97. Chess Squares, Not to Be Confused With Checker Circles

2 Jun

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…

A chess square by any other name...

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:

Chess Squares

1 egg
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
3 eggs
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…

26 Responses to “97. Chess Squares, Not to Be Confused With Checker Circles”

  1. DessertForTwo June 2, 2011 at 9:12 am #

    How interesting-I never realized gooey butter cake and chess squares are so similar!

    • Kim Holloway June 2, 2011 at 11:24 pm #

      It seems like most folks I know have only heard of one or the other. Except for those sad folks who haven’t heard of either! The horror!!

  2. Barbara June 2, 2011 at 9:23 am #

    Missed you!

    • Kim Holloway June 2, 2011 at 11:25 pm #


  3. Tori Nelson June 2, 2011 at 12:48 pm #

    Love Chess Cake! My mom makes it in giant cookie sheets. I’ve made a habit to eat it with my hands 😦

    • Kim Holloway June 2, 2011 at 11:25 pm #

      Is there another way to eat it? 🙂

  4. Debbie June 3, 2011 at 12:47 pm #

    You’re back — yeah!! I so missed getting my dose of Southern via the Interwebs!

    • Kim Holloway June 10, 2011 at 11:11 am #

      Thank you! Thank you! I’m swamped on a big project at the moment, but plan to be getting back to the blog ASAP.

  5. Todd Pack June 4, 2011 at 4:17 pm #

    As a Southerner (more Faulkner than NASCAR), I can confirm we have a certain fondness for chess pie. I don’t think I’d heard of chess squares until now, but I suspect I’d like them, too.

    • Kim Holloway June 10, 2011 at 11:15 am #

      “More Faulkner than NASCAR” LOVE it!! Yes, I realize I need to do a post on NASCAR one of these days, but really don’t even know enough about it to start…I’m not sure how chess squares stack up against chess pie, but they’re good. And WAY easier to make.

  6. Julie June 6, 2011 at 9:07 pm #

    Yes, my Grandmother makes chess pie, but I’ve never had chess squares. I’ll have to give that recipe a try.

    • Kim Holloway June 10, 2011 at 11:17 am #

      Man, how I wish I had a grandmother to make me a chess pie! The last time I tried to make one myself, disaster ensued. Although that was decades ago so I should really give it another go.

  7. emmythesquirrel June 9, 2011 at 9:04 am #

    chess squares are chess pie sans the crust.

    • Kim Holloway June 10, 2011 at 11:18 am #

      Well…not exactly. I feel an entry on chess pie is in order…:-)

  8. real southern men June 9, 2011 at 5:26 pm #

    Chess pie and/or chess squares will have to be on our inaugural Southern Sweet Showdown next month! Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Kim Holloway June 10, 2011 at 11:31 am #

      How does one go about snagging an invite to the Southern Sweet Showdown? Or better yet, be a judge??

  9. real southern men June 11, 2011 at 12:04 pm #

    Alas, it will be an online vote. We’ll take 64 Southern sweets and desserts and seed them in an NCAA-type bracket, pairing one against another until we get a winner. However, we are going to do some giveaways of Southern sweets to our Facebook and Twitter followers…

    • Kim Holloway June 13, 2011 at 7:57 pm #

      alrighty then. i will sign myself up!

  10. Scarlett July 6, 2012 at 10:45 am #

    This entry led me to an epiphany. Throughout all of my years, my grandma made chess pie, but cheese cake. Now, cheese cake wasn’t cheese cake as in round, cream cheese pie a la “Cheesecake Factory”…no, OUR cheese cake was what I later discovered to be Ooey Gooey Butter Cake. I could never figure out why in the world everyone in my family called it cheese cake…until now. Someone probably misheard “chess cake”…

  11. real southern men November 22, 2012 at 8:29 pm #

    Kim, these have officially become a fixture at our family’s holidays. We tried a couple other recipes for variety’s sake, and they paled in comparison. These are the gold standard for chess squares! Thanks again for the great recipe!

  12. Carol Windhorst January 8, 2013 at 10:07 pm #

    This recipe is wrong. It is a total of 3 eggs., one in the crust the other 2 in the filling.It will stay runny if you put 3 eggs in the filling.

  13. Shelby January 12, 2013 at 7:06 pm #

    I just pulled a batch out of the oven. I also had trouble finding a recipe that didn’t use boxed yellow cake mix in the recipe but I assume to make them from scratch you would use all of the dry ingredients for a yellow cake instead of the mix. That’s just an assumption.

    • Kim Holloway January 14, 2013 at 7:22 pm #

      Yum! I’ve got to investigate the scratch version further. I think the cake mix might feature some magic ju-ju that’s not in regular old flour, sugar, etc.

  14. Tiff November 25, 2014 at 10:42 pm #

    Why are mine coming out more like a cake instead of the flaky golden crust?😱


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