Nutritional honor runs rampant these days—to the point of making me want to let my fat-soaked, sugar-sprinkled hair down at every opportunity! So, with your permission, I pay homage to a little-known St. Louis dessert that pre-dates the Food Police: a gooey butter cake that will make your esophagus glow. It features sin at three levels:
1) A golden-brown, crumby, cake-y base that’s very firm, but very tender, with an almost sticky chew to it;
2) A crackling white frosting on top, merely a patina that creates great texture interest; and
3) The heart of the cake, the gooey yellow middle, custardy, thick but almost runny that carries an almost impossibly explosive burst of butter and treacle.
It’s time to live a little. The following recipe is from Picasso’s Pizzeria, a great restaurant in Jacksonville, Florida. It’s owned by a St. Louis emigré who never forgot his roots.
St. Louis-Style Gooey Butter Cake
For the crust:
118.25-ounce box of Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Classic Yellow Cake Mix
4 ounces butter, melted and cooled (plus extra for greasing)
For the gooey batter:
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
16 ounces confectioner’s (or 10X) sugar
1. Prepare the crust: Grease a 9″ x 13 1/2″ Pyrex glass baking dish with extra butter.
2. Combine crust ingredients in a mixer (like a Kitchen-Aid), and mix on medium speed until crust starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
3. With a plastic spatula, spread the crust mixture evenly over the bottom of the Pyrex pan.
4. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
5. Prepare the gooey batter. Using the Kitchen-Aid once again, beat cream cheese and sugar until it is light and fluffy, scraping the sides often. The mixture should look like icing.
6. Add eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl after each egg. The mixture should be smooth, lump-free.
7. Pour the batter over the crust, and bake the cake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Remove from oven. There should be the slightest jiggle in the very center of the cake when it is done. Cool to room temperature and serve.
David Rosengarten is a travel writer, cookbook author and TV journalist who has hosted or co-hosted approximately 2,500 shows on the Food Network. A frequent guest on NBC’s Today show, David has written about food and wine for a wide array of publications and travels frequently throughout the U.S., Europe, Latin America and Asia, writing and lecturing on various culinary subjects Currently, David is the editor-in-chief of The Rosengarten Report, which received the James Beard Award in 2003 for the best food and wine newsletter in the country.
Recipes by Rosengarten is a recurring bi-weekly feature on www.winemag.com.