Looks aren’t everything when it comes to gooey butter cake. It isn’t tall and pristine, like layered cakes. It doesn’t have a perfectly crimped crust, like pie. And it certainly isn’t cute-as-a-button, like macarons. Instead, the top has beige peaks and valleys. Though unassuming, it’s gooey, intensely sweet, super buttery, and insanely delicious—I find it impossible to have just one square (yes, this is a dare).
This is a traditional St. Louis-style gooey butter cake. That means it has two layers. The bottom layer is a sweet yeasted cake and the top layer is an ultra-buttery batter that doesn’t fully set when baked—it becomes an almost pudding-like filling. Gear up for a treat that is about to become a staple in your household.
Unproven Origins, Happy Outcome
One rumor is that gooey butter cake is the happy accident of a St. Louis-based pastry chef from the 1940s, Johnny Hoffman. He accidentally got the proportions of a coffee cake recipe mixed up, resulting in a super gooey cake.
The gooey butter cake became a phenomenon all over St. Louis—people lined up at bakeries around town for a piece of this cake. Still today there are bakeries that only serve gooey butter cakes. Family and friends argue over the best part. Is it the crisp, blondie-like edges? Or the gooey center? My vote is for the center!
Over the years, many variations have been created, including a shortcut with boxed cake mix and a cream cheese topping—equally as sweet and gooey, but I prefer this combination of yeasted dough and buttery topping.
Tips for Gooey Success
- The sweet, yeasted dough is pressed into a baking dish. It will take about 2 to 2 1/2 hours for the dough to rise and will double in size, but it’s hands off time for an otherwise easy recipe to pull together. I make a small mark on my baking dish about 1/2 inch above the top of the dough—a black Sharpie on the outside. You can tell the dough rose properly when it puffs up to the mark.
- Another way to tell the dough has risen properly? Just touch it! The dough will go from firm to soft as it proofs. It’ll feel squishy and will stay indented when you poke it with a finger.
- Even if you’re concerned about using corn syrup, do not replace with another ingredient or leave it out. Corn syrup is key for top-notch gooeyness.
- Yeasted doughs are typically kneaded with a hook attachment on a stand mixer (or by hand), but not here. A paddle attachment is all you need and enough to ensure the mixture comes together.
- The dough is covered with the topping, which makes it difficult to know when it is done baking. Luckily, you can tell from the top edges—they should be golden brown and slightly pull away from the dish. The center will be jiggly when you move the dish back and forth.
More Sheet Cake Recipes
Gooey Butter Cake
For the yeasted dough
6 tablespoons warm whole milk
2 teaspoons (7g) active dry yeast
6 tablespoons (85g) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the baking dish
1/4 cup (50g) sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 2/3 cups (213g) all-purpose flour
For the buttery topping
1/3 cup light corn syrup
3 tablespoons whole milk, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups (350g) sugar
12 tablespoons (170g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/3 cup (170g) all-purpose flour
Powdered sugar, for dusting
Prepare the baking dish:
Lightly grease a 9x13-inch baking dish with butter. Set it aside.
Make the yeasted dough:
In a small bowl, combine the warm milk and yeast and let it sit for about 5 minutes. The yeast should bubble on top and that is how you know it is active and good to use.
Meanwhile, cream the butter and sugar:
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar, and salt on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the egg and beat until combined. Turn the mixer off and scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula to make sure all the ingredients are incorporated.
Add the yeast and flour:
With the mixer running on low, add the flour in three additions, alternating with the yeast mixture, starting and ending with the flour. Continue to beat the ingredients together, about 4 minutes.
Let the dough rise:
Press the dough into the prepared baking dish making sure it goes all the way to edges. Cover the dish with a clean dish towel and let the dough rise at room temperature until doubled in size, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. I do not recommend the dough rising in the refrigerator overnight.
It will be a very thin layer of dough once you spread it out. It’ll bake up quickly and absorb the buttery topping.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Do this about 15 minutes before the dough is done rising.
Make the buttery topping:
In a medium bowl, whisk the corn syrup, milk, and vanilla until smooth. Set it aside.
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar, and salt on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, until combined. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour in three additions, alternating with the corn syrup mixture, starting and ending with the flour, until combined.
Spoon gooey topping over the dough:
Spoon the batter on top of the yeasted dough and use the back of the spoon to evenly spread it out to the edges.
Bake the cake:
Bake the cake until light golden brown on top, jiggly in the center, and the edges are firm and have pulled away from the dish, 35 to 40 minutes. The cake will set and firm up as it cools, so it is okay for the center to jiggly just a little. If you bake it until the center is set and firm, the cake is overbaked.
Cool and serve:
Allow the cake to fully cool on a wire rack, about 1 hour. Dust the top of the cake with powdered sugar then slice into squares to serve. Serve at room temperature.
Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week at room temperature. Resist the urge to pop them in the fridge. It'll firm up too much. If you do refrigerate, bring to room temperature before serving.
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|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 12 to 14|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 125g||160%|
|Saturated Fat 77g||386%|
|Total Carbohydrate 60g||22%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||3%|
|Total Sugars 39g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|