Visiting (Recipe: Gooey Butter Cake)

Back in October I spent time with my SIL, some of her family, and my Mom. It was an evenly split group between Louisiana folks and Northerners (two Canadians and 1 New Yorker). That made for great conversations, good accents, and a whole lot of talk about food.

Even though I'd met DeeDee, my SIL's Mom many times before this was the first time I was in her home. And I knew it was home the second I arrived. The coffee table was covered with cookbooks and magazines. Literally stacked 5 deep in piles, with spillover littering the floor and every other flat surface. Definitely my kind of lady. A collector, not a hoarder.

Over the course of the 5 days we were there we shopped for a gold sequined dress (not for me), I attended Quilt Market, we ate - a lot, and as we sat and chatted I think I (and the others) flipped through most of the visible books. My favourite among the stack was Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from the Times-Picayune of New Orleans.

Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and massive losses of property the New Orleans newspaper, the Time-Picayune became a home for recipe swappers. Many of the recipes in Cooking Up a Storm were originally published in the paper. Most of the recipes are beloved of the people from the area and capture the taste and attitude of New Orleans. For my extended family who survived the Hurricane and the flooding I always feel drawn to any survival and celebration stories.

As we gathered in Houston and flipped through cookbooks we all kept coming back to this one. Full of recipes, it was one particular one that caught my eye: Gooey Butter Cake.

Gooey Butter Cake starts with a yeasted base topped with a whole bunch of sweetness and butter. Despite that combination it doesn't taste like bread, it isn't overly sweet, and the butter taste is one step below rich. In other words, the name of the recipe is deceiving. The taste, however, is quite good. We found the cake rich, a little bit gooey and a little bit dense. It actually wasn't that sweet, which made it pretty much perfect for a tea-time snack or, ahem, breakfast.

Many recipes actually call for a yellow cake base. I can't speak for that, other than it would, of course, be easier than making a yeasted base. I'm sticking with the original from the Times Picayune. (Even though the recipe is actually from St. Louis or thereabouts.) That has nothing to do with honouring the New Orleans links in my family, nothing at all.

Gooey Butter Cake
(Slightly adapted from Cooking Up a Storm)
Makes 2 cakes

Cake Base
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup water
4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 package active dry yeast
2 1/3 - 2 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
3/4 cup white corn syrup
2 large eggs
3/4 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

Heat the milk and water with the butter over low heat until warm. The butter doesn’t have to melt, just be warm.

In large bowl mix together the yeast with ¾ cup of the flour, the sugar, and the salt. Add the liquids to the dry ingredients. Beat with an electric mixer for 2 minutes at medium speed, scraping the bowl occasionally. Add about ¼ cup more flour, or enough to make a thick batter. Add the egg. Beat on high speed for 2 minutes, scraping. Stir in enough additional flour so that the dough holds together and can be turned out., but is still sticky. Work in just enough flour to handle easily then knead for 5 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic.

Grease and flour two 8'' square pans. Divide the dough equally into the pans and shape so it fits the pan, pressing it up the sides. It will rise slightly as you prepare the filling.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Beat the butter and shortening until fluffy. Add 1/2 cup of the condensed milk and beat until light. Add the syrup and mix thoroughly. Add the eggs, one at a time, and continue beating until the batter is light and fluffy. Beat in the flour and remaining 1/4 cup condensed milk, alternating the flour and milk. Finally, add the vanilla and salt, mix well.

Pour the filling over the yeast dough and bake for 30 minutes, or until lightly browned at the edges.

It won't look fully cooked when you remove it from the oven, but it will set after cooling. Once completely cool sprinkle with icing sugar and serve.