Sometimes a recipe is so intriguing, so mysteriously alluring, so strange that there’s nothing you can do but make it to see what it tastes like. That’s precisely what happened when I saw this St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake on what’s becoming my #1 favorite internet recipe resource, Smitten Kitchen. I’m friends with Deb–we ate noodles together a few weeks ago–so I hope she doesn’t mind the fact that I’m cooking her entire ouvere here on my blog. I feel ok about it, though, because she adapted this recipe from another food world great, Melissa Clark. It’s like the recipe version of telephone (not in the Lady Gaga sense) and this recipe is one you’ll probably want to try too for the same reason I did; when you see how it’s made you’re going to ask: “What the heck’s that gonna taste like?” (In this scenario, you’re Marge Gunderson from Fargo.)
Essentially, on top of a yeasted cake dough (that rises for a few hours) you shmear Alice Waters’s nightmare: a mixture of corn syrup, butter, and vanilla. When it bakes, the bottom layer becomes very cakey (chewy cakey, like a babka) and the top layer becomes, as the recipe title suggests it will, gooey. Very gooey. Not wet, mind you, but gooey in a lemon bar sense. Except it doesn’t taste like a lemon bar; Deb says it best: “Think spun sugar. Cotton candy. Toasted campfire marshmallows.”
You could even, to get your kids to like it (and oh, they will), call it Toasted Marshmallow Cake. And who doesn’t want to bake a Toasted Marshmallow Cake this weekend? You’ll have me, Deb, Melissa Clark & Lady Gaga to thank.
St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake
For the cake:
3 tablespoons milk at room temperature
1 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
6 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
For the topping:
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon light corn syrup
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Confectioners’ sugar, for sprinkling.
Make the cake dough: In a small bowl, mix milk with 2 tablespoons warm water. Add yeast and whisk gently until it dissolves. Mixture should foam slightly.
Using an electric mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar and salt. Scrape down sides of bowl and beat in the egg. Alternately add flour and the milk mixture, scraping down sides of bowl between each addition. Deb suggests switching to a dough hook at this point (which I did) to beat dough on medium speed until it forms a smooth mass and pulls away from sides of bowl, 7 to 10 minutes.
Press, stretch and nudge dough into an ungreased (Deb says to grease it, so I did with cooking spray) 9-by 13-inch baking dish (Deb suggests a glass baking dish) at least 2 inches deep.
Cover dish with plastic wrap or clean tea towel, put in a warm place, and allow to rise until doubled, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
Make the gooey topping:
Heat oven to 350 degrees. To prepare topping, in a small bowl, whisk corn syrup with 2 tablespoons water and the vanilla. 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 flour and corn syrup mixture, scraping down sides of bowl between each addition.
Spoon topping in large dollops over risen cake and use an offset spatula to gently spread it in an even layer.
Bake for 30 to 45 minutes (start checking at 30 minutes); cake will rise and fall in waves and have a golden brown top, but will still be liquid in center when done. (I took it out when the sides didn’t jiggle but the middle did.)
Allow to cool in pan before sprinkling with confectioners’ sugar for serving.