Chess Squares

1 Jul

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.

Grazing in The City - Chess Squares

The Start of Something Delicious

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.

Grazing in The City - Chess Squares

Pour this over the base layer.

Grazing in The City - Chess Squares

Tiny Kitchen

Grazing in The City - Chess Squares

Heaven Isn’t Too Far Away

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.

Grazing in The City - Chess Squares

Or maybe that’s just me not being able to control myself. But it cuts so much better after it’s cooled down.

Grazing in The City - Chess Squares

Grazing in The City - Chess Squares

Grazing in The City - Chess Squares

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.


15 Responses to “Chess Squares”

  1. Arturo Féliz-Camilo July 1, 2012 at 12:34 pm #

    You can bet I’ll be trying this with “mad” nuts!! LOL!

    • billpeeler July 1, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

      I’m sure it’s amazing with nuts added – enjoy!

  2. Sarah July 1, 2012 at 3:30 pm #

    Oh! Something new to try! My favorite kind of recipe. I’ve never heard of Chess Squares before, but Hubby insists I try these. He’d like the pecans, but I’m sticking with your original at first. Those last three pictures sold me 🙂 They. look. fantastic. Yyyyummm! Thanks for the new dessert Bill! Happy Sunday to you. I hope that nasty storm this afternoon didn’t hinder your day in any way…

    • billpeeler July 1, 2012 at 4:03 pm #

      That storm was crazy! But it was fast moving – it’s 4:00 now and not a cloud in site – back to the humid heat —- Hope you guys enjoy the chess squares as much as we do!

  3. egg me on July 1, 2012 at 4:24 pm #

    Wowwwww. I’ve never heard of Chess Pie, but these bars look great. I really like your hypothesis that it’s the mis-heard version of “just pie,” which makes sense. The cream cheese top half sounds great. Thanks for sharing your go-to dessert!

  4. Karista July 1, 2012 at 6:38 pm #

    How fun and decadent Bill! I think the addition of the pecans would be fabulous. Yummy!

    • billpeeler July 4, 2012 at 10:21 am #

      I’m sure the pecans would send it right over the edge!

  5. sugaredpecan July 2, 2012 at 6:15 am #

    I always like getting a new recipe to impress with! This is perfect! Thanks

  6. Christine July 2, 2012 at 12:54 pm #

    Ooh… these look really gooey delicious! Especially that browned crackled crust on top. 🙂

    • billpeeler July 4, 2012 at 10:17 am #

      Yes – they really are super delicious!

  7. Savory Simple July 2, 2012 at 4:42 pm #


  8. Eva Taylor July 3, 2012 at 9:25 am #

    The Québequois make sugar pie, but I’ve never been a fan of the sickly sweet desserts. This one sounds intriguing, Bill. I like how the top cracks and the lovely yellow colour. Thanks for sharing your specialty and the reason for the name! Cool.
    We’re heading back to Toronto today, I heard it’s going to be 100F in Chicago! Stay cool.

  9. Karen July 4, 2012 at 8:06 am #

    Anything that is fancied up sounds good.

    • billpeeler July 4, 2012 at 10:19 am #

      LOL – can’t go wrong with ‘fancied up’!

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