I’d like to bring up the topic of gooey butter cake. It’s a sugary exploration of textures, a fascinating study of human ingenuity, and a dessert you can honestly describe as “cloying” without insulting anyone. This St. Louis classic even inspired my favorite ice cream flavor from Ample Hills, Ooeyer and Gooeyer. But you don’t have to take a trip to St. Louis or even buy a pint of ice cream to get your gooey sugar fix (but also, you should buy the ice cream), you can easily make it at home with boxed yellow cake mix. 

What is Gooey Butter Cake?

Though I’m sure every St. Louisan has their favorite family recipe, there are two classic ways to make a quality GBC: from scratch and from boxed cake mix. Naturally, I reached out to my St. Louis resource to get the scoop on which one to make, and we both agreed: yeast = no fun. The scratch version has a yeast-raised crust, and while that is not inherently a problem, the other option is to use boxed cake mix. If that’s the case, I’m going to open Door Number 2. 

Regardless of the recipe, the intended results of the dessert are the same. The cake should have a soft, dense, cake-ish crust with a filling layer that’s tender, a bit fudgey, and (surprise!) gooey. The entire perimeter of the slab is chewy with caramelized edges, and the very top has a delicate, crackly shell. As promised, this dessert is wonderfully buttery. Though only included in the crust layer, butter manages to be a presence throughout and leads to excellent browning. As a bonus, your kitchen will have the distinct aroma of a doughnut shop, which is always a welcome thing.

Fresh out of the oven.
Credit: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann

How to make Gooey Butter Cake

This recipe is simple and straightforward; even an imperfect version of this dessert will still come out sweet, caramelized, and delicious. Be sure to cool it completely before diving in, as the gooey layer is the same temperature as the surface of the sun.

1. Make the crust layer

In a mixing bowl, add the yellow cake mix, melted butter, egg, and vanilla extract. (If you want an even more authentic flavor, it may sound counterintuitive, but try imitation vanilla extract.) The mixture will be thick. Stir it well to take out any hidden powder pockets. Press the dough into a buttered 9-by-13-inch baking dish, or split the dough between two 8-inch round cake pans.

2. Add the filling layer

In the same bowl, whisk the softened cream cheese, eggs, vanilla extract, and powdered sugar until smooth and no sugar lumps remain. Pour the filling mixture over the crust. Tap the pan against the counter to pop any big bubbles (which I forgot to do).

3. Bake until set

Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 20-25 minutes. It’s done when the filling is set along the edges and jiggles when you shake it lightly, but it should not be liquid in the middle. Cool the cake to room temperature on a wire rack. 

I was told explicitly not to overbake the cake. So I didn’t. I imagine this makes it too chewy on the edges and you miss out on optimal goo. Once the cake is completely cool, dust it generously with powdered sugar and serve.


Credit: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann

Easy Gooey Butter Cake Recipe

Ingredients:

For the crust

1 box yellow cake mix (I used Duncan Hines Butter Golden)

1 stick butter, melted

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the filling

1 block softened cream cheese (8-ounce block)

2 eggs, room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 box powdered sugar (16-ounce box) plus more for finishing

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, or two 8-inch cake pans. 

2. Mix the crust ingredients together in a bowl. Press the dough evenly into the prepared pan(s).

3. Whisk the filling ingredients together in a bowl until smooth. Pour it onto the crust. It’s okay, (good, even) if the filling runs over the crust and sits against the walls of the pan. Tap the pan gently against the counter to encourage bubbles to pop. 

4. Bake the cake for 25 to 35 minutes depending on the pans you used. To check for doneness, lightly shake the pan. The edges should be set and the center should jiggle. If the center is still moving like liquid then give it more time. 

5. Cool the cake completely on a wire rack. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.