I’ve written about Gooey Butter Cake before. Gooey Butter Cake consists of a layer of sugary, buttery goo on top of a cake base. It’s a St. Louis specialty, one that I unfortunately haven’t mastered, and honestly didn’t eat much of in St. Louis. My first introduction to it was actually a Paula Deen recipe that, in addition to using a lot of butter, doctored up a cake mix for a base and included a one-pound box of powdered sugar in the topping. A coworker of mine at Illinois would make that recipe (and variations) all the time for potlucks, and I made it several times after she shared the recipe with me. Those bars were delicious and incredibly sweet.
But, that is not this recipe. I don’t like using cake mixes much, so I’ve tried a few other recipes in the past. Both of those take a cake base that uses yeast, so they take a bit of time to make. Not what I usually have time for nowadays. In contrast, this recipe from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook is an adaptation, where she created a snickerdoodle-like cinnamon-topped version. Although not traditional, it’s much faster to make and keeps well. And is, of course, rich and delicious.
This is Gooey Butter Cake, but the amount of goo that you end up with depends on how long you bake it. I’ve made it three times at this point, and each time it’s ended up a little differently. When I bake it to the full 30 minute mark, there’s little goo. At this point, it ends up like a very soft, sweet coffee cake, incredibly tender from the copious amount of butter in the recipe. In some spots, it’s kind of like the dense goo you get in a slightly under-baked brownie. At the 25 minute mark (or if my fingertips are too wet as I smooth the cookie dough base down), there’s a lot of goo. Make sure the top is jiggly when you pull it out if you want more goo. Somewhere around 27 minutes is probably best for me in my current oven. [It’s cleanest to cut and eat when the goo is minimal. The batch pictured here had minimal goo.]
The cinnamon sugar gives each piece a little crunch. I omitted the cinnamon sugar on one half once, and I didn’t like it so much. I think there simply wasn’t enough contrast between base and topping without it. If you want a not-cinnamon version, it’s best to try a different recipe, probably with a yeasted base. Or seek out the Paula Deen recipe.
When you make this, line your baking pan with parchment paper for easy clean-up as I’ve had trouble with other gooey recipes sticking. Using the parchment paper, I find it hard to spread out the batter for the base with a spatula, so I get my fingertips wet and pat out the dough to the edges of the pan. Just try not to get the layer too wet.
- 8 tablespoons butter (1 stick), softened
- 1½ cups flour
- 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon table salt
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1 egg
- ¼ cup milk
- ¼ cup light corn syrup
- ¼ milk, half-and-half, or cream (in case you want it to include even more calories)
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 12 tablespoons butter (1½ sticks), softened
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- ¼ teaspoon table salt
- 1 egg
- 1¼ cups flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1½ teaspoons cinnamon
- Line a 9x13 inch metal pan with parchment paper and butter the sides/spray it with cooking spray. Set aside.
- Combine 8 tablespoons butter with ¾ cup sugar and beat in a stand mixer or with a hand mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg and milk and beat until combined, then an extra 10 seconds more. Add 1½ cups flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt, and beat on low until just combined.
- Scrape batter into the pan and spread evenly to the edges using a knife or a spatula. (Dolloping all over the bottom of the pan works well, but I still find I need to use clean, wet fingertips to push the batter into the corners and edges since the parchment moves around.) Set pan aside.
- Whisk together corn syrup, milk, and vanilla, and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat 12 tablespoons butter, 1 cup and 2 tablespoons sugar, and ¼ teaspoon salt until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg until combined, and then beat an extra 10 seconds more. Add ⅓ of the remaining flour, then ½ of the milk mixture. Add another ⅓ flour, then the remaining milk, and then the rest of the flour, mixing only until just combined. Pour and spread batter over the cookie base and spread to the edges of the pan as necessary. (This is a thinner batter than the base, so this is much easier.)
- Combine the 2 tablespoons sugar with the cinnamon, then sprinkle evenly on top of the batter.
- Bake at 350F for 25-30 minutes (27 in my oven). The center will still be liquidy and jiggle; this will make goo. Cool completely, then cut into several little squares.