In much the same way as in New York, New York style cheesecake is just cheesecake, I grew up not knowing gooey butter cake was a “St. Louis” thing. In fact gooey butter cake was a Great Aunt Ruth thing (people always talk about grandma’s homecooking, but for me it was Aunt Ruth’s cooking) . Whenever she said, “Do you want something to eat hun?” I always knew something awesome was about to happen. Gooey butter cake was one of the first confections she ever pulled out for me and was instantly my favorite. As the name implies the “cake” is intensely buttery and gooey and yes super sweet with powdered sugar all over the top. I put “cake” in parentheses, because cake is not usually gooey and in a lot of ways it has what I would describe as a danish consistency.
Many St. Louis bakeries claim to have originated the local phenomenon, but the most accepted story is circa 1942 Johnny Hoffman used the wrong proportions for a pound cake and out came this Gooey Butter Cake. He showed it to his co-baker friend Herman Danzer and they liked what was happening with the mistake. Danzer’s wife tried it and said, “It sure is gooey.” and the name was born. For more of the legend check out this site: Gooey Butter Cake Legend .
It wasn’t until I moved away to college that I began to hear gooey butter cake referenced as something native to St. Louis. Recently, I have heard much discussion of Park Avenue Coffee’s gooey butter cake (including an endorsement by the Canadian band Bare Naked Ladies when they came on tour) and felt the need to try the “Just Like Mom Used to Make” offering. I was in luck when my husband’s work had the original delivered to our house! Opening up the box to find a carefully wrapped pristine cake with the characteristic powdered sugar on top made my mouth water and took me right back to Great Aunt Ruth’s kitchen! At this point it had been years since I had had this particular treat. We cut it into small pieces and I excitedly tried my first bite. The bottom was super buttery and crisp as I had hoped which balanced some of the super sweet gooey top. I found my adult taste buds loved it in very small doses as the sweet is toothache inducing! But with a little bit of coffee that buttery goodness is just right. Park Avenue Coffee offers 73 other flavors,so perhaps some of them are able to balance the sweetness even more. I for one look forward to trying Espresso Chip, Key Lime, and Red Velvet, but I was happy to start with the original!
If you are visiting St. Louis, or looking to be a closer to home tourist, give it a try. You can even have a cake delivered as a present to anywhere in the United States. Park Avenue Coffee, thank you for bringing me back to Great Aunt Ruth’s house for a minute!