarm water. Stir well to combine and dissolve the yeast. In many recipes I add yeast directly to the flour, but there's so much butter in this cake that the yeast won't dissolve properly that way.
Even so, you may have trouble getting the yeast to dissolve. If you do, set it aside for a few minutes to let it soak, and try again. I typically have to really scrape at the yeast to dissolve it. Your milk will smell fragrant and yeasty when it's dissolved.
In the bowl of your stand mixer or with a hand mixer, cream together the softened butter, sugar, and salt for a few minutes until it's fluffy.
Scrape down the bowl, then add the egg and beat until mixed. If your egg is cold, the mixture may curdle. That's okay.
Still using the paddle attachment, stir in half the flour...
Then add the liquid...
Then add the rest of the flour.
Scrape down the bowl, then use the paddle attachment to beat the cake batter until the dough is smooth and stretchy.
You may not be able to tell very well while the dough is in the bowl. However, you can pinch a bit of the dough. See, it stretches!
Pat the dough into a greased (preferably aluminum) 9x13-inch pan (affiliate link).
If it doesn't stretch all the way into the corners, let the dough rest for about 5 minutes, and try again.
Cover the pan with plastic wrap and let it rise for 2 ½ hours. The cake may be puffy, doubled in height, or not at all. As long as the dough smelled like yeast when you made it, all is fine.
Pull out your butter to soften now for the goo. Not comfortable with letting butter soften for that long? Wait an hour, then pull out the butter.
20 minutes from the bake time (or after 2 hours 10 minutes of rising), preheat your oven to 350F.
In a measuring glass or bowl, add corn syrup, water, and vanilla. Stir to combine, then set aside.
In a clean bowl, cream the butter, sugar, and salt until it's light and fluffy.
Scrape down the bowl, then add the egg and mix until combined.
Scrape down the bowl again. Stir in half the flour...
Add the corn syrup mixture...
Then stir in the rest of the flour.
Scrape down the bowl, and then mix at medium speed for another 30 seconds.
Spoon the gooey batter onto the cake base...
And then spread it out all the way to the edges. It won't move much as it bakes.
Pull your cake out after 30 minutes in a metal pan, but it may take up to 45 minutes of baking time in a glass pan. The cake will be golden at the edges, but still liquidy in the center. You will think it isn't done, but it is.
If you bake it for a few minutes longer, it'll still be delicious, but it won't be quite as good and gooey.
Let your cake cool completely, at least 2 hours if not longer. Your puffy cake will deflate a bit, which is fine!
Dust with powdered sugar before serving.
Serving and Storage
All pieces of gooey butter cake are wonderful; I love the caramelization and chewiness on the edge pieces, but the center pieces have the most goo. Whichever piece you eat, you can't go wrong.
There's also no wrong way to serve this cake. Serve it for a casual dessert. Eat it for breakfast. Make it for a Mother's Day brunch. Have it as an unconventional coffee cake. Bring it to a potluck! Definitely share with your friends - it's what we do in the Midwest.
Store the leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator, but bring them back to room temperature before serving. They're best (and gooeiest) that way.
Other Favorite Butter and Vanilla Desserts
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Is this delicious yeasted cake dessert, or breakfast? With a yeasted base topped with vanilla-y, buttery goo, that's up to you.
- 3 tablespoons milk 45 grams
- 2 tablespoons lukewarm water 30 grams
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter 84 grams; at room temperature
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar 40 grams
- ¾ teaspoon table salt
- 1 large egg ~50 grams; at room temperature
- 1 ¾ cups flour 210 grams
- ¼ cup light corn syrup 78 grams
- 2 tablespoons water 30 grams
- 2 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract 13 grams
- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter 156 grams; at room temperature
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar 300 grams
- ½ teaspoon table salt
- 1 large egg ~50 grams; at room temperature
- 1 ¼ cups flour 155 grams
- powdered sugar for topping
Dissolve the yeast in the milk and water. If you have trouble dissolving it, you can set it aside for a few minutes to soften the yeast. The mixture will smelly fragrant and yeasty.
With an electric mixer or the paddle attachment of a stand mixer, cream the butter, sugar, and salt at medium speed for a few minutes, until fluffy. Scrape down the bowl, add the egg, and mix until combined.
On low speed, mix in half of the flour. Follow it with all of the yeast mixture, and then add the remaining flour.
Scrape down the bowl, then mix with the paddle attachment at medium speed for 4-5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and stretchy.
If you're using a hand mixer, don't overheat your mixer. If you can't mix the dough with the mixer, knead it by hand (still in the bowl) for a few minutes. The dough is very easy to handle. However, do not turn it out or incorporate any additional flour into it.
Pat dough into a greased 9x13 inch pan, stretching it out to the edges. If the dough doesn't stretch out to the edges, let the dough rest for a few minutes before patting it out the rest of the way.
Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 2 ½ hours. Dough may just be puffy; it may be doubled; or it may seem no different. Those are all okay.
About 20 minutes from the end of rising time, preheat the oven to 350F and make the gooey topping.
In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the corn syrup, water, and vanilla.
Using a stand or electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar, and salt until light and fluffy. Scrape the bowl, then add the egg and mix until combined.
Add half the flour to the butter mixture, then scrape down the bowl. Add the corn syrup mixture, then the rest of the flour.
Scrape down the bowl again, then mix at medium speed for 30 seconds more. Spoon and spread the topping over the cake dough.
Bake cake for 30 (in a metal pan) to 45 (in a ceramic or glass pan) minutes. The cake will still be liquidy in the center when it is done, but it will be golden around the edges. You will think it's not done, but it is.
Remove the cake from the oven and cool completely in the pan, at least 2 hours. The filling will initially be puffy but will deflate as it cools.
Dust with powdered sugar before serving. Store in the refrigerator, but bring leftovers back to room temperature before serving.
The main flavors in this are butter and vanilla. Use freshly purchased butter, and good real vanilla extract.
Corn syrup is necessary in this recipe to keep the gooey topping soft. Honey or agave may be substituted at your own risk, and the flavor may change.
This recipe is adapted from King Arthur Baking. Calorie count is an estimate created in MyNetDiary.
Originally posted in January 2018. Updated in April 2023.
Recipes from the past
[Originally published January 25, 2018. Rewritten text, instructions, and new photos in April 2023.]
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