St. Louis gooey butter bars

My sister really knows how to plan a weekend visit. Step one, consult with your local Trader Joe’s cashier for the inside scoop on good local tourist spots. Step two, go to the strange place recommended by said cashier and hand-feed goats with baby bottles. 

It’s over. She’s won.

St. Louis gooey butter bars | St. Louis gooey butter bars |

The place in question, Grant’s Farm, brings you in with the promise of Clydesdales but gets you to stay for the kangaroos. Yes, in Missouri. They’re next to the goats, across from the guinea pigs, and just down from the elephants. Oh, you were looking for the camels? Straight down and on your left. Wait, what?

The land belonged to the Busch family of Budweiser fame, hence the Clydesdales (they train there). I can’t explain the kangaroos. The tour guide explained the whole history of the farm on the tram ride around the grounds, but I couldn’t focus after he mentioned that the fence was made of rifle barrels from the Civil War.

With that sort of introduction to St. Louis, it’s hard to know where to go from there. Luckily we already had plans for Sunday–it was half marathon race day!

St. Louis gooey butter bars |

St. Louis gooey butter bars | St. Louis gooey butter bars |

The problem with training mostly along the river in Boston is that, while very pretty, it’s also VERY flat. St. Louis, it turns out, not so flat. My legs realized early on that I hadn’t trained enough on hills and then wouldn’t shut up about it for the remaining 11 miles. You know you’ve really put everything you’ve got in the race when you have to ask a volunteer to open your finish line chocolate milk for you because caps are just way too hard right now.

After the mandatory post-race brunch, my sister and I guiltily considered the things we could do to keep exploring, and then decided to eat gooey butter bars and lie in bed watching a movie. It’s the only time I’ve had this St. Louis specialty, but it was pretty perfect. Think of a lemon bar without the lemon–a creamy, custardy filling on a yeasted crust. My version spikes the filling with maple syrup and bourbon for a slightly boozy, totally delicious new dessert.

St. Louis gooey butter bars | St. Louis gooey butter bars | St. Louis gooey butter bars |

St. Louis gooey butter bars
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 25
With a bit of yeast in the crust and more than a bit of bourbon in the filling, these buttery, creamy bars are exactly what you didn't know you were missing.
  • Crust:
  • ¾ t. (3 g) active dry yeast
  • 1½ T. (21 g) whole milk
  • 2 T. (28 g) butter, room temperature
  • 1½ T. (19 g) sugar
  • ½ t. (2 g) salt
  • 1 c. (120 g) all-purpose flour
  • Filling:
  • 1 c. (227 g) butter, room temperature
  • 1½ c. (297 g) sugar
  • ¾ t. (3 g) salt
  • 5 T. (98 g) maple syrup
  • 2 T. (28 g) bourbon
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 c. (120 g) all-purpose flour
  1. Lightly grease an 8-inch square pan.
  2. Make the crust:
  3. Mix the milk and yeast in a small bowl. Place the bowl in a warm place while you mix the other ingredients.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar, and salt. Mix in half of the flour, then the milk mixture, then the rest of the flour. Beat on medium speed until well combined. The dough will be soft and sticky.
  5. Using your fingers, spread the dough over the bottom of the pan, stretching it to the edges as much as possible. If it is contracting, let it rest for a minute or two and try again. It doesn't need to be perfect.
  6. Cover the dough and let rise for an hour in a warm place.
  7. Preheat the oven to 325 F.
  8. Make the filling:
  9. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar, and salt until light in color, about 2 minutes. Add the maple syrup, bourbon, and eggs. The mixture will look curdled. Add the flour and mix until just combined. Scrape and finish mixing with a spatula.
  10. Spread the filling over the risen dough.
  11. Bake for 36 minutes, until the edges are golden and set but the center still wobbles when you shake the pan. Let cool fully before cutting.
  12. These are wonderful as is, or chilled, or liberally dusted with powdered sugar. Your call.
Adapted from NYT Cooking and Smitten Kitchen