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Two gooey butter bars on a round white plate with fresh raspberries and mint

Gooey Butter Cake from Scratch

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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!

Overhead view of gooey butter cake slices on a white plate with raspberries

Gooey Butter Cake or Bars

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 hubby and my oldest two children beg me to make these, the youngest is not a fan at all. Made with a yellow cake mix and a huge amount of powdered sugar, the results were a cloying dessert with an artificial taste.   So when Katie requested these as her birthday cake one year, I remembered that a blogger friend made a totally from scratch recipe. 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!

Where Did Gooey Butter Cake Originate?

It was only years later, that I found that these dessert bars were a St. Louis, Missouri phenomena known as gooey butter cake that was supposedly 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, they’re an uber-sweet layered dessert with a dense cake-like base with a luscious, sugar-laden cream cheese topping which forms a paper-thin crackled layer when baked. A sprinkle of powdered sugar is all that’s needed to finish off these gems.

One slice of gooey bars on a square white plate with a powdered sugar duster

How to Make a Gooey Butter Cake Recipe

  • Prep your baking pan by lining it with non-stick foil. This helps 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 dry ingredients for the bottom layer, add the liquids, mix, and pat evenly in the pan.
  • For the next layer beat the cream cheese until smooth, then add the other ingredients as listed, ending with the powdered sugar.
  • Pour over the crust, smooth, and bake.
  • When cooled, remove from pan to slice, and dust with powdered sugar if desired.

What If I Don’t Have Cake Flour?

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 us in this recipe. Cake flour has less gluten and helps make more tender baked goods. The cornstarch dilutes the flour, therefore reducing the amount of gluten in the final recipe.2012 and 2020 gooey butter bar images

2012 vs. 2020 photos. Note that this recipe was first shared in October 2012. Photos and text were updated in 2020.

Why Does My Cream Cheese Need To Be at Room Temperature?

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, place it in a bowl of hot tap water, and let it warm up for about 15 minutes.

Katie - the birthday girl all ready for here Gooey Butter Bars

The birthday girl who requested these bars instead of cake!

How Do You Store Gooey Butter Cake?

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 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.

More of The Best Bar Cookie Recipes

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:

Two gooey butter bars on a round white plate with fresh raspberries and mint

Gooey Butter Cake from Scratch

Gooey Bars, a classic St. Louis treat.

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 1 hour
Yield 24 bars

Ingredients

Bottom Layer

  • 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

Top Layer

  • 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

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350º. Line 9 x 13-inch pan with foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. 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.
  3. Press the dough evenly in the bottom of prepared pan
  4. 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.
  5. Pour the batter on top of the bottom layer. Spread it out evenly.
  6. Bake 35-40 minutes. Sprinkle with reserved powdered sugar when cool.

Notes

Adapted from Gingerbread Bagels

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

24

Serving Size:

1 bar

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 274Total Fat: 12gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 53mgSodium: 185mgCarbohydrates: 41gFiber: 0gSugar: 31gProtein: 2g

HOW MUCH DID YOU LOVE THIS RECIPE?

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10 comments on “Gooey Butter Cake from Scratch”

  1. 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!

  2. These butter cake bars look amazing with cream cheese layer! Happy Birthday Katie!

  3. 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:@)

  4. Oh my, that looks so gooey yummy!! And a beautiful birthday girl right there.

  5. 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!
    Amalia
    xo

  6. 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!
    Andrea xo

  7. 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!

  8. 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!

  9. Hi Liz,
    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

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