I grew up in a small town in southeast Iowa, a mere 5 hour drive from St. Louis, a city I visited several times over the years. Why then, had I never heard of a St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake until recently?
The first time I saw this cake was a few months ago - soon after it was published in the New York Times. It was the name that got me; how could anything with the words "gooey" and "butter" in it be a bad thing. So descriptive, so evocative, yet so mysterious... What in the world was this gooey butter cake?! I had to find out. After reading more about it I knew I had to make it. However things came up, as things tend to do, and I forgot about it. Until Deb made it recently. Seeing hers made me fairly obsessed, and I knew I wouldn't be able to get it out of my mind until I was taking it out of my oven. Yesterday was the day. The day I finally got around to baking this oh-so-ugly, yet oh-so-tasty cake.
This cake starts with a layer of lightly sweetened brioche-like yeasted dough, and is topped with something gooey, buttery, rich, butterscotch-flavored, delicious. When put together, they create a treat very reminiscent of a cinnamon roll - though there is actually no cinnamon in the recipe... The cake itself is tasty, though not spectacular - it is far out-shined by the gooey topping, which is out of this world. It would be amazing on a shortbread crust. The yeast cake is a little on the dry side, but I think if the quantity of the gooey topping was doubled it would off-set the dryness. It should be noted that my cake is darker than the other gooey butter cakes out there, as I sweetened it with palm sugar.
St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake
adapted from The New York Times
3-5 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons water
1 3/4 tablespoons instant yeast
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons palm sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 3/4 cups unbleached white flour
3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon agave (I used amber)
2 tablespoons water
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups palm sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 cup + 3 tablespoons unbleached white flour
Make the Cake:
Butter a 9x13 baking pan, set aside. Combine water and 3 tablespoons of milk in a small saucepan, and heat until it reaches about 90 degrees. Pour into a small bowl, and add yeast. Whisk to combine. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, palm sugar and salt. Beat in egg. Add 1/3 of the flour, then half of the yeast/milk mixture, stirring to combine with each addition. Repeat for a total of 3 flour additions and 2 milk additions. Beat dough on medium speed until it is smooth and pulls away from sides of bowl, about 7-10 minutes. At this point, if the dough seems too dry, add the additional milk. The dough should be a bit loose and slightly sticky to the touch. Press dough evenly into your prepared baking pan. Cover with kitchen towel and set in a warm place until dough has doubled. About 2 1/2 - 3 hours. Towards the end of the rise, preheat oven to 350.
Make Gooey Topping:
In a small bowl, combine agave, water and vanilla. Set aside. In bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter, sugar, and salt until light and fluffy. Add egg, and beat until combined. Add flour in three additions alternating with agave mixture in two additions. Stir until just combined. Spoon topping over risen dough, and spread as gently and evenly as possible. Bake for 40-45 minutes. Cake will not be flat when baked - it will have hills and valleys all over the surface. It will not be attractive. Top will be deep golden, and center will still be liquid when done. Cool in pan before cutting. Sprinkle with confectioner's sugar, if desired.