When I started my first “real” job, one in which I worked from 8:30 to 5 every day and sat at a desk for most of that time, a tradeoff I was totally willing to make in exchange for a decent salary and health insurance, I had a lot of free time. In fact, I had never had so much free time: College and grad school had been a blend of intense studying and working a variety of part-time jobs to pay my bills, and a typical day involved attending classes until 2, working a shift at the ice cream store until 10, and then writing a paper until 2 a.m. Suddenly, though, I had a huge block of my day accounted for, but then … nothing from 5 p.m. until bedtime. I took a lot of walks out in the country with my puppy. I went to the library at least twice a week. I watched mindless TV and shopped at Target with my best friend and went to see live music (which was usually not great because I was in mid-Missouri, but hey). I briefly attempted to take up needlepoint. I played bar trivia every Thursday. Oh, and I cooked. I had always loved to cook, but now I just had so much more time to devote to reading and trying recipes, grocery shopping and elaborate preparations, to say I cooked so much; I cooked everything; I cooked all the time.
I cooked a three-day coq-au-vin. I cooked fancy pastries and casual souffles. Sometimes I cooked food I was homesick for. I cooked red beans all the time, jambalaya once a month, and gumbo on special occasions. Once I even managed to find some fresh crawfish (with fat!) at a specialty foods store, and I made a kick-ass Crawfish Monica in the Show-Me State. But mostly, I just cooked because it was fun, and I was good at it, and I loved to feed people.
When I marked my first month on the job, I decided to celebrate by making pralines for everyone. My boss there was from Louisiana and had an intense sweet tooth, and I knew they’d make a good impression. And of course they did: It’s impossible to go wrong with brown sugar, butter, and pecans. (The King Cake I later made was a different story.)
Now, of course, I’m back in New Orleans, thank God, but it’s funny how the world works sometimes: I had a boss from Louisiana when I lived in Missouri, and now that I’m back in Louisiana, I have a boss from Missouri. She just started a few days ago, and we briefly discussed St. Louis delicacies (because that’s the only way to discuss St. Louis delicacies).
To celebrate her first week on the job, I’m going to make one of the only things I miss from St. Louis – gooey butter cake. Now that I have two kids, I have a whole lot less free time, but fortunately, gooey butter cake is not even close to the difficulty level of pralines (which aren’t even that hard themselves, honestly).
I know the recipes on the website typically fall to our food writers, including my husband, but just in case anyone here is curious, I’m going to go ahead and share it. It’s not as good as pralines, but it’s pretty damn good.
St. Louis-Style Gooey Butter Cake
1 box yellow cake mix
1 stick butter, melted
1 package of full-fat cream cheese (at room temperature)
1 tsp. of vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar, plus more for dusting
- Preheat your oven to 325.
- Blend together the cake mix, melted butter, and one of the eggs, and press with clean hands into a greased 9 x 13 baking dish.
- Blend the remaining two eggs with the cream cheese, vanilla and powdered sugar until smooth. Spread the cream cheese mixture over the top of the cake crust layer.
- Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until golden-brown – do not overbake or it won’t be as deliciously “gooey.”
- After it’s cooled, dust with powdered sugar.