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If Memory Serves: Gooey Butter Cake

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Growing up a Cardinals fan meant we took more than just the occasional pilgrimage to beautiful Busch Stadium. Our route to the ballpark varied, but it was always about three hours and--if we approached down a certain highway, my mom would always--and I mean always--point out the street where Marty Marion lived.

He was a shortstop in the 40s. Think my mom was one of history's first stalkers.

But trips to St. Louis were important for another reason. Beyond the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, there are few places on earth where you can find--in bakeries and in supermarkets--the gooey butter cake.

For those of us who love rich, creamy, heavy, sweet, empty calories by the thousand, it is the greatest coffee cake in the world.

My stalker mom always made gooey butter cakes with a filling of butter and sugar, though several St. Louis area bakeries prefer a muted (and probably healthier--as if that matters here) mix of cream cheese and whisked egg, with a little sugar. Both recipes start with a buttery yellow cake batter.

The cake part takes up only about a third of the entire pan, however. It is the filling that makes this thing so damn good: baked until the thinnest crisp veneer develops on top, oozing in the center, dusted with powdered sugar and resting on cake so permeated with butter or cream cheese it seems to collapse into the gooey part.

Damn.

As with any other regional delicacy, there's a fuzzy origin myth or two to explain its existence--although the accepted version in this case seems more farfetched than most. It has to do with a baker of German heritage (that was always part of the story) misreading a recipe so too much sugar and butter ended up in the bowl. This was in the midst of World War Two when such ingredients were rationed, so the tale hardly seems likely...though the German bumbling adds a nice patriotic touch.

Other versions of the story place this happy accident sometime during the Depression. Hardly matters, though. For me, it was part of the entire baseball pilgrimage experience. Drive to St. Louis, catch a game and--win or lose--come home with a gooey butter cake.

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