Blackbird went through a big transition recently. We bid goodbye and good luck to David Posey, the Chef de cuisine I’ve worked with for the past 2 years as he stepped away to start the process of opening his own restaurant. His large shoes are being filled by Perry Hendrix, a chef who I have had the pleasure of working with at Avec for the past year. Just like me, he is now responsible for menus at both Blackbird and Avec. When the announcement was made publicly, Perry was quoted as saying he envisioned style for blackbird as “modern Midwestern.”
It wasn’t but moments after the words left his lips that a devilish little laugh passed through mine. I’m going to put gooey butter cake on the menu, I thought as I snickered.
Gooey butter cake wasn’t anything I’d heard of growing up on the west coast, for that I’m certain. I’d remember a cake who’s name included gooey and butter. This cake was a St. Louis bakers mistake during the 1930’s, and quickly became a regional favorite. It’s not pretty. Much like it’s name would suggest, it’s kind of a flat gooey buttery mess. But Midwestern it is, and this unsightly heap of a sticky cake was surely something we could modernize and bring into the world of composed desserts to support our new chef’s vision. After all, the gooey butter cake has one redeeming quality; it’s undeniably delicious.
Recipe testing began with the gooey butter cake most Midwestern children grew up with, one made of a box of yellow cake mix and a pound of Philadelphia cream cheese. Texturally rewarding, this gooey butter cake was oh so very sweet, tooth-achingly sweet, almost inedible it was so sweet. We set to the task of recreating the cake with scratch ingredients, and found ways to cut the saccharine quality.
We employed one of the gooiest products we have in our employ, liquid glucose. Handling this dense syrup is sticky to the point of difficulty, but glucose has a sweetness that falls far below that of table sugar. It was just the thing, and the glucose replaced 33 percent of the sugar in the recipe, bringing the cake back to digestible levels.
And it was good.
Not Great. Not show stopping, grand finale great.
So we began to tinker with the flavors involved. Being as this is fall, we instantly stuck some pumpkin and some spices in it. Not quite.
Then, while mulling over how to lift our gooey butter cake to the next level, an email arrived announcing the beginning of another season, that of Kentucky small batch Sorghum syrup, and in one click of the mouse our questions were answered.
The deep malty, molasses-y flavor of sorghum syrup, thick and viscous like the glucose in our employ, added intrigue and depth to our sticky friend. And because I can hardly think of products of the south without thinking of Bourbon, what the heck we threw some of that in there too. Thus bourbon gooey butter cake entered our lives, and I do believe it’s here to stay.
Tis the season, as they say, and being that thanksgiving is right around the corner, our gooey butter cake became the cornerstone for components reminiscent of holiday pies. A streak of pumpkin puree, flavored with evaporated milk and pie spices smears the plate before the gooey butter cake sets anchor. Pecans drenched in sorghum butterscotch are cast over the top before a big dollop of whipped goat cheese is nestled over. Ground sorghum-pecan cracker jack is sprinkled over the plate before little bits of candied lemon are strewn about willy nilly. Finally, sheets of sugared strudel dough lean over the dessert, the thinnest version of a pie crust imaginable.
This variation on gooey butter cake should be replicated by anyone who likes things gooey, bourbon-y, and buttery. It should also open doors to variances of your own on this unassuming Midwestern cake of textural brilliance. I believe it’s time for gooey butter cake’s day in the sun.
Bourbon Gooey Butter Cake
Additional Components: diced candied lemon