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Gooey Butter Cake Bars

A St. Louis staple, gooey butter cake proves that accidents can be happy. With a yeasted coffee cake crust, and a buttery, gooey filling, these bars are as sweet as can be.

As the story goes, a Missouri baker back in the 30s accidentally left the flour out of a filling when making a butter coffee cake. When he cut into the baked product, it oozed everywhere. But after he tasted it, he knew he had struck culinary gold. Since then, gooey butter cake has been a permanent offering in many St. Louis bakeries.

The only challenge is not overbaking the bars where the crust becomes too dry, and the substantial layer of filling isn’t gooey. Basically, you want the filling to be lightly set. It should form a thin shell on the top, still be a little jiggly, and not yet firm when pulled from the oven.

With the looks of a lemon bar, and a reputation for being super sweet, this version is not nearly as saccharin. And adding almond extract gives these bars their own unique identity and flavor.


15 servings

Total Time

1¼ hours + resting

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Test Kitchen Tip

If you like a more tender cake and gooier filling, eat these bars while they’re still a little warm. But, if you prefer a sturdier bar, let them cool completely (up to overnight) to give the butter in the filling a chance to set up.


Coat a 9×13-inch baking pan with butter.

For the crust, whisk together warm milk and yeast; let stand until slightly foamy, 510 minutes.

Cream 4 Tbsp. butter, ¼ cup granulated sugar, and ½ tsp. salt in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add 1 egg, 1 tsp. vanilla, and ¼ tsp. almond extract; beat until combined.

Add 1¾ cups flour in two additions on low speed, alternating with milk-yeast mixture; increase speed to medium-low and beat until a smooth, slightly elastic dough forms that pulls away from the sides of the bowl, 36 minutes.

Press dough into bottom and ½–1-inch up sides of prepared pan; dock bottom with a fork, then loosely cover with plastic wrap. Let dough sit in a warm place until it slightly puffs up, 1½ hours.

Preheat oven to 350°.

For the filling, cream 2 sticks butter, 1¾ cups granulated sugar, and ½ tsp. salt in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until light and fluffy.

Add 1 egg, yolk, 2 tsp. vanilla, and ½ tsp. almond extract; beat until combined.

Add cornstarch; beat to combine on low speed. Add 1 cup flour in two additions on low speed, alternating with 3 Tbsp. milk, until combined.

Dollop filling on dough; spread evenly almost to the edges.

Bake cake on center rack until light golden brown, a thin shell forms on the top, and the filling is set, but still a little jiggly, 2830 minutes.

Let cake cool completely in pan on a rack, then run a knife around edge of pan. To serve, dust cake with powdered sugar; cut into 15 bars.


You’ll know the dough is ready when it forms a smooth mass and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.


For ease and consistent thickness, shape dough into a rectangle before pressing into pan.


To form a lip to “hold” the gooey filling, press the dough ½–1-inch up the sides of the pan.

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