How to Make St. Louis Pumpkin Gooey Cake
A Cake With No Equal
The St. Louis Gooey Cake (also called the St. Louis Butter Cake, Ooey Gooey Cake or Chess Cake) has no real equivalent in British baking. Said to have been created by accident in the 1930s, it combines a firm biscuit-type base, with a semi-soft, almost cheesecake-like topping.
Gooey cake is hugely popular in the American city of St. Louis where it was created, with some bakeries specialising solely in this cake. The original cake has a plain, sweet top layer, but there are now lots of variations including pumpkin varieties.
Finding UK recipes for this cake using British measures and ingredients is difficult. I have therefore adapted my version from US recipes, using ingredients you should readily find in UK supermarkets.
One of the ingredients you will need is pureed pumpkin. This can be bought in tins online, or from certain supermarkets, but a cheaper alternative is to make your own from fresh ingredients. Follow my guide to making pumpkin puree; it is so easy to do, and you can make huge batches and freeze portions.
I hope you have fun baking this—I certainly enjoyed discovering the delight that is St. Louis Gooey Cake! And if you have any problems, I have included a troubleshooting section below.
- Ingredients for the base layer:
- 320g plain flour
- 113g unsalted butter, melted
- 300g caster sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 large egg
- Ingredients for the top layer:
- 425g pumpkin puree
- 250g tub soft cheese
- 220g icing sugar
- 113g butter, melted
- 3 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon each of ground allspice, ground cloves, ground ginger
- Optional ingredients:
- Splash of whole milk
- Grease and line a 30cm x 20cm (12in x 8in) baking tin with baking paper. Pre-heat your oven to 190C or Fan 170C or Gas Mark 5.
- In a large bowl combine all the dry ingredients for the base layer, then add the egg and melted butter. Mix with a spoon. You should end up with a stiff, firm dough that sticks together, but is not wet or sloppy. If the mixture remains too dry, add small splashes of whole milk until it comes together. Be careful not to add too much and make it wet.
- Spoon the dough into the prepared baking tin and use your fingers to press it to the edges and into the corners. It should not break apart easily, nor should liquid come out when you press into it. Set the tin to one side.
- In a clean bowl combine the pureed pumpkin and soft cheese. You can do this with a spoon or, to get a smoother blend, use an electric mixer. Add the butter, eggs and spices, then the icing sugar. Make sure everything is well combined and then pour the topping onto the base layer.
- Place in the pre-heated oven and cook for 40–50 minutes. Depending on the oven it may take longer than this to cook through completely. When the cake is ready the mixture should not wobble in the pan, and when a skewer is dipped into the middle, it should come out with no cake batter sticking to it. It can take a little trial and error to get this right, but when the cake is properly baked it should have a golden brown top that looks glossy. Place the tin on a wire rack and allow it to fully cool, before cutting into 20–24 squares.
Serve this cake hot or cold, plain or with cream or ice cream!
Q: I added milk to the base layer ingredients and now it is too wet, what do I do?
A: Add more flour to soak up the excess liquid. Only add a tablespoon at a time, and mix fully before deciding if you should add more.
Q: The cake has been in the oven for over an hour and is still not cooked, what do I do?
A: It may be that your tin is quite deep and the oven's heat is taking a while to get through. If it is an electric oven turn the temperature up by 10 degrees and give a little longer, checking back every 15-20 minutes to see how the cake is doing. When the cake is done, there should be no wobble and when a knife or skewer is placed in the middle, it should come out clean (no wet batter, but cake crumbs are ok). Be patient and make a note of any changes you made to the timings or temperature for future reference.
Q: I can't get hold of pumpkin, can I use anything else?
A: Any squash will work for the topping. Try butternut squash, which is usually available all year round in the supermarkets.