Serves 12 to 15
These days, when people hear about this cake, they’re familiar with the cake mix version involving all manner of instant puddings and what not, found on so many websites. I’ve always found that version cloying and more gloppy than gooey, and not really my style. Turns out, this popular version of “Gooey Butter Cake” is just a shadow of what this midwestern classic was truly meant to be. Then again, gooey butter cake was never really meant to be at all. It was a happy accident when a baker in st. Louis, intending to make one of his bakery’s traditional german yeasted coffeecakes, made a ratio-swapping mistake and way too much butter was added to the coffeecake topping. That mistake proved profitable, and people in st. Louis and beyond have loved the concept ever since. When you make it from scratch, it becomes more balanced in flavor and texture, and even more lovable. Some folks serve it as a coffeecake, some as a special occasion cake. I’ll eat it whenever, especially with a few modern ingredient tweaks to improve levels of sweetness, richness, and crave-worthy chew.
PREPARE THE DOUGH: Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 325°f. Spray a 9 x 13-inch glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
After the dough has finished its first rise, flour your hands and pat the dough into an even layer into the prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise a second time for 20 minutes.
MEANWHILE, PREPARE THE TOPPING: in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and cream cheese on medium-high speed until smooth and creamy. Add the granulated and brown sugars, vanilla, and salt, and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the corn syrup and egg and beat until smooth. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually stir in the flour. Fold the batter by hand a few times with a large flexible spatula until well blended.
When the dough has finished its second rise, dollop the topping over the dough. Use a small offset spatula to spread it evenly.
Bake until puffed and golden, but still quite loose in the center, about 40 minutes (it will appear almost liquid under the surface in spots, but will quickly set upon cooling. Have a peek at the bottom of the cake through the glass dish; if it’s deeply golden, you’re in good shape). Let cool completely in the pan set on a wire rack. Dust with confectioners’ sugar before slicing and serving.
BUTTERY, YEAST-RAISED COFFEECAKE DOUGH:
Makes enough for one 9 x 13-inch cake, or two 8-inch rounds
This dough is an awesome building bloc recipe for so many bakery classics. Although many yeast doughs can be made unplugged, with just a wooden spoon and your hands, this recipe calls specifically for an electric stand mixer and a paddle attachment. The reason is that the precise amount of flour in this recipe is the key to its light, cakelike texture, and the dough itself is meant to be very loose. To knead it by hand, you’d need to way too much flour on your work surface to make it workable, making for a dry finished product. Using a mixer ensures a soft, pillowy, buttery dough.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together the yeast and milk. Set aside for a couple of minutes. Whisk in the melted butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest. Add the flour and salt. Fit the bowl onto the mixer along with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed for 3 to 4 minutes, or until shiny. It will be a very loose dough-batter hybrid. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl well about halfway through the mixing time.
Spray a medium bowl with nonstick cooking spray or oil it lightly. Scrape the dough into the bowl and dust the surface of the dough with a couple of teaspoons of flour. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Use as directed in the recipes that call for this dough.