The first thing I think of when someone mentions St. Louis is The Gateway Arch, but the second would surely be the Gooey Butter Cake. A regional favorite with multiple stories surrounding its origin, the Gooey Butter Cake is a thin, dense, rich coffee cake invented by German bakers in South St. Louis.
The original version has a thick, cakey crust with a butter topping, while the variation has a cake mix crust topped with cream cheese, butter and loads of confectioners’ sugar. Not being from St. Louis, I haven’t been able to determine which version is more popular, but since the German bakers of the 1930s and ’40s were not using cake mix, I’m pretty sure the version without cream cheese is closer to the real thing.
This recipe was given to me by Beverly Jones who developed recipes for some very notable Boston based cookbook authors. One cookbook she worked on, and which happens to have this recipe in it, was Rosie’s Bakery Chocolate-Packed Jam-Filled Butter-Rich No-Holds-Barred Cookie Book. Beverly shared an adapted version of the Gooey Butter Cake Cookie Bars with me, noting that her recipe tester from St. Louis said these were the best she’d ever tasted.
Not having a frame of reference for Gooey Butter Cake, I can only tell you that these are different than anything I’ve tried. After being thoroughly chilled, they have a dense bottom layer and a smooth, thick, slightly sticky topping that has a very buttery, vanilla, flavor. The butter flavor is wonderful. I made mine with store brand butter, but I can only imagine how these would when made with special English butter or KerryGold or Plugra. I’ll definitely be making these again. And here’s a tip. When you make a batch, consider making a half batch of Magic Cookie Bars as well to use up the remaining condensed milk.
- 1 cup (4.5 oz) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 large egg
- 1 1/2 sticks (6 oz) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 pinch Salt
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 6 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
- 1/3 cup light corn syrup
- 1 large Egg
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.Line a 9 inch square metal baking pan with foil and spray foil with cooking spray or rub with butter and line with parchment paper.
- Sift flour, salt and baking soda together into a small bowl. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter, sugar and vanilla together with an electric mixer. Scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula. Stir in the egg and beat until smooth.
- Add the flour mixture and stir until well blended.
- With flour on your fingers, press the dough into the bottom of the pan and set aside while you prepare the filling (I used the same bowl).
- Beat the butter, salt and vanilla with the mixer until light and fluffy. Scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula.
- Using lowest speed of mixer, beat in condensed milk. Beat for about 15 seconds. Scrape bowl and beat in the corn syrup. Add the egg and beat for 1 1/2 minutes on medium-high speed until the mixture is light and fluffy again. Scrape the bowl. With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the flour and beat until mixed, 30 seconds (I just stirred it in).
- Pour the filling evenly over the base. Bake on the center rack of the oven until the edges appear set but the center is still jiggly, 25 to 27 minutes. Let cool to room temperature; then refrigerate until set, about 4 hours. Cut into 2 1/4-by-1 1/2-inch bars with a sharp thin knife, dipping it in hot water and wiping it clean before each new cut.