Gooey Butter Cake from Scratch
My family adores Gooey Butter Cake AKA Gooey Butter Bars. This from-scratch recipe is even better than the cake mix version that’s been around for decades!
The original recipe was developed in St. Louis nearly a hundred years ago. It’s a safe bet there were no boxed mixes involved!
Why You Must Make
I was baking a version of Paula Deen’s Gooey Butter Cake long before she was on TV. In fact, one of the nurses I worked with shared the recipe before I was married. Way back when. We were creating an array of holiday treats for the staff on our oncology unit. Both of us dug through the recipe cards copied from our mothers for some old favorites. This was one of Anne’s. She called them Gooey Butter Bars and my family shortened this favorite dessert to “gooey bars.”
- The cake mix version results in a cloying dessert with an artificial taste. We still ate every crumb!
- This ooey gooey butter cake recipe from scratch is SO much better!
- My family has loved this St Louis Gooey Butter Cake for decades! You must see if yours will, too.
The whole family loved this version of gooey butter bars. I’m certain I’ll still make the cake mix version on occasion when time is tight! But this is my favorite recipe. And for a portable version, try these tasty Gooey Butter Cookies!!
- Kitchen Staples – Sugar, Salt, Milk
- Cake Flour – Swans Down and King Arthur brands are readily available or see the frequently asked questions for how to make a homemade version.
- Baking Powder – Unlike baking soda, baking powder will often expire while it’s in your pantry. Check the date on the can or you can test its potency by putting a spoonful into a cup of very hot water. If it’s still active it will bubble vigorously.
- Eggs – Have them at room temperature for easier incorporation.
- Vanilla Extract – Always make sure you buy real vanilla extract not artificially flavored.
- Cream Cheese – Have at room temperature for easy and smooth incorporation.
- Butter – Melted. Salted is fine.
- Powdered Sugar – A 16-ounce box.
From Terry: Ok, I am a little upset that I tried this recipe, because this cake is DANGEROUS!! O. M. G. I’ve made it several times with the cake mix for crust and always loved it but wished the crust was thinner. This recipe is PERFECTION and I will sing its praises!!
How to Make
- Line your baking pan, make the crust mixture.
- Pat onto the bottom of the pan.
- With a mixer, beat together the topping.
- Smooth over the crust with an offset spatula.
- Bake as directed, then sprinkle with powdered sugar when cooled to room temperature.
- Slice and serve.
- Prep your baking pan by lining it with non-stick foil. This helps prevent the bars from sticking to the pan and also creates a sling to remove the cooled bars to a cutting board to slice.
- Sift the powdered sugar to make a smooth batter.
- PRO-Tip: Have the cream cheese and eggs at room temperature for easier incorporation. Place cream cheese in its wrapper and/or eggs in a bowl of very warm water to hurry the process along if you didn’t pull them out of the refrigerator early enough.
- If you want your crust nice and even, use the palm of your hand over a butter wrapper (buttery side down) to pat and smooth the surface.
- Use an offset spatula to smooth the top of the filling before baking.
- When cooled, you may want to remove the bars from the pan to slice, and dust with powdered sugar for a nice presentation.
- If you want to cut nice squares, it’s best to chill the bars well so they firm up a bit. But let come to room temperature to serve so you get the full “gooey” experience.
Frequently Asked Questions
PRO-Tip: You can easily make your own version of cake flour with corn starch and all-purpose flour. Measure out 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour and 1/4 cup cornstarch. Whisk together and use in this recipe. Cake flour has less gluten and the addition helps make more tender baked goods. The cornstarch dilutes the flour, therefore reducing the amount of gluten in the final recipe.
After years of making cheesecakes, I’ve learned to set my cream cheese on the counter about 2 hours before I plan to start mixing. If I don’t, there will be little bits of cream cheese that don’t blend smoothly into the batter. Although it won’t ruin your dessert, this extra step makes a more homogeneous-looking batter. If you forget, take the cream cheese out of the box, but still in its foil wrapper, place it in a bowl of hot tap water, and let it warm up for about 15 minutes.
Keep these bars covered at room temperature for up to 3-4 days. They do not need to be refrigerated. For longer storage, they can be refrigerated up to a week and frozen for up to 3 months.
If desired, cut into bars, spread them out on a baking sheet, and freeze until firm. Then they can be placed in a freezer-grade Ziploc bag and stored in the freezer. One or two can be pulled out and defrosted as needed.
Years after making these bars for the first time, I found out that these dessert bars were a St. Louis, Missouri phenomenon known as gooey butter cake. Supposedly they were an accidental invention in the 1930s.
The story goes that a baker was making a coffee cake and messed up the proportions. Instead of the typical texture, the resulting dish was gooey with a pudding-like center.
No matter the name, this St. Louis Butter Cake is an uber-sweet layered dessert with a dense cake-like base and a luscious, sugar-laden cream cheese topping that forms a paper-thin crackled layer when baked. A sprinkle of powdered sugar is all that’s needed to finish off these gems.
You May Also Like:
Bar cookies are a go-to dessert at our house. Instead of rolling or scooping out individual dough balls for cookies, bar cookies are just baked up in a pan and cut into squares! Easy, peasy! Here are some family favorites:
- Lemon Bar Cookie Cups from Barbara Bakes
- Cookie Dough Billionaire Bars
- Dark Chocolate Mousse Bars
- Peanut Butter Tagalong Cookie Bars
- The Best Lemon Bars
- M&M Blondies
- Coconut Apricot Bars
- Plus you might like my tutorial on How to Cut the Perfect Bar Cookies
- More Easy Bar Cookie Recipes
The birthday girl who requested these bars instead of cake!
Gooey Butter Cake from Scratch
Gooey Bars, a classic St. Louis treat.
- 2 cups cake flour
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder*
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup butter, melted
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup butter, melted
- 16 ounce box of powdered sugar, sifted, reserve a few tablespoons for sprinkling over top
- Preheat oven to 350º. Line 9 x 13-inch pan with foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray.
- Sift together the cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and kosher salt into a large mixing bowl. Mix till blended. Add the egg, melted butter, milk, and vanilla. Mix to combine completely.
- Press the dough evenly in the bottom of prepared pan
- To prepare the top layer, beat the cream cheese until it’s smooth. Add the eggs, vanilla and melted butter. Mix until combined. Mix in powdered sugar and mix until smooth....you may have a few small lumps.
- Pour the batter on top of the bottom layer. Spread it out evenly.
- Bake 35-40 minutes. Sprinkle with reserved powdered sugar when cool.
*Make sure to check the date on your baking powder as it often expires sitting in your pantry. If in doubt, buy a new can.
Adapted from Gingerbread Bagels
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Serving Size:1 bar
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 274Total Fat: 12gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 53mgSodium: 185mgCarbohydrates: 41gFiber: 0gSugar: 31gProtein: 2g
21 Comments on “Gooey Butter Cake from Scratch”
Made this for dessert with a meal we served at a homeless shelter…they raved about it!!! It was still warm when I drove there and when I served it the “filling” was still a bit “runny” even though I baked it for a full 40 minutes. If I waited longer for it to cool before cutting, or served it the next day, would the filling be a bit more set? They loved it as it was and referred to it as pie!!!
Hi, Cathy, I bet it would have firmed up a bit more if it was chilled overnight or at least for a few hours before serving. I’m glad they liked it at the shelter even if it was extra gooey!! If you make it again, you might add an extra 5-10 minutes—all ovens bake a bit differently so it may have needed more time. I’d pull the pan partially out of the oven at the 40-minute mark and see if the middle looks set or not (give it a gentle shake and see if the center is firm). Hope that will help 🙂
It sounds like shortbread, is it? Cam’t wait to try it.
Hi, Amanda, there is a thin crust, then a sweet, custardy topping. The crust isn’t quite as “short” as shortbread. Very gooey and very sweet!
OMG! This is so good! Thanks for a great cake!
Ok, I am a little upset that I tried this recipe, because this cake is DANGEROUS!! O. M. G. I’ve made it several times with the cake mix for crust and always loved it but wished the crust was thinner. This recipe is PERFECTION and I will sing it’s praises!!
Ha, ha! I was worried after reading the first sentence of your comment. So glad you enjoyed it!!!
I have made both from scratch and using box cake mix and the scratch recipe is by far my favorite. My granddaughters think so too. They like it with pineapple and coconut added.
Hi, Carol, I agree!! I love the idea of adding pineapple and coconut. YUM!!
Just found your site again a few days ago on a Utah Gardners site, you get around! This looks like the gooey butter cake I grew up with in Springfield, Illinois and will make it this week. The cake mix ones are NOT like the original.
Nice to see a picture of Katie, its been a long time
SO nice to hear from you, Elaine! Laughing at the connection—who knew!! I’ll tell Katie you said hello 🙂
I can barely get through the recipe…there are SO MANY ADS and it’s so distracting and quite frankly a turn off! Going back to food network. Atleast on their site you don’t have a bunch of videos and ads popping up all over the place! ????????????♀️
There is a jump to recipe link at the top of the post that brings you right to the recipe. That helps you bypass all the ads. Have a nice week!
I have never heard of gooey butter cake, but then again, my Mom never used cake mixes so even if she had seen the recipe, she would have passed over it. I love that you made it all from scratch; definitely looks like a winner! Happy Birthday from Canada!
I find myself rationing my eggs but I will save this for later. That’s a lot of powdered sugar. These do sound delicious, Liz, and bet wishes to the birthday girl!
Dear Liz, I love the story behind these bars and your recipe – these look very decadent and utterly delicious. I also love the different textures of these treats. Looking at how your pictures – what’s not to love?!
When strawberry/raspberry season finally arrives, I can imagine they would be also nice with some lovely fresh berries…
Sending all of you a big fat hug from afar – stay safe and healthy!
Looks wonderful, Liz, and not difficult to make. I’ve not been inspired to bake since this whole business started, you are tempting me back into the kitchen. Keep well and safe!
Oh my, that looks so gooey yummy!! And a beautiful birthday girl right there.
Ooey, gooey comfort food at it’s best! Sounds like a nice treat ~if~ we ever start having family Sunday dinners again… ugh. Take care and enjoy:@)
These butter cake bars look amazing with cream cheese layer! Happy Birthday Katie!
These bars are SO much better made from scratch! I love the taste and texture. They are always the first thing to go when I bring them to parties!