Gooey Butter Cookies
Updated: Dec 2, 2020
St. Louis’ famous mistake lives on with these cookies that are ready in a snap.
The gooey butter cake is the world’s most delicious mistake. Yet, a lot of people outside the St. Louis area have never heard of such a thing. Well, pull up a chair, pour yourself a cup of coffee, and listen to the tale.
Like most stories that go way back, there are many versions to this one, but most agree that a baker screwed up a coffee cake recipe in south St. Louis. However, what German bakery this happened at and during which decade (1930s or 1940s) is debated. I think most St. Louisans are content to accept it originated here and the rest is, well, in the details.
This square little cake, when made from scratch, starts with a yeast dough and also includes butter and sugar, followed by the best part—the gooey topping—made with corn syrup, more sugar and more butter. A lot of recipes now use cream cheese and yellow cake mix that purists poo-poo, but there’s nothing wrong with this recipe, especially if it gets a less-than-confident baker in the kitchen and a delicious taste of gooey butter cake in his or her life.
A square of gooey butter cake is a little like a vanilla brownie but with a softer middle, and the top of the cake is dusted with confectioners’ sugar. To the uninitiated, the sweet meter goes way off the chart, but if you grew up on the cake (as I did), there’s no problem.
Most bakeries in St. Louis, including those at local grocery chains, always have gooey butter cake in the case. If you want to go old school, Federhofer’s Bakery in south St. Louis County, Missouri Baking Company on “The Hill” (St. Louis' Italian neighborhood) or McArthur’s Bakery also in south St. Louis County, have the classic gooey butter and all are wonderful. I also liked a company called Gooey Louie that sadly has gone out of business, but they had different gooey butter flavors. Park Avenue Coffee, a cool coffeehouse in historical Lafayette Square and a few other city locations, sells gooey butter made by Ann & Allen Baking Company, which boasts a total of 73 flavors.
The cake recipe is easy to make for home cooks, but these cookies are ridiculously simple, quick, and completely satisfying. You can stick with the traditional vanilla flavor or experiment a bit (chocolate and pumpkin were very tasty).
We're kicking off our month of holiday cookie recipes with these tasty bites. What’s great about these cookies, other than their simplicity, is they are not as sweet as gooey butter cake, but still deliver on the nostalgic flavors of the classic dessert. So, if you’ve ever had gooey butter cake and thought “eh, too sweet for me,” give these a try. Naturally, these cookies would be great any time of year, but I think they provide a nice balance to a tray of holiday sweets. You don’t even need a mixer for these. You will, however, want a glass of cold milk to accompany these.