So I don’t often bake in my own kitchen. I adore my apartment, and the kitchen is perfect for every-day cooking, but when it comes to baking three-layer cakes, it just doesn’t have the counter space.
Or a dishwasher for that matter (but note the love of my life my Kitchenaid 600 series in red, 6 quart bowl, 590 horsepower… Perfect).
I do most of my baking at the home of a close-friend who has graciously offered me the use of her two (yes TWO!!) ovens, and giant kitchen island whenever I need it. In exchange I leave her house smelling like cake, and occasionally bake for her family as well (ok, it isn’t so occasional, it’s like a weekly thing…)
But last week I went to a friend’s for dinner, and casually offered to bake dessert, without planning ahead, or thinking about the actual amount of time I had that afternoon. Turns out, it wasn’t enough time for me to drive to and from my friend’s, workout, shower, change, and drive over to the east bay where my friend’s dinner was. Especially in rush hour traffic.
I know, I know. First-world-problems.
So I scoured the internet for easy, quick, delicious bar recipes, and stumbled across a recipe that’s been on my to-bake list for over a year.
Gooey butter-cake bars. I believe this recipe has southern origins in St. Louis, Missouri. I’m also fairly certain Paula Dean originally made it famous. It’s called butter cake after all. This particular version comes from the Momofuku Milk Bar book, which tweaks the original a bit to make the centre a touch gooey-er. It’s a good thing. Trust me.
It’s a recipe that I wouldn’t normally make. The base is boxed yellow cake, and I don’t typically believe in using boxed mixes. Half the joy of baking for me comes from carefully measuring ingredients and knowing that I made it from scratch. But I was afraid to mess with what everyone else seemed to say was perfection. Furthermore I was running out of time, and fast. So I ran to the store and bought a box of yellow cake mix, a bag of powdered sugar, and a block of cream cheese. I didn’t need to buy butter because my fridge currently looks like this:
Send help, in the form of butter-heavy recipes please. Except I’m not sure I need that much help finding recipes that overuse butter. Please note the name of this blog.
To the cake mix I added a single egg and a melted stick of butter, then I pressed it into the bottom of a parchment lined 8 by 8 baking dish.
The powered sugar was beaten with the block of cream cheese, two more eggs, and a teaspoon of vanilla until smooth, then poured on top of the base.
The whole thing was in the oven within 15 minutes, and baked for 52. The recipe said 40-45, but my oven is a gas oven and while I do have an oven thermometer I think it tends to run a bit cold. Regardless, 52 minutes was perfect. The centre was a touch jiggly but it set beautifully so that when I cut into it later that evening it held together yet remained perfectly gooey. The edges were golden brown and slightly crispy on top. We spent some time debating which was better: the centre pieces or the edge pieces. The results were unconclusive. I’ll probably have to make it again so we can come to some kind of agreement…
The top was slightly flakey, the bottom just soft enough to differentiate from the filling. I may be a convert to boxed cake mix in certain situations.
I would’ve taken a picture of the inside… But I forgot to pull out my camera. It was one of those great nights with lots of friends, some wine, some beer, laughter, and great food. So you’ll have to trust me: these were outstanding.
Gooey Butter Cake Bars
Makes about 64 1-inch squares, feeds much fewer than 64 people, good luck stopping at one square.
1 Box yellow cake mix
1 stick (1/2 cup, 4 ounces) of unsalted butter, melted
1 block (8 ounces) of cream cheese, softened
1lb (one bag) of powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line an 8 by 8 pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang. This will make the bars a snap to remove and cut.
2. In a medium bowl melt the butter in the microwave. Then mix, using a wooden spoon with cake mix, and one egg until mixture is uniform. Press into bottom of prepared pan.
3. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat together powdered sugar, remaining two eggs, cream cheese and vanilla until smooth and uniform. Pour over the base and spread to the edge using a rubber spatula.
4. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the edges are golden brown and the centre is lightly brown and still slightly jiggly – similar to a cheesecake. Let cool COMPLETELY before slicing into 1inch squares using a sharp knife.