Gooey Butter Strawberry Shortcake

by Julie Ruble on May 6, 2012 · 37 comments

At one of my first jobs, I’d get so bored that getting up to refill my water was the highlight of my day. It was even better when the ice machine on our floor was broken, because then I got to go on a little mid-afternoon odyssey, if you will. The quest for ice was full of exciting choices: should I try the break room upstairs or head down to the cafeteria? Should I take the stairs or elevator?

Yep, it was straight out of Indiana Jones.

I finally started doing this thing where around 1 o’clock, I’d think to myself: “It’s 1 o’clock! Which is almost 2 o’clock! And that’s almost 3 o’clock. And 3 o’clock is basically 4 o’clock. So essentially, it’s time to go home.” My absurd time logic got me through the day. That and paperclip art projects.

Thankfully, I love my current job and don’t have a spare moment to count down the hours of the day. I do occasionally find myself counting down with the students towards summer, though, in spite of myself. And right now I’m thinking, “It’s finally May! Which means it’s almost the end of May! Which means June is basically here! Which means it’s essentially summer!”

Really, though, I need summer told hold off a bit while I finalize my summer to-do list. This summer I have a lot of very important plans. For instance:

1. Find an entire day to set aside for painting my nails so that, for once in my life, I can let them fully dry instead of immediately smearing them all over everything.

2. Convince Byrd that going for a walk is not some unique form of doggie torture. What kind of a dog doesn’t like walks? (I ask her all the time, and she has yet to provide a reasonable response.)

3. Drink lots of berry or lemon water, preferably while wearing a ridiculous floppy hat.

4. Go to the gym. And maybe even exercise there instead of getting nervous and awkward and deciding to run back out the door before anyone notices me. I bought a Groupon, so I have to do it now, right? Groupons are like little mini contracts I make with myself: “Here, self, you have to go to the gym for a month,” or the less productive, “Here, self, you have to go buy $30 worth of Mexican fare at this taqueria.”

5. Continue the chronological reading of the Bible that I’m doing with my church.

6. Bake all the things, photograph all the things, post all the things! Blog blog blog.

7. Drive to the beach with Mike with the windows rolled down and the 80s pop music turned up. Note to self: This will probably require convincing Mike that he likes the beach, driving with the windows down, and 80s pop music.

8. Cart my laptop (!!) all over creation, and do fancy things on the internet anywhere I can find some wi-fi and a fountain soda. Fancy things include (but are not limited to) posting witty Facebook statuses, pinning ridiculous baked goods, and checking my email obsessively.

9. Lead a Cupcake Capers summer camp for middle schoolers that will end in a cupcake picnic every single day (if you know of a middle schooler in Charlotte who might want to join in, get in touch!)

10. Eat berries. Eat cake. Eat berries with cake!

I’ve always loved strawberry shortcake, but this Gooey Butter Strawberry Shortcake is a new take on the summery dessert. Gooey Butter Cake itself is a super-moist, almost custard-like buttery cake that hails from St. Louis. By most accounts, it began life as a happy culinary accident, but it’s now a well-beloved local quirk in the Lou.

My fear is that you’re going to immediately deem Gooey Butter Strawberry Shortcake too sweet for your taste, so let me address that next: this dessert has the perfect balance of sweet cake, tangy berries, and freshly whipped cream that, without sugar added, lends a rich background bitterness. In short, it’s quite a savvy combination and not cloying in the least.

Indeed, it’s one of those desserts where you take the first bite and just have to give yourself a hearty, full-mouthed, back-patting, “Uh-huh!”

It’s rare to find a treat that manages to be so decadent and summery at the same time. Also — a real plus for busy summer days — it’s easy to throw together and (you know me) eat straight from the skillet.

What are your summer plans?

One year ago: Pasta Carbonara
Two years ago: Mini Doughnuts for your coffee cup: a creative use for yeast dough scraps!

Gooey Butter Strawberry Shortcake

Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking, adapted from one provided to St. Louis Today by Fred and Audrey Heimburger of Heimburger Bakery.
Yield: would easily serve 4-6 people

I don’t know if I really need to sell this to you, but just in case: this is gooey butter cake + strawberry shortcake, so basically, it’s perfect. The tart strawberries and soft whipping cream are unsweetened, and the gooey butter cake itself has a surprisingly balanced sweetness (I expected it to lean more towards cloying), so altogether, this dish has the perfect sweetness level. It’s a beautiful, simple harbinger of summer.

Crust Ingredients:
1 cup cake flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/3 cup butter, softened

Filling Ingredients:
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
1 egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
icing sugar

Toppings Ingredients:
1 pound strawberries, quartered
2 cups heavy whipping cream

NOTE: If you don’t have a skillet, I believe you can bake this in a greased 9-inch square baking dish (I’d use a glass one if you have it, and check it early and often. Remove when there’s some jiggle left.) Let us know how it goes if you try it this way for all the other skilletless people!

Make the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together cake flour and sugar in a medium bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or two knives until the mixture resembles fine crumbs and starts to cling together. Press the mixture into the bottom (this step is a lot harder than it sounds, but be patient and use the back of a spoon to help spread/press the mixture down. I also stuck mine in the fridge for a bit to make the butter less sticky) and up the sides of a 10-inch cast iron skillet.

Make the filling: Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy and pale yellow (about 2-3 minutes). Mix in the egg until just combined. Alternate adding the flour and evaporated milk, mixing after each addition. Mix in the corn syrup and vanilla. Pour the filling into the crust and sprinkle the top with icing sugar (I forgot to do this, and did it afterwards. Oops).

Bake and assemble the cake: Bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until cake is nearly set (mine was probably ready around 30). Some jiggle is fine — do not overcook! It’ll finish setting up as it cools. Let it cool in pan for 2 hours. In the meantime, beat heavy cream to stiff peaks. Pile heaps of fresh strawberries into the center of your cooled, set gooey butter cake, top with a mountain of freshly whipped cream, and serve.

P.S. This lovely background fabric is from a sweet local fabric shop in Cornelius, NC, called Cotton Ginny’s. If you’re in the area, you should stop in — there’s great stuff there and a sweet little canine greeter named Maggie.

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