gooey butter cake

Until recently I fancied myself to be a steadfast Chocolate Person; someone who would choose a dessert containing chocolate over any other option presented. It's funny though, because that's pretty impossible to tell from my dessert-related prattling around here, and now I'm starting to think that this little baby blog of mine already knows a thing or two about me that I've yet to learn for myself. Earlier this week I encountered a dessert that made me question how deep my love for chocolate actually ran. And It seems that I may not be a Chocolate Person after all, but only because my true devotion lies with the most quintessential baked good ingredient of all - butter.

Yep, yes, mhmm, that's totally it. My ultimate favorite flavor of dessert is butter and I'm a Butter Person. LIFE! My goodness! Learning new things everyday.

And wouldn't ya know that the dessert I have to thank for leading me down this sacred path of self-discovery - St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake - also happens to be the best format I know for butter consumption (aside from something crazy like, I don't know, straight up sipping on browned butter, which I've never tried but might have to now just to say I did). This cake has such a pure and unadorned flavor profile, and truly lives up to its name. (gooey - check! butter - check!) It's often served as a coffee cake, and is just as good at room temperature as it is straight out of the pan (especially at 1am on a Saturday night when you've somewhat stupidly decided to bake a yeasted cake *after* you've finished eating dinner, or um, maybe that's just me). The yeasted base does require a bit of planning ahead (or ya know, an alarm to wake you up at 1am so you can snooze on the couch while it bakes, whatever works), but aside from measuring out the ingredients, your mixer does all of the work for you. Isn't that just lovely? I certainly thought so. Then again I might be a little biased.

As Leftovers: These squares of edible joy are packable af and make coffee shop pastries embarrassed to have called themselves pastries in the first place. They're so amazingly decadent as a breakfast treat or a snack. (And by decadent I mean 200 calories per square if you cut the pan into 24 pieces, just being honest!) Mine went a little stale after a few days out on the counter covered only by a dish towel but zjuzj’d right back up from 10 seconds in the microwave. They also freeze and reheat surprisingly well when individually wrapped.

St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake, adapted (only in instruction) from Melissa Clark at the NY Times
Yields 24 small squares

For the Cake
3 tablespoons (45 ml) milk at room temperature
1 ¾ teaspoons (5 g) active dry yeast
6 tablespoons (85 g) unsalted butter at room temperature
3 tablespoons (45 g) sugar
1 teaspoon (5 g) kosher salt
1 large egg
1 ¾ cups (215 g) all-purpose flour

For the Topping
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon (50 ml) Lyle’s golden syrup (original calls for light corn syrup)
2 ½ teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla extract
12 tablespoons (170 g or 1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ½ cups (300 g) sugar
½ teaspoon (3 g) kosher salt
1 large egg
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons (145 g) all-purpose flour
Confectioners’ sugar, for sprinkling

In a small bowl, combine yeast, milk, and 2 tablespoons warm water. Whisk gently until the yeast dissolves. Mixture should foam slightly (but mine didn’t much at all).

Using a stand mixer with paddle attachment (or a hand-held if that’s your only option), cream butter, sugar and salt. (Tip: if your butter isn’t quite to room temperature just throw it into the mixer for a few minutes before you add the sugar.) Scrape down sides of bowl and beat in the egg. Alternately, add the flour and the milk mixture, scraping down sides of bowl between each addition. I added each ½ at a time. Beat dough on medium speed until it forms a smooth round mass and pulls away from sides of bowl, about 10 minutes. (Original says 7-10 but mine took the full 10 and maybe even 11.)

If using the standup mixer, remove the bowl from the base and cover with plastic wrap or clean dish towel, put in a warm place and allow to rise until doubled, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The risen dough will be glossy and yellow.

When the dough is ready, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Press and stretch the dough until it covers the bottom of an ungreased 9-by 13-inch baking dish at least 2 inches deep. Learn from my mistake and forgo greasing the pan, no matter how loud your pan-greasing instincts are talking. I did it anyway because I was just sure all that sugar would make the cake stick, and the bottom browned more than I would’ve liked it to. I think this was on account of the butter.

Mix together in a small bowl the golden syrup, 2 tablespoons water, and the vanilla. Then wipe out the bowl you mixed the dough in and use it to prepare the filing. Using an electric mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy, 5 to 7 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl and beat in the egg. Alternately add the flour and golden syrup mixture, scraping down sides of bowl between each addition.I added mine ½ at a time.

Spoon the buttery topping in large dollops over the yeasted base and gently smooth it into an even layer. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes (mine browned to what you see above in a quick 35); the cake will rise and fall in waves and have a golden brown top, but will still be liquid and very jiggly in the center when done. Allow the cake to cool in the pan before sprinkling with confectioners’ sugar, and cutting into squares and serving.

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