Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake from Scratch

Paula Deen Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake
Photo: Tina Vega/Flickr

Gooey butter cake is exactly what it sounds like: sticky, chewy, creamy—and a heart attack on a plate. But once you try it, you’ll ignore your judgment and want to eat it all. According to legend, the cake originated around the 1930s, when a baker in St. Louis added the wrong proportions of ingredients to a coffee cake (although there are differing stories). The result was a toffee-esque goo that was held by a dense, cakey crust.

My favorite version’s from Paula Deen—she of Krispy Kreme bread pudding fame. Her pumpkin gooey butter cake’s a combination of pumpkin pie and cheesecake, with no fussy crust to roll out. The problem with most butter cake recipes though, is they call for boxed cake mix. Or if they’re from scratch, you have to wait for a yeast dough to rise.

I adapted a from-scratch cake recipe for the crust and slightly reduced the sugar and fat (it’s still a gut bomb, but I did what I could).

St. Louis Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake (from scratch)
Crust inspired by Food & Wine; filling inspired by Paula Deen

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dry milk powder (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 stick butter, melted

1 (8-ounce) package Neufchâtel cheese (reduced-fat cream cheese), softened
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 stick butter, melted
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg

  • Preheat oven to 350° F and lightly grease a 13″x9″ glass baking pan.
  • To make the crust: Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and dry milk (if using) in a bowl. Add the egg and butter and mix until just combined with an electric mixer. Pat the mixture into the bottom and one inch up the sides of the pan.
  • To make the filling: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and pumpkin until smooth. Add the eggs, vanilla, and butter, and beat together. Next, add the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and mix well. Spread pumpkin mixture over the crust and bake 1 hour. Don’t overbake, as the center should be a little gooey.

View more Thanksgiving and fall dessert ideas.

*Note: the picture above is of Paula Deen’s original recipe. I lost my pic of the cake, but it looks similar.

Comments (3)      Email Email      Print Print

A Season for Ice Cream

pumpkin pie ice cream

There are two reasons why I shouldn’t eat ice cream right now. First, it’s the dead of winter. Second, it’s not healthy. To both those rules, I say, “I don’t care.” Why are ice cream cravings supposed to turn off just because it’s not summer?

While I’m breaking the rules, why not enjoy pumpkin pie ice cream right now? Thanksgiving’s long gone, but like Maida Heatter says, pumpkin ice cream “has no season.”

Whenever I make macaroons, I always freeze leftover egg yolks so I’ll have them for custard-based ice cream, like the one below. Just remember to add 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar or 1/8 teaspoon salt for every four yolks (and label them!), so they don’t get gelatinous. If you have the opposite problem and have too many whites, you can freeze those too, but I heard they don’t whip as well for meringues.

This version is healthier than regular ice cream, since there’s a high proportion of milk to cream. I encourage you to eat it during the summer, Thanksgiving and yes, the middle of winter.

Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream

Inspired by Frozen Desserts, Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts, Gourmet and The Perfect Scoop

Makes about 5 cups

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3 egg yolks
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup pumpkin puree (canned is fine, but make sure it has no added flavorings)
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon brandy or vodka
1 1/2 cups crushed graham crackers or gingersnap cookies

In a 2-quart heavy saucepan bring milk, cream, and about half of sugar just to a simmer, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from heat.

Have ready a large bowl of ice and cold water. In a bowl with an electric mixer beat yolks, spices and remaining sugar until thick and pale. Add hot milk mixture in a slow stream, whisking, and pour into saucepan. Cook custard over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until a thermometer registers 170° F, or the mixture coats the back of a spoon. (Do not let boil.) Pour custard through a sieve into a metal bowl set in ice and cold water. Add the brandy/vodka and vanilla and cool. Chill custard, covered, until cold, at least 1 1/2 hours.

Freeze mixture in an ice cream maker. While the ice cream is freezing, scatter a handful of cookies in the bottom of an airtight storage container. When the ice cream is finished churning, quickly fold in the rest of the cookies. Transfer to the storage container and put in freezer to harden, 1 to 3 hours.

Comments (6)      Email Email      Print Print

Mmm, pumpkin hummus

pumpkin hummus

It takes a lot to steer me away from sweets. Once in a while, something so good comes along that I can’t wait to eat it first thing in the morning. One such food is hummus, which I’ve gobbled down at breakfast. It’s so versatile. It can be a dip, sandwich filling, and if thinned out enough, pasta sauce or salad dressing. You don’t even have to stick to the combo of chickpeas and sesame butter. Cashew butter is an excellent substitute: according to Venturesome Vegetarian Cooking, it makes everything creamy and sweet. (Full disclosure: I’ve worked with the author before, but this book packs the easiest, most delicious vegan recipes out there.)

Since it’s fall, I made pumpkin hummus with cashew butter. I’ve eaten it for breakfast several times, and I hope you do too! This version can be used for sweet or savory applications. If you want it “sweeter,” add cinnamon. It will taste like pumpkin pie dip but without any added sugar. If you’re looking for more Thanksgiving recipes, give this one a try.

Pumpkin Hummus

1 cup raw cashews
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree (canned is fine)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon salt

  1. Toast the cashews in a preheated 350F oven until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Check the nuts halfway through and stir them to ensure even browning.
  2. In a food processor, grind the cashews for several minutes and scrape down the bowl occasionally, until they turn into nut butter.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients and process until smooth. If desired, add a couple tablespoons of water to thin the mixture out.
  4. Serve with chips, crackers, bread, sliced vegetables or apples.

Pumpkin pie: Add 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon and omit the paprika.
Savory: Increase the salt to 1/4 teaspoon and add 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin and a dash of cayenne pepper.

If you don’t want to toast and grind your cashews, substitute 1/2 cup minus 1 tablespoon cashew butter and reduce the salt.

Like a lazy cook, I eyeballed the salt and spices, so you don’t have to follow the amounts exactly. Just add them to taste.

Comments (3)      Email Email      Print Print

As Easy as Tarte Tatin

tarte tatin

If America could be symbolized as one object, it could be an apple pie. Round, wholesome and homey, the pie evokes images colonial cooking. Just imagine crisp apples freshly picked off of trees and combined with a hand-formed crust.

Never mind that apple pies actually came from Europe, and the phrase “As American as apple pie” was a marketing campaign created by New York apple growers. Plus, pie crusts are prone to innumerous problems: tearing, sticking, toughening, and getting soggy.  So pie isn’t exactly easy.

Enter the solution: the easiest yet most impressive looking “pie” is the French tarte tatin. Legend has it that in 1898, the Tatin sisters accidentally left apples stewing on the stove and rescued the dish by putting pastry on top and flipping it over.

I love tarte Tatin because it doesn’t matter if you have a misshapen crust. It will be covered by the apples. Don’t be fooled by the short ingredient list; neither spices, thickeners nor lemon juice are needed. Fresh out of the oven, the caramel is gooey, the apples chewy and the crust crispy. The recipe below makes one of the best apple pies I’ve ever had in my life.

It’s important to choose apples that keep their shape after cooking. Generally, sweeter apples like Galas don’t hold up, while tart apples like Granny Smiths have great texture. The best compromise is a Golden Delicious or Jonagold (a cross between the tart Jonathan and sweet Golden Delicious). I usually buy whatever apples are on sale, but the apple type really matters. Don’t use Macintoshes or Jonamacs (a cross between Jonathans and Macouns): you’ll just get apple sauce. More info about apple varieties is at the New York Apple Association’s site.

The crust has two unusual ingredients: egg and vinegar. Egg makes it rich, while vinegar makes it flake on contact. The vinegar also makes the crust shrink after baking, but it’s a slight shortcoming. After trying this all-butter recipe, you may never go back to a vegetable shortening crust again. (Cooks use shortening because it’s less likely to melt from the heat of your hands, but it does nothing for flavor or texture.)

Pie Crust

Adapted from a Sunset magazine cookbook
Makes barely enough for three single-crust 9-inch pies or too much for two.

3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup (2 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 egg, well beaten
1 Tbsp vinegar
4 Tbsp ice cold water

Combine flour and salt in a bowl. Add butter and cut into flour. You may use a pastry blender, two knives or your hands. Smoosh the butter with the flour and continue till the biggest pieces are pea-sized and the smallest pieces resemble bread crumbs.

Combine egg and vinegar in a small bowl and add it to the flour mixture. Add water 1 Tbsp at a time, just until the crust just begins to come together. Smoosh the dough together so it forms a solid mass. You should still see large striations of butter.

Divide dough in half and press each half into a round flat disk, and wrap tightly in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, preferably for several hours and for up to two days before rolling. This step lets the dough relax so it doesn’t get tough. The dough can also be wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 6 months; thaw completely before rolling.

If you refrigerated the dough for more than a couple hours, let it warm up on the counter for about 15 minutes so it’s pliable. You want the dough to be cold, so the butter doesn’t melt. But if it’s too cold, it will be stiff and crack when you roll it.

Roll the dough on a flat floured surface (a wax-paper lined counter works well). Lean into a floured rolling pin and roll from the center out, stopping just short of the edge. Keep rotating the dough 90 degrees to ensure that it’s not sticking and to shape it into an even circle. If the dough cracks or tears, push it back together. If the shape is uneven, cut off the portruding piece and patch it on the short side with cold water. If the dough becomes too soft and starts sticking, slide it on top of a rimless cookie sheet and refrigerate it until it firms up. It is not unusual for all these things to happen. The crust should be about 1/8-inch thick.

If you plan on making a custard pie (ie pumpkin, lemon meringue or pecan), prick the crust with a fork and blind bake (cover the shaped crust with foil and weigh it down with dried beans, rice or metal pie weights) at 425F for 12 minutes. Then remove the foil, brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for a few minutes more, until the crust is golden brown. I have never had a soggy pie crust with these directions. When you bake the filling, cover the edges of crust with foil (you’ll need several pieces plus tape). If making a double-crusted pie or tarte tatin, there’s no need to blind bake. But do brush with egg wash and sprinkle the crust with sugar to keep it crispy.

If you have extra pie dough, make empanadas by filling small disks with chocolate chips, mashed bananas, Nutella or nuts. Fold each disk over and seal. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 425F for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Tarte Tatin

adapted from The Joy of Cooking

You will need any ovenproof, deep, heavy skillet measuring 7-8 inches across the bottom and 10-11 inches across the top. Cast iron works well because of its heat retaining properties, but you may find it too heavy when unmolding the tart. I’ve heard you can use a pan with a plastic handle if you cover the handle with several layers of aluminum foil. I’m not sure if a Teflon-coated pan can withstand the heat though, especially in light of recent lawsuits.


1/2 recipe pie dough, puff pastry or store-bought pie dough (make sure it has real butter!)
6 medium-large Golden Delicious apples (about three pounds)
1 stick butter (can reduce to 1/2 stick)
1 cup sugar

Prepare the pie dough. Roll into a 12-inch round, slip a rimless cookie sheet beneath it, and refrigerate. If using puff pastry, dock the dough with a fork so it doesn’t rise to be one-inch thick in the oven.

Position a rack in the upper third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375F.

Peel, core, and quarter lengthwise the apples. Melt butter in the skillet chosen for the tarte. Remove from the heat and sprinkle sugar evenly over the bottom.

Arrange a ring of apple quarters against the sides of the pan, standing the apples on the thin edge of their cut side so as to fit as many as possible. Fill in the center of the skillet with the remaining apple quarters. You may have a piece or two of apples leftover.

Place the skillet over the highest possible heat and cook, stirring, until the juices turn from butterscotch to deep amber, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat, spear the apples with a fork or the point of a paring knife, and flip them onto their uncooked sides. Return the skillet from the heat and slide the prepared crust onto the aples. Being careful not to burn your fingers, gently tuck the edges of the dough against the inner sides of the skillet. If the crust tears, patch it up with a paste created with flour and water. Brush the crust with egg wash (a beaten egg and a Tbsp of water) and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake the tart until the crust is richly browned, 25 to 35 minutes. Let cool on a rack for 20 minutes, then loosen the sides with a knife and invert the tart onto a serving plate that can withstand the heat. Return any apples that stick to the skillet to their proper place on top of the tart. If you let the tarte cool too long, the caramel will harden and the apples will not come loose. In that case, just heat the pan on the stove to remelt the caramel.

Serve immediately or let stand at room temperature for up to 8 hours. When ready to serve, warm the tart to tepid in an oven heated at the lowest setting.


The apples have a great buttery caramel taste, but the tart’s only one inch tall (I like the texture of deep-dish apple pie).  Anyone have suggestions on how to caramelize apples in a traditional pie without cooking them to death? Tyler Florence’s Ultimate Caramel Apple Pie looks promising.

If the apples don’t come out on the first flip, don’t force them out with a spatula. Instead, reheat the pan over the stove to soften the caramel. Otherwise, you’ll end up with broken pieces like this:

full tarte tatin

Comments (3)      Email Email      Print Print