Hey, St. Louis, I see you, lady, with your Cardinals jerseys and your weird food. Never had a slinger? Well, then you’ve probably also never pronounced the word four like “far” (as in “merge onto highway farty-far”) or eaten a Baba Ghanoush pizza. That’s just how we do in the city that often sleeps. Of all the marvelous and strange concoctions St. Louis claims as its own, however, my favorite is—without peer—the gooey butter cake.
Traditionally assembled as a yeast-cake layer topped with gooey crackle, this butter magic has received its share of adaptations over the years. Many will contend that you can achieve a similar effect with box cake mix and cream cheese, but I’m here to tell you those are garbage recipes for garbage people who aren’t even from St. Louis. That’s right, Paula Deen: you don’t belong here. We can brawl at dawn at the Bevo Mill restaurant . . . that is if you can find it.
I’ve doctored my cake by adding espresso powder and concocting my own corn-syrup substitute. You can doctor yours by following my recipe precisely and backing away from the yellow cake mix before the vein in my head explodes. Isn’t that what doctor means?
Go forth, my little gooey butter proselytes, and bake this St. Louis staple for all your friends. And if you over-bake it, I promise to haunt your dreams with a whisk in one hand and a block of Provel cheese gripped menacingly in the other. Yeah. We invented that too.
- ¼ cup whole milk
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) (3 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for pan
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
- 1¼ cup sugar dissolved in ¼ cup water
- 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 2½ teaspoons Mexican vanilla extract
- 2 eggs, at room temperature
- ¼ cup plus 1 Tablespoon whole milk, at room temperature
- 1 cup flour + 2 tbsp cornstarch and 2 tbsp espresso powder (espresso may be omitted for a traditional gooey butter)
- Powdered sugar, for dusting
- Warm the milk in a small saucepan until barely warm. Remove to a small bowl and sprinkle the yeast over. Allow to sit for 5 minutes before stirring to dissolve. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugar, and salt until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes.
- Add the egg and beat until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl with a spatula.
- Add the flour and milk/yeast in alternating additions, beginning and ending with flour. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition.
- Beat for an additional five minutes or until dough is slightly elastic.
- Butter a 9 by 11” cake pan or 10 x 15" cookie sheet and stretch the dough into the corners. Cover and allow to rise for 2 hours.
- Shortly before the dough has finished rising, dissolve 1¼ cup sugar in ¼ cup water by heating in the microwave (about 30 seconds).
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together butter, sugar, salt, and syrup mixture. Beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
- Add the Mexican vanilla and beat until combined. Incorporate eggs 1 at a time. Scrape down the sides of the bowl once incorporated.
- Whisk together the flour, espresso powder, and cornstarch. Add this mixture and the milk and combine on low speed.
- Once the dough has finished rising, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Top the yeast layer with dollops of the topping and use a spatula to spread to the edges of the pan, leaving about half an inch of yeast layer uncovered.
- Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, until topping is crisp and golden brown. Do not overbake! As this cake is known for being so “gooey,” a toothpick test will not aid you.
- Allow to cool. Dust with powdered sugar or top with ice cream before serving. Enjoy!