So there are usually at least two sides to every story, and the story of how the St. Louis gooey butter bar came to be is no exception.
The more popular account of the inception of the gooey butter bar takes us to Depression-era South St. Louis, home to the city’s legion of German bakers. At the time, Germans comprised the backbone of the St. Louis baking industry. Now, in the 1930s resources were tight. Bakeries weren’t exactly making a killing, simply because no one could afford to splurge on luxury baked goods.
However, legend has it that one of these German bakers was trying to make regular cake batter, and accidentally used a gloriously inappropriate amount of butter (hence the name butter bar). Considering he probably couldn’t afford to make more batter, he went ahead and baked what he had. The result? The St. Louis gooey butter bar. And so to this day, many will argue that the gooey butter bar was accidentally created by a thrifty baker who mistakenly inverted his butter to flour ratio. Bless you, good sir.
Despite this, what many consider the ‘real’ story behind the invention of the butter bar is a much simpler reality. Other legend has it that in the 1930s, St. Louis baker John Hoffman hired a new helper to make deep butter cakes—a type of coffee cake similar to the butter bar. One day, rather than use deep butter to bake his cakes, the new baker accidentally used gooey butter, which back then was typically used as a gluelike adhesive (so appetizing) for pastries. Once again, throwing away faulty batter wouldn’t have been economical in tough times, and so Hoffman attempted to sell these ‘gooey butter bars’ for a profit. The newly created confection did so well it quickly became a St. Louis staple, and before long gooey butter bars began popping up in bakeries all around St. Louis.
Given the details surrounding Hoffman’s invention of the butter bar, it’s probably more likely that he’s responsible for creating it. However, it’s possible that the butter bar we know today simply originated as a version of the Philadelphia Butter Cake, a 1930s German bakery creation. Coincidence? We may never know.