Let’s Talk Food, Saint Louis Style
As many of you may know, Rocket Punch Productions is based out of the Saint Louis area, and while I do love this town – we sure do have some weird food favorites. Well, maybe not weird, per say, but definitely acquired. Not being a native Missourian myself, I was a little surprised at how the locals liked their pizza and their super sweet deserts – but then didn’t have sweet tea! (Thankfully that tea issue has resolved itself over the past few years. Being from the south for a large part of my adolescence, it’s more a necessity than a desire, you see.) Truthfully there’s lots of awesome reasons to love Saint Louis, from a large variety of free attractions to a stellar wine country – it’s too much to cover in one post, but I promise to tell you more in the future! Today I wanted to share with you guys one of our culinary specialties and how this weirdo came to be. It should be fun! (Then we can all go get a snack, right??)
Today I’m taking about the big star of the dessert cart, the Saint Louis Gooey Butter Cake. Now, it sounds a little gross. I know that’s what I thought when I first heard it, so I don’t blame you. However, eaten warm fresh out of the oven it is a truly awesome experience. At least that’s what my husband says when he eats mine. 🙂 It’s hard to describe because it’s really in a league of it’s own. The bottom most layer is dense, almost like a coffee cake and a little less sweet than a traditional cake, while the upper layer is creamy and gooey (as the name suggests), and is very very sweet. As the cake bakes, the super sweet top layer will blend into the lower layer and you’ll end up with a short (most are only about 1″ tall or so), almost brownie like cake with a very thin caramelized sugar ‘crust’ on top. And while the layers do blend, the top layer of the cake will remain more ooey gooey than the rest of it. I’ll put a link here for a super easy one you can make with a boxed yellow cake mix if you want to give it a shot at home!
Now, what you don’t maybe know about the Gooey Butter Cake is this Saint Louis sweetheart was actually a mistake. There’s a couple theories about how exactly this came to be, but the predominate one is that a local bakery (possibly Saint Louis Pastries, owned by John Hoffman?) had hired a new baker in the early 1930’s that got a little mixed up in the kitchen. This bakery had two types of butter smears: a deep butter and a gooey butter. These smears are basically what they’d roll pastries and cakes in to get crumb toppings, nuts, coconut, and other tasting tidbits to stick to the outside and tops. The deep butter was used on the more dense goods, like coffee cakes, while the gooey butter was more for lighter treats like danishes and stollens. (Yum!) This poor baker was supposed to be making cakes, but happened to get the butter smears mixed up, and the problem wasn’t caught until the goods went to the proof box (basically like a old timely quality control before hitting the ovens). Hoffman, being a thrifty businessman in the midst of the Great Depression, decided to bake’em on up and see how they sold rather than toss them out. His gamble paid off too – they sold so well that the bakery eventually had lines around the block and other bakeries came up with their own variations to get in on the action.
Another prominent baker of the time, Fred Heimburger, liked it so much he tried his darn-est through to promote it by bringing the golden sweetness to other bakeries whenever he traveled out of Saint Louis. While the bakers liked the flavor fine, the final product looked to much like a mistake (i.e. a “flat gooey mess”) for them purchase it for their shops. As a result, it was a local favorite for many decades but the love for this decadent dessert didn’t spread to other areas until much later, after the recipe had evolved somewhat. Nowadays the Gooey Butter Cake has a much more appealing appearance, closer to that of a traditional coffee cake, though it is still has that familiar gooey aspect that we’ve come to adore. Along with the face lift came a boost in popularity; Local grocery stores now sell boxed and fresh versions, Panera Bread Company has a gooey butter danish, and even Walgreens sells individually packaged ones next to their prepackaged muffins, cookies and brownies. We also now have several businesses that specialize in different flavors and sell them in coffee shops or to walk in customers. Some businesses will even ship them, like our local Park Ave Coffee! It’s also been classed up a bit too on it’s journey to the mainstream; Fancy versions with berry sauce and ice cream toppings can be found in some restaurants in the Midwest and even as far as the West Coast! So if dinning out is more your speed and you’d like to grab some on your next outing, you could try places like the popular Kansas City chain Ya Ya’s, Murray’s in Columbia (Missouri) and even Seattle (Washington) where The Five Spot serves a pumpkin version of this classic!
That’s all for now, and I hope you enjoyed this tasting telling of one of Saint Louis’s most beloved confections. If you’re a local reader, let us know your favorite Gooey Butter place or flavor so we can check it out too! Maybe we can convert our non-local readers in the process! (One of us, one of us! Haha!) 🙂