How A Mistake May Have Led To The Creation Of St. Louis' Gooey Butter Cake

Served up alongside morning coffee or placed on the Thanksgiving table next to pies, gooey butter cake is one of those recipes that can weasel its way into weekly menus, especially in St. Louis. Alongside toasted ravioli, Mayfair salad dressing, and St. Louis-style ribs, Everyday Wanderer recognizes St. Louis' claim to the invention of the gooey butter cake.

The delight is commonly topped with powdered sugar, and true to its name, delivers a gooey, soft center with a crisp crust, as described by Fodor's Travel Guide. When carefully sliced and served, the gooey deliciousness more closely resembles a yellow undercooked brownie than a piece of cake.

Originally a simply made delicacy, the traditional gooey butter cake recipe has given birth to a variety of flavors — blueberry, lemon, peanut butter, red velvet, and family-secret recipes — yet all are served like the original recipe: a cookie-like crust encapsulating a jiggly, textured filling that could be mistaken for crème brûlée. And while different recipes incorporate different ingredients (cake mix, cream cheese, yeast, and butter), the exact origin of the very first gooey butter cake has become contentious.

A baking blunder gone right

The Missouri Historical Society openly recognizes several different accounts of how, where, and when this treat came about, but most claims point to a German baker in South St. Louis. Fodor's Travel Guide elaborates by offering the story of one distracted baker who attempted to make a traditional coffee cake recipe but botched the ingredients by mistaking flour for sugar and reversing the instructed proportions of ingredients; another account describes a group of bakers trying to make do with the sugar rationing imposed during World War II by creatively replacing required cups of granulated sugar with powdered sugar.

Whether too much glycerin or too little leavening, the cake calamity that resulted in this gooey masterful mishap lives on. Missouri Life reports that Park Avenue Coffee now whips up over 70 versions of the gooey recipe, clocks in around 100 orders each day, and sends cakes all over the world. If only one of our own culinary errors ended up in such an enjoyed tradition.