Gooey Butter Cake Is The South's Best Kept Holiday Secret

One bite, and you'll understand the name.

Gooey Butter Cake Holiday Baking Image
Photo: GMVozd / Getty Images

If you haven't yet tried gooey butter cake (also affectionately referred to as ooey, gooey butter cake), you're in for a treat.

Some sources claim the utterly indulgent confection came about by accident. According to the New York Times, it all started in the 1930s when a St. Louis, Missouri, baker botched the proportions of butter while baking a coffee cake. Like many Southerners, he refused to be defeated and embraced the sugary treat, selling portions that immediately became a hit.

There have been many iterations of the bars that might look like a batch of blondies at first glance, but delve in, and you'll find that the best gooey butter cakes have the most delicate layer of crispiness on the top with an utterly decadent center.

Gooey Butter Cake has quite a different consistency than the typical cookie bars. You might never know unless you slice into one. Still, it has a cake layer at the bottom, then topped with a sweet mixture that typically includes some combination of butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla. However, there are many opinions on the exact formula for the classic—sound familiar, gumbo fans?

During the holidays, pumpkin, peppermint, and even red velvet versions have made appearances, to the dismay of gooey butter cake purists. If you are in a hurry, you can make it using a box of yellow cake mix.

How To Make Gooey Butter Cake

Here's a recipe for making a standard Gooey Butter Cake.


  • Cooking spray
  • 1 ¼ cups (about 5 ⅜ ounces) of all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon malted milk powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted


  • ¾ cup (6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons tap water
  • 1 cup (about 4 ¼ ounces) of all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon malted milk powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • Powdered sugar for serving


  1. First, prepare the crust and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly coat a 9- x 9-inch baking pan with cooking spray and line the pan with parchment paper.
  2. Next, whisk the flour, sugar, malted milk powder, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk in egg and melted butter until combined into a smooth, shiny dough. Transfer dough to the prepared pan and press with your fingers to evenly cover the bottom of the pan.
  3. After preparing the crust, you need to prepare the filling. Beat butter and sugar with a stand mixer with a paddle attachment on medium-high speed until fluffy, about four minutes. Add egg and almond extract and beat until combined, which should take about one minute, scraping down the sides of the bowl if needed. Add honey and two tablespoons of tap water and continue beating until combined, about 30 seconds. Add flour, malted milk powder, and salt and beat on low until combined, about one minute.
  4. Finally, transfer the filling to your prepared pan and spread it evenly over the crust. Bake in preheated oven until top is golden brown and edges begin to pull away from sides of the pan, 35 to 40 minutes.
  5. After baking, remove it from the oven and let it cool at room temperature, which can take an hour. Cut your cake into squares, and dust with powdered sugar—and enjoy!
gooey butter cake
Photographer: Greg DuPree, Food Stylist: Ruth Blackburn

No matter how you eat it, Gooey Butter Cake is one of the South's most treasured recipes. Share with us: Is it a holiday staple in your house? If so, we would love to hear about your favorite recipe!

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