Easy Chess Squares Recipe

Chess squares on a white cake stand

The Spruce

 

  • Total: 50 mins
  • Prep: 10 mins
  • Cook: 40 mins
  • Servings: 12 servings
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
615 Calories
51g Fat
39g Carbs
4g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 12
Amount per serving
Calories 615
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 51g 65%
Saturated Fat 31g 153%
Cholesterol 206mg 69%
Sodium 95mg 4%
Total Carbohydrate 39g 14%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Protein 4g
Calcium 43mg 3%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

In the South, you will see home-baked chess squares at the farmer's markets, in bakeries, office parties, and get-togethers; they're always a popular choice. The easy cream cheese mixture makes a custard-like filling similar to a chess pie filling and results in a sweet, simple, and gooey baked good. As you might expect, these bars are a riff on that sweet Southern classic pie, but they're also not too different from ooey-gooey butter cake (which is popular in the Midwest) or Philadelphia style cake.

These chess squares are particularly easy because they're made with a cake mix. Use a butter cake mix, a basic white, or yellow cake mix. A butter pecan mix would be delicious as well, as some reports indicate that the earliest chess pies were made with chestnut flour, which could somewhat account for the dessert's name. You can vary the cake mix you work with too—the possibilities for customization are definitely there.

As you make it, add a little vanilla extract to the filling, if you like, and dust them with sifted confectioners' sugar after they've cooled. They're so tasty and very easy. Keep a cake mix in your pantry and you'll be ready to make chess squares anytime. And then watch them disappear.

Ingredients

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients. Heat the oven to 350 F.

    Chess square ingredients

    The Spruce

  2. Grease and flour a 9x13-inch baking pan.

     A 9x13 baking pan greased and floured
    The Spruce
  3. In a small bowl, lightly beat one large egg.

    Egg beaten in a white bowl
    The Spruce  
  4. In a mixing bowl with an electric mixer, combine the cake mix, butter, and the beaten egg. Beat on low speed until the butter is blended into the dry cake mix and the egg mixture and the crumbs begin to clump together. Stop mixing and pat the crumbs firmly into the bottom of the prepared baking pan.

    Cake mix patted down in a baking pan
    The Spruce
  5. In a mixing bowl with an electric mixer, beat the softened cream cheese until smooth. Add the confectioners' sugar and beat until the mixture is light and well blended. Beat in the remaining 3 large eggs. Continue beating until very smooth. Beat in the vanilla, if using.

    Cream cheese, confectioners' sugar, eggs, and vanilla beaten until smooth
    The Spruce
  6. Pour the cream cheese batter over the first layer and spread to cover evenly.

    Cream cheese mixture poured over baking pan
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  7. Bake the chess squares for 35 to 40 minutes, or until set and lightly browned.

    Chess squares baked until browned
    The Spruce
  8. Cook on a rack and then cover the pan with foil or plastic wrap. Transfer the pan to the refrigerator to chill thoroughly before cutting. They are a little gooier if you cut them while they are still warm.

    Chess squares in the pan cooling on a rack
    The Spruce
  9. This recipe makes about 24 (2-inch) bars. Store the bars in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

    Finished chess squares on a cake stand
    The Spruce

Recipe Variations

Try these variations to change up the classic chess bars:

  • Chocolate Chess Bars: Use a chocolate devil's food cake mix or fudge cake mix for the cake layer and add 1 tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa to the cream cheese mixture along with the vanilla, if using.
  • Lemon Chess Squares: Add the juice and zest of one lemon to the cream cheese mixture and omit the vanilla.
  • Key Lime Chess Squares: Add 4 tablespoons of key lime juice to the cream cheese mixture along with the finely grated zest of 1 lime.

How to Store Chess Bars

These will keep for up to 5 days and store best in the refrigerator in a covered container; they're especially good cold. If you're storing a lot of them, it's best to keep rows of them separated by wax paper so they don't stick together.


You can also freeze chess bars. For easy thawing, wrap individual squares in wax paper and place in a plastic resealable bag or freezer-safe container. Thaw in the refrigerator, or at room temperature.