The recipe for the gooey butter cake served at Vie (4471 Lawn Ave., Western Springs; 708-246-2082) came from executive chef Paul Virant’s grandmother, who lives in St. Louis, and has become the restaurant’s most popular dessert. Pastry chef Todd Feitl added a cornmeal crust and seasonally tweaks the ingredients-the current version has crunchy toasted coconut embedded in the cream cheese–based cake. “It’s a take on a Mounds bar,” says Feitl. “The next one’s going to be a take on a Butterfinger.”

Paul Virant’s Gooey Butter Cake

For the crust:

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cornmeal
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • A pinch of salt
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes

For the cake batter: 

  • 3/4 cup cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon rum
  • 1-1/2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup toasted unsweetened coconut, coarsely ground or chopped
  • Butter for greasing molds
  • Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
(1) Blend crust ingredients in a food processor or by hand with a pastry blender until it becomes the consistency of coarse meal. Work quickly so the butter does not melt.
(2) Using an electric mixer, combine the cream cheese with the powdered sugar on low speed until smooth.
(3) Add the rum and the eggs. Mix by hand until the eggs are completely incorporated.
(4) Add the toasted coconut and stir in gently.
(5) Butter your molds-Feitl uses three-inch mini pie pans-and cover the bottom of each pan with a scoop of crust dough, enough to make a thin layer. (You can also use a muffin tin to make 12 or more smaller cakes.)
(6) Pour the batter into the mold to fill about halfway.
Bake until the tops of the cakes are firm to the touch, about 17 to 20 minutes. Cool slightly; then remove from molds.
Dust with powdered sugar and serve.

Photograph: Tyllie Barbosa