Gooey Butter Cake

August 22, 2016
3 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Makes One 13 × 9-inch cake, at least 12 servings
Author Notes

This labor of love is ideal for snow days and slumber parties. It looks like a lemon bar, but it tastes like nothing else—an oozing toffee-ish topping over a sturdy, bready crumb. Eat the day (or night) that it’s baked to enjoy maximum gooeyness. Text excerpted from HOW TO BAKE EVERYTHING, © 2016 by Mark Bittman. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
Mark Bittman

What You'll Need
  • For the cake:
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, softened, plus more for greasing
  • 1/3 cup milk, warm
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 2 cups flour, plus more for kneading
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • For the topping:
  • 1 3/4 sticks butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups superfine sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup milk
  1. To make the cake layer: Grease a 13 × 9-inch pan. In a small bowl, mix together the warm milk and yeast. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes, until the mixture begins to foam slightly. Set aside.
  2. Whisk together the flour and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer to cream the butter and granulated sugar until smooth. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the flour to the egg mixture, combining by hand and alternating with the milk. Stir until just smooth. This will be a dense, slightly elastic dough.
  3. Turn the dough out into the prepared pan. Press the dough evenly into the pan to fill it. Cover the pan loosely with a dish towel or plastic wrap and place in a warm spot to rise, about 3 hours. The cake should double in size and look bubbly and irregular.
  4. To make the topping: Use an electric mixer to cream the butter and sugar until smooth. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until combined. Whisk together the flour and salt, then gradually add it to the butter mixture, alternating with the milk; the mixture should be spreadable but not too runny. Set aside.
  5. Heat the oven to 350°F. Use a fork to prick a few holes into the dough so that it doesn’t bubble too much. Spoon the topping in generous dollops over the surface of the cake, then gently connect the dollops, spreading the topping evenly over the dough. Bake until the cake is a light golden brown on top, 35 to 45 minutes. The cake will still be liquid in the center. Serve slightly warm or cool.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Cassie Walker
    Cassie Walker
  • asbrink
  • Pamela_in_Tokyo
  • HalfPint
  • Ali Slagle
    Ali Slagle
My books include the bestselling How to Cook Everything and Vegan Before 6 P.M. (VB6), where I provide all the necessary tools for making the switch to a Flexitarian diet with lists for stocking the pantry, strategies for eating away from home in a variety of situations, pointers for making cooking on a daily basis both convenient and enjoyable, and a complete 28-day eating plan showing VB6 in action.

12 Reviews

Megan December 28, 2018
The BEST cake so far I have made in years...I cooked it a bit too long, but it’s still delicious. This is a definite make again
Cassie W. January 7, 2018
I baked this in a 10"x10" white ceramic baking dish for exactly 35 minutes. Waited 3 hours for it to cool completely to room temperature before serving. It's amazingly gooey and rich! An absolute hit with everyone!
Cassie W. January 7, 2018
In hindsight, I think I will make this exactly the same way but bake 3-5 minutes longer to set the filling just a touch more.
Aileen V. March 27, 2017
I made everything step by step, but my cake did not rise. Measured everything correctly but confused on what went wrong. I made this late afternoon, home was room temperature so I had no warm spots to place it to rise. Could it be that?
asbrink October 31, 2016
Here is Deb's recipe, BTW:
asbrink October 31, 2016
So I baked this cake and I actually found that it wasn't sweet ENOUGH. Don't get me wrong--it was very sweet--but authentic St. Louis gooey butter cake is TOOTHACHINGLY sweet and meant to be so. I've made Melissa Clark's NYTimes recipe as adapted by Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen many times and eaten gooey butter cake with my husband's family in St. Louis, and Clark's version is absolutely perfect.

Bittman's recipe has the same amount of sugar in the gooey layer, but in superfine instead of granulated, which makes it far less sweet, and far less gooey, I theorize, because that quantity of granulated sugar in Clark's recipe very much lends to the structure of the cake.

I tried this recipe to switch it up from my usual and was super disappointed.
KF O. October 25, 2016
Recently baked this cake and it was very good. The mix of textures and the not overly sweet taste was enjoyable. While this is not a cake you can whip up quickly the result was worth the time and resources to make.
Pamela_in_Tokyo October 19, 2016
I've never had this cake, but there is just way too much sugar in it. I'd like to reduce the topping at least by 1/2 a cup..... many older recipes seem to have way too much sugar.... to my way of thinking.
KellyDC October 6, 2016
I wish this recipe had a photo of the full cake after baking, because the surface of a true butter cake has a distinct look to it.
HalfPint October 6, 2016
I think it should be 2 tsp. I've made the St.Louis Gooey Butter cake and that calls for 2 tsp of active dry yeast. Recipe is pretty similar.
KellyDC October 6, 2016
You might be right. 2 T is an enormous amount of yeast.
Ali S. October 7, 2016
It should be two teaspoons! The recipe has been updated, thank you so much for pointing out.