Believed to have originated in the 1930’s Gooey butter cake is a St. Louis original! Gooey butter cake is a flat and dense cake made with wheat cake flour, butter, sugar, and eggs, typically near an inch tall, and dusted with powdered sugar. While sweet and rich, it is somewhat firm, and is able to be cut into pieces similarly to a brownie. Gooey butter cake is generally served as a type of coffee cake and not as a formal dessert cake. It is believed to have originated in the 1930s. The cake is best eaten soon after baking it. It should be served at room temperature or warm.
A legend about the cake’s origin is included in Saint Louis Days…Saint Louis Nights, a cookbook published in the mid-1990s by the Junior League of St. Louis. The cake was supposedly first made by accident in the 1930s by a St. Louis-area German American baker who was trying to make regular cake batter but reversed the proportions of sugar and flour.
John Hoffman was the owner of the bakery where the mistake was made. The real story is there are two types of butter “smears” used in a bakery: a gooey butter and a deep butter. The deep butter was used for deep butter coffee cakes. The gooey butter was used as an adhesive for things like Danish rolls and stollens. The gooey butter was smeared across the surface, then the item was placed in coconut, hazelnuts, peanuts, crumbs or whatever was desired so they would stick to the product.
Hoffman hired a new baker who was supposed to make deep butter cakes, but got the two butter smears mixed up. The mistake wasn’t caught until after the cakes came out of the proof box. Rather than throw them away, Hoffman went ahead and baked them up. As this was around the Great Depression that was another reason to be thrifty. The new type of cake sold so well, Hoffman kept producing them and soon, so did the other bakers around St. Louis.
Another St. Louis baker, Fred Heimburger, also remembers the cake coming on the scene in the 1930s, as a slip up that became a popular hit and local acquired taste. He liked it well enough that Mr. Heimburger tried to promote Gooey butter cake by taking samples of it with him when he traveled out of St. Louis to visit other bakers in their shops. They liked it all right, but they couldn’t get their customers to buy it, with reactions tending to regard it as looking too much like a mistake, and “a flat gooey mess.” And so it remained as a regional favorite for many decades.
At Straub’s we carry the two best in town.
- Ann & Allen: With over 50 varieties of gooey butter cakes, we’re sure you’ll find one to your liking!
- Straub’s: Rich buttery Gooey Butter Cake made from scratch the old-fashioned Saint Louis way by our own bakers! Try it as a traditional cake, a gooey butter bar, or both!
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