The one and only Chess Squares. I’ve been making these for years and this recipe has always delivered. They’re (probably) Southern in origin – and people love these gooey bars of heavenly goodness – in fact, in certain areas, I’m kind of known for these.
I honestly can’t believe I haven’t posted these before now. This is probably #1 (or a close 2nd) in my arsenal of dessert recipes to impress folks. I’ll admit, they’re not much to look at – but one bite, and you’ll understand.
When folks are first introduced to these, the first question I get (especially from non-Southerners) is “What are chess squares?” I had wondered this myself – what is the origin of the term ‘Chess’? Growing up I always knew chess pie to be made from some combination of eggs, sugar and vanilla – unadorned, nothing fancy and super-simple. Think of a pecan pie minus the pecans. Just that gooey, rich, filling, baked by itself. This might have become more popular as a result of the Great Depression and WWII, when a lot of items were rationed, or simply too expensive, so folks made do with things they had on hand.
The origin that makes the most since to me is this is derived from folks making a pie with these basic ingredients and calling it something along the lines of ‘Just Pie’, and phonetically, it eventually turned into Chess Pie.
So what I have here is more of a quicker bar version, with a soft cake-like base and a super-rich topping ‘fancied-up’ with cream cheese. And they will change your life. This is also the recipe for a basic version – you can add different ingredients like lemon, cinnamon, strawberry, etc. to really change them up. For some reason, I’m always drawn to the original.
For the base, start with a box of yellow cake mix, poured into a mixing bowl. To this, add one egg and a stick of softened butter. The softer the butter, the better, cause you’re just going to combine these 3 ingredients into a really thick batter.
If you want, add in some chopped pecans – but this is totally optional. I normally don’t add nuts, but knock yourself out if that’s your thing. Once combined, press this evenly into a sprayed, 9×13 baking dish.
For the top layer, combine powdered sugar, 3 eggs, vanilla, and cream cheese. With the cream cheese, just like the butter, the more softened and closer to room temperature, the easier it will be to combine. Once these ingredients are combined, you’ll have a loose, silky batter.
Pour this over the base layer.
And then bake at 350 F for 45 mins to an hour. The top will rise and be a dark golden brown – once a toothpick comes out clean, you’ll know it’s done. Let it cool completely – you’ll be tempted to dig in immediately cause your house will be filled with the rich vanilla flavor.
Or maybe that’s just me not being able to control myself. But it cuts so much better after it’s cooled down.
Enjoy – and prepare to change the lives of those around you.
- 1 box yellow cake mix
- 1 stick softened butter
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup chopped pecans (optional)
- 1 lb powdered sugar
- 1 – 8oz block of cream cheese, softened
- 1 tsp vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix the cake mix, softened butter, 1 egg (slightly beaten) and chopped pecans (if you’re using them). Combine into a thick batter and press evenly into a sprayed 9×13 pan.
Mix the powdered sugar, softened cream cheese, remaining 3 eggs (slightly beaten) and vanilla. Combine into a smooth batter and pour over the cake mix layer. Bake for around 45 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let cool completely, and cut into bars.