Gooey Butter Cake

as reported by the NY Times April 1989
Baker's Depression Mistake Gave Us Gooey Butter Cake

Say "St. Louis", and you're talking "Gooey Butter Cake". Any self-respecting denizen has sweetened a tooth on this intensely rich piece of gastronomic lunacy that is a hallmark of the city. It's shamelessly childish name, which St. Louisans speak with as much solemnity as they might fcuillete de framboises, couldn't be more appropriate.

What starts off innocently enough as a plain yeast-raised coffeecake, erupts into a volcanic mass of chewy bright yellow lava, with snow banks of confectioners sugar covering crescenta and crevices. In the mouth, the goo clogs the gums, while the crusty edges glue to the teeth. You don't just swallow gooey butter cake, you work it down.

As for the origin of gooey butter cake, most admit it was a mistake, although no one knows exactly whose. Certainly, it would have originated in South St. Louis, where most of the German bakers, the backbone of the St. Louis bakery industry, lived.

Fred Heimburger, a retired St. Louis baker with a long memory, contends it was a baker in the 1930's who, in making an ordinary yellow cake, put in too much sugar, butter or shortening, or all three. What he ended up with was a sticky mess. But since it was during the Depression, he couldn't let it go to waste, so he tried to sell it anyway. St. Louisans, Depression or not, wanted more, and the sloppier the better.

What is curious about gooey butter cake is that it resists travel.

There are many legends surrounding the invention of gooey butter cake. There can be no doubt; it's a St. Louis original and an acquired taste not shared by those in other parts of the country.

Bakers try to promote the gooey butter cake, taking samples whenever they travel out of town to visit other bakers.

The bakers loved the product but couldn't get customers to buy it. Usually people in other cities said it looked like a mistake, a flat gooey mess. Well, of course, that's what it is. We used to joke that our cakes could be eaten with a spoon. In fact, some transplanted St. Louisans, on a visit home, have packed up gooey butter cakes to take back. Nostalgic foolishness. Once outside its territory, a gooey butter cake is somehow diminished. It just doesn't taste right unless it's eaten in St. Louis or its enviroment.

Any cake that goes by the name "Gooey Butter Cake" is fine by them. Some versions incorporate cherry or pineapple we also make Cinnamon Pecan Gooey butter Cake, Chocolate Gooey Butter Cake and, in Season- Pumpkin Gooey butter Cake too, but that's not your everyday gooey butter cake - everyday, that is, if you're in St. Louis.