Easy Chess Squares

Chess squares on a white cake stand

The Spruce

Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 40 mins
Chill Time: 2 hrs
Total: 2 hrs 50 mins
Servings: 12 servings
Yield: 24 bars
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
464 Calories
17g Fat
74g Carbs
5g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 12
Amount per serving
Calories 464
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 17g 22%
Saturated Fat 10g 49%
Cholesterol 101mg 34%
Sodium 454mg 20%
Total Carbohydrate 74g 27%
Dietary Fiber 1g 2%
Total Sugars 56g
Protein 5g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 120mg 9%
Iron 1mg 7%
Potassium 71mg 2%
*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 farmers markets, in bakeries, at office parties, and get-togethers—they're always a popular choice. 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. 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.

These chess squares are particularly easy because they're made with a cake mix. Use a butter cake mix, a basic white cake mix, or yellow cake mix. You can vary the cake mix you work with to customize the dessert—butter pecan mix would be delicious.

To make these chess squares look delectable, 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.


Click Play to See These Tasty Chess Squares Come Together

"As someone who didn’t grow up in the South, I’ve always been infatuated by Southern sweets, and I think Quick and Easy Chess Squares may be the ultimate for the sweet tooth. With the cake mix acting as the crust, you only need a few ingredients to make this sweet treat." —Tracy Wilk

A Note From Our Recipe Tester


  • 4 large eggs, divided

  • 1 (15- to 18-ounce) package butter cake mix

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened

  • 1 pound confectioners' sugar, plus more for dusting, optional

  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional

Steps to Make It

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

    Chess square ingredients

    The Spruce

  2. Grease and flour a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.

     A 9 x 13-inch baking pan greased and floured
    The Spruce
  3. In a small bowl, lightly beat 1 of the eggs.

    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 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
    The Spruce
  7. Bake the chess squares for 35 to 40 minutes, or until set and lightly browned.

    Chess squares baked until browned
    The Spruce
  8. Cool 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

  • 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

  • These will keep for up to five 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 waxed paper and place them in a plastic resealable bag or freezer-safe container. Thaw in the refrigerator or at room temperature before enjoying.

Why Are They Called Chess Squares?

Some reports indicate that the earliest chess pies were made with chestnut flour, which could somewhat account for the dessert's name. Some suggest the dessert could be named after a pie chest or a town named Chester. But the most popular origin story for the name chess pie (and in turn chess squares) is that the dessert was made using easy-to-find ingredients around the house and called "jus' pie" which turned into chess pie.