Yep, folks, it’s time for another installment of inexplicably named desserts. This time, I give you “chess squares.” Are they perhaps shaped like chess pieces? Why, no. They are, in fact, shaped like squares (so at least the name is half correct). Might one eat these while playing chess? One might, if one didn’t mind one’s knights and pawns covered in sticky sweetness. Besides which, I don’t know about y’all, but there wasn’t a whole lot of chess playing going on where I grew up. I could be wrong, but I think Southerners are mostly checkers-type folks. Or dominoes. Or poker.
Chess squares are super-easy to make, but hard to keep around the house for long. Unless you happen to live with one of those “I don’t care for sweets” people. But I don’t think they allow more than one of these dessert-ally challenged people per household, so surely someone will pick up the slack, in the manner of Jack Sprat and his wife (and you all know which one you are).
I took a pan of chess squares to my book club brunch here in Seattle where they were snapped up pretty quickly (not as popular as piggies, but then what is?). Now that I think about it, maybe chess squares are best appreciated amongst the nerdy set…One day, I was dining at the 5 Spot, and my friend Linda ordered something called “gooey butter cake.” When said dessert arrived at the table, I thought it looked vaguely familiar. Once I tasted it, I knew why. I thought, “That’s no gooey butter cake; that’s a giant, flat chess square.” Later I googled recipes for gooey butter cake and was not at all surprised when they were almost identical to my chess squares recipe:
1 box yellow cake mix
1 t vanilla
1 stick butter, melted and cooled
Mix above until crumbly. Spread in a buttered (or Crisco-ed, if you must) 9 x 13” pan. Work from the center and have the crust a little higher around the edges.
8 oz. Cream cheese
1 box confectioner’s sugar
Beat well and pour into crust. Bake at 375 for 30 to 40 minutes or until brown.
In case you’re curious about the origins of gooey butter cake, one of my favorite foodie bloggers, CakeSpy, has a great post, which features a recipe with more detailed instructions. And if you’re into cute things (and if not, why??) check out the CakeSpy shop. However, you might want to proceed with caution if adorable illustrations of cupcakes make you want to sprint (and by sprint I mean drive) to the nearest bakery.
After a fair amount of Internet research, I’ve yet to find a recipe for CS aka GBC that doesn’t feature boxed cake mix as one of the main ingredients. Surely someone made a prototype before Betty Crocker came along. If anybody knows how to make this from scratch, please let me know.
Also, do y’all find it amusing that Southerners have given this dessert a highfalutin sort of name when everybody else calls it exactly what it is: gooey butter cake? Just seems counter-intuitive…