Gooey Butter Cake
Real-deal gooey butter cake! Made with all-natural ingredients, no cake mix needed. The topping will make you swoon!
Today I’m so excited to be bringing you this amazing gooey butter cake recipe! It’s just what I remember from my childhood.
I grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch country, and let me tell you, the Amish and Mennonites really know what’s up when it comes to baking. You could get the most incredible pies, donuts, and cakes at our local PA Dutch bakeries.
And butter cake was always a favorite!
But the best part by far was the gooey butter topping. It was messy and sticky but so incredibly delicious.
I never forgot it!
I’ve been trying to recreate it ever since, and now I think I’ve finally cracked the code!
So I’m thrilled to be sharing it with you now. Hopefully this ooey gooey butter cake recipe will become a wonderful tradition in your family too!
Table of Contents
- What is gooey butter cake?
- What’s great about this gooey butter cake recipe
- What does ooey gooey butter cake taste like?
- Gooey butter cake ingredients
- Special equipment
- How to make ooey gooey butter cake
- How to serve it
- Expert tips
- Frequently asked questions
- How to store
- A few more of my favorite buttery recipes
What is gooey butter cake?
So here in my neck of the woods, butter cake has always been a light, downy yeast cake, kinda plain on its own, but baked with this gooey, sticky, buttery topping that was almost a cross between a glaze and an icing.
Most of the time, we’d find it in the summer. But I’m not sure if that meant it was a summer thing, or if we maybe just happened to go to the bakery more in the summertime than at other times of the year.
We’d buy it in a square foil pan with a clear plastic lid, bring it home, and enjoy it all throughout the day. But mostly we loved it for breakfast!
As I got older and started learning more about food, I got wind of the gooey butter cake made famous by a certain Southern celebrity chef. It was made with cake mix, cream cheese, and lots of powdered sugar.
Of course I immediately tried it to see how it stacked up.
It was good but not even close to the same thing as I remembered. Apples to oranges.
I then became aware of St. Louis gooey butter cake. I think this is probably a closer match!
After playing around with a few different recipes, I’ve been able make some tweaks and get the dead-on result I’ve been after for all this time!
The bottom layer is airy and light, with a very fine, cottony, close crumb. There’s a hint of elasticity and a whiff of yeasty goodness.
And the topping is to die for. So buttery and rich! So sweet and gooey!
Together, they’re a match made in heaven.
What’s great about this gooey butter cake recipe
- Tastes amazing: The gooey topping will seriously make you swoon!
- Incredible texture: Soft, downy yeast cake on the bottom, melt-in-your-mouth buttery glaze.
- Few ingredients: This recipe is made with pantry staples.
- Easy to make: It all comes together in just a few easy steps.
What does ooey gooey butter cake taste like?
This cake really is like none other.
The flavor is subtle yet soooo comforting.
It might sound kinda plain, but there is nothing boring about it whatsoever.
The buttery flavor is off the charts. And it’s sweet and sugary, but in a really balanced, mellow way.
Its texture is completely unique. Soft, light, and cakey on the bottom, and almost syrupy, glaze-y, gooey and buttery on top.
It’s divine with coffee. You’ve gotta give this recipe a try!
Gooey butter cake ingredients
This recipe is made completely from pantry staples. You probably already have everything you need in your cupboards and fridge!
Milk & water
The yeast will dissolve in a mixture of milk and water.
Use whatever kind of milk you have on hand. Skim, 2%, whole milk, even a plant-based milk will work.
It’s best for the mixture to be room temperature or even slightly warm, but not hot. Like a baby’s bath. Aim for around 105 degrees F. If the water is too hot, it can kill the yeast.
I prefer dry active yeast for baking. It allows a slow enough rise for the flavor to really develop, and it’s easy and convenient to buy and store.
Instant yeast is another option. If you go this route, you’ll only need 0.75x the amount, and you can cut the rise times down by 15 to 20 minutes.
Either way, be sure to check the expiration date on the packet and make sure it hasn’t past. If it has, the yeast could be dead and your cake won’t rise properly.
I like to use unsalted butter because it lets me control the amount of salt in the dish. Different brands of butter can contain different amounts of salt, so this way you get a more consistent result.
This recipe works best if you allow the butter to come to room temperature first. You can set it out on the counter a few hours ahead of making your recipe, or you can microwave it for 10 seconds, turn it over, and microwave it again for another 8 seconds.
Sugar adds sweetness (obvs!) but it also aids in browning and keeps things moist, since it’s hydrophilic (this means it loves water, in other words, it draws moisture in).
Regular white sugar is fine, or sub for another type of sweetener if you like. As long as it swaps 1:1 for granulated sugar it should work.
Salt carries the flavors and intensifies them. The end result won’t taste salty, but it will make everything so much more flavorful!
I like kosher salt best because it doesn’t have any additives (table salt usually contains iodine and that can leave a bitter taste), so the flavor is pure. It’s also inexpensive and easy to find in a regular grocery store.
Eggs provide structure to the cake and also richness.
You will want to use large chicken eggs when making this recipe.
All-purpose flour is my go-to, but you can swap it out for any kind of whole-grain option if you like. You may need slightly less if you go that route.
A gluten-free flour blend that can sub 1:1 for regular flour should also work just fine, if you’d like to make a gluten-free gooey butter cake.
Honey is used in the topping. It lends a sweet, floral note and helps to keep everything moist and gooey.
Vanilla extract adds a subtly sweet flavor without being at all sugary.
You only need a few basic kitchen tools to make this cake.
- Measuring cups and spoons: To measure out the ingredients.
- Large mixing bowl: I use the one that comes with my stand mixer.
- Electric mixer: Either a stand mixer or a handheld electric mixer.
- Silicone spatula: For scraping down the bottom and sides of the bowl.
- Parchment paper: To line the cake pan and make it easy to remove the cake.
- Square pan: 8×8-inches or 9×9-inches (8×8 will yield a slightly taller cake), to bake the cake in.
How to make ooey gooey butter cake
This gooey butter cake recipe consists of 2 layers: the yeast cake and the topping.
You’ll start by making the bottom cake layer. That gets par-baked, topped with the gooey glaze, then finished up in the oven.
Step 1: Dissolve the yeast
Place the milk and water in a large mixing bowl, and sprinkle the yeast on top.
Allow the yeast to dissolve and become foamy. This usually takes anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes.
Step 2: Make the dough
Once the yeast has activated, mix in the flour, butter, sugar, egg, and salt.
Once everything is incorporated, beat the dough on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes.
This will really aerate the batter and develop the glutens.
You should see the mixture become paler in color and slightly increase in volume as well.
Step 3: Let it rise
Transfer the dough to a square baking pan, cover it lightly with plastic wrap, and allow it to rise in a warm place.
It should grow to about twice its original thickness.
Step 4: Par-bake the bottom layer
At this point, it can go into the oven.
Bake it just until it’s starting to set and become golden around the edges.
Step 5: Make the topping
While the cake starts its bake, you can get going on the gooey butter topping.
Cream the butter and sugar together until very pale and very fluffy.
Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a silicone spatula, and whip in the egg.
Next, in go the honey, water, and vanilla.
And lastly, the flour and salt.
Step 6: Finish baking
Dollop the topping over the partially baked cake and get it right back into the oven to finish.
You don’t have to wait for the bottom layer to cool before adding the topping. And you don’t even really have to spread the topping in an even layer. When it hits the heat of the oven, it melts and spreads all on its own.
How to serve it
Honestly, this doesn’t need another thing.
I’ve seen it served with a dusting of powdered sugar, or a spoonful of soft whipped cream, but I really don’t think it needs any of that!
Cut it into squares and enjoy it warm, cold, or at room temperature.
You really can’t go wrong!
Make it in a square pan
You can make this cake either in an 8×8-inch or 9×9-inch pan. A smaller pan will result in a slightly thicker cake.
I tried making it in a 9×13-inch pan and it came out too thin.
Really beat the batter well
You want to see it go very pale and very airy. This really makes a difference in the texture of the cake!
Partially bake the bottom layer first
This allows the cake to puff up and stay that way!
If you put the topping over raw dough, it makes it harder for that dough to rise.
This way, it rises to its full potential, then goes into the oven and puffs up even more. As it cooks, the structure is set, so that when the topping goes on it doesn’t cause things to deflate.
You don’t have to spread the topping
It’s so buttery it will melt and slide into place just from the heat of the oven.
This cake is meant to be gooey!
It’s best to take it out of the oven a few minutes before you actually think it’s done.
You want to account for “carry-over cooking” which is the idea that things will continue to cook and their temperature will continue to rise for several minutes after they’re no longer exposed to a heat source.
Take the cake out of the oven when the edges are somewhat set but the center still looks quite wet. Everything will firm up a lot as it cools.
Frequently asked questions
Why won’t my dough rise?
This can happen if the yeast is dead.
It’s best if the water and milk are room temperature, or slightly warm, but not hot. If the liquid is too hot it can kill the yeast. Aim for the temperature of a baby’s bath, or around 100 to 105 degrees F.
It’s also a good idea to check the expiration date on the yeast before you get started. If it’s past the date, it could be dead.
But keep in mind that this dough probably won’t rise as much as say, a baguette. That’s because it’s enriched with sugar, butter, eggs, and milk. These ingredients can inhibit the rise a little, so enriched breads won’t get quite as puffy. Don’t worry though, it puffs up quite a bit as it bakes and the final result is very light and downy.
Shouldn’t this rise twice?
I tested this recipe with a double rise, but I really didn’t feel like it made any difference at all in the end result.
So I’ve eliminated the second rise to simplify the recipe and make it a little quicker to prepare.
What is the origin of gooey butter cake?
It’s widely believed that gooey butter cake hails from St. Louis. They’re certainly famous for it!
But my first exposure to it was via our local Amish and Mennonite bakers.
It’s also very popular in the south, although the preparation is quite different. There, it’s often made with cake mix, cream cheese, and powdered sugar.
Gluten-free gooey butter cake
While I haven’t tested it this way so I can say for certain, I do think this recipe would adapt well to being gluten-free.
Just swap in a gluten-free flour blend that can sub 1:1 for regular flour.
Dairy-free gooey butter cake
For a dairy-free version, swap in your favorite plant-based milk and butter products. As long as they can sub 1:1 for dairy, they should work just fine.
Vegan gooey butter cake
To make this vegan, sub in a flaxseed or chia seed egg. For every egg, mix 1 tablespoon of ground chia or flax seeds with 2 tablespoons of water. Allow this mixture to sit for about 5 minutes until gelled.
You can also use the same amount of maple syrup, agave nectar, brown rice syrup, or corn syrup in place of the honey.
What is the serving size?
The info in the nutrition section of the recipe card reflects a serving size of 1/9-cake. In other words, if you slice this cake into 9 squares, 1 square equals a serving.
How to store
This cake can be left at room temperature for a day or so. Just keep it covered so it doesn’t dry out.
If you still have leftovers after that point, it’s best to keep them in the fridge. Ooey-gooey butter cake should last there for at least a week.
It will also keep very well in the freezer for several months. Just keep it wrapped tightly and thaw it in the fridge.
A few more of my favorite buttery recipes
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Gooey Butter Cake
For the cake layer
- 3 tablespoons (45 g) milk, room temperature (any kind)
- 2 tablespoons (30 g) warm water
- 1/4 ounce (7.09 g) active dry yeast, (1 packet or about 2 tablespoons)
- 1 3/4 cups (218.75 g) all-purpose flour
- 6 tablespoons (84 g) unsalted butter, softened
- 3 tablespoons (36 g) granulated sugar
- 1 (44 g) egg, large
- 1 teaspoon (6 g) kosher salt
To make the cake layer
- Place the milk and water in a large bowl and sprinkle the yeast on top.
- Allow the yeast to dissolve and become foamy (approx. 5 to 10 minutes).
- Add the flour, butter, sugar, egg, and salt and beat on medium-high speed until very pale and airy (approx. 5 to 7 minutes).
- Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan, spreading it into an even layer.
- Cover lightly with plastic wrap, and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in volume (approx. 90 minutes to 2 hours).
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
- Partially bake just the cake layer until mostly set (approx. 20 minutes), then dollop on scoops of the gooey butter topping* and bake until the edges are starting to set but the center is still quite wobbly and wet.
- Cool completely in the pan before slicing into bars.
To make the gooey butter topping
- Place the butter and sugar in a large bowl and cream together until very pale and fluffy (approx. 5 to 7 minutes).
- Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a silicone spatula, then whip in the egg.
- Stir in the honey, water, and vanilla.
- Mix in the flour until just barely combined.