I recently returned from the big annual mystery fest known as Bouchercon. It moves, year to year, so every time I attend I get to visit a new place. This year (2011), it was in St. Louis.
St. Louis! The Gateway Arch! The monument to westward expansion!
Alas, though, I didn't experience the Arch.
But I did experience Gooey Butter Cake, which left a huge impression on me. Granted, not as big an impression as an impromptu Poisoned Pen Press author dinner-a-thon, or a wonderful meeting with mystery reviewer Teresa Jacobsen who loved Mercury's Rise and said so in Library Journal ... but still a pretty big impression.
Big enough, it turns out, that it was the only photograph I took while in St. Louis:
My roomie, author Kathleen Ernst and I were determined to taste this uniquely St. Louis dish. Determined enough to set out Sunday morning, in the rain, in an ever-increasing spiral around the conference hotel, in search of a place that served gooey butter cake.
We found it, ordered it, devoured it. (Yes, the photo does kind of take the suspense out of this announcement, I know.) We had, specifically, raspberry lemon gooey butter cake. I wasn't sure what to expect from my first bite, but WOW! Extreme-sugar rush, is how I'd sum it up. Sugar, lots of it, and butter. A hint of lemon and really really sweet raspberry jam. I could feel the stuff sing in my teeth, hit my veins, and race straight to my brain. Strong coffee was required to temper the hit.
Back home again, I became curious. Does this stuff have a history?
Well, of course it does! Right here on the Helfer's Pastry site, and right here on What's Cooking America. I love the following description, penned on Helfer's Pastry page:
What starts off
innocently enough as a plain yeast-raised coffeecake, erupts into a
volcanic mass of chewy bright yellow lava, with snow banks of
confectioners sugar covering crescenta and crevices. In the mouth, the
goo clogs the gums, while the crusty edges glue to the teeth. You don't
just swallow gooey butter cake, you work it down.
Couldn't have said it better myself.
It apparently originated in St. Louis during the 1930s or 1940s, when a German baker added the wrong amounts of some ingredients and the inside of his coffee cake turned into a gooey, pudding-like filling. The sites provide a couple stories of the origin, and the What's Cooking America site features a recipe taken from I'll Have What They're Having - Legendary Local Cuisine.