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Chess Squares

Chess Square on a white plate

This is a recipe of indistinct origin that everyone I know has made at some time or another. I’m not sure if that’s a Southern thing or not. Regardless of that, this is one of those handy fall-back recipes when you want something with a high taste to effort ratio.

These bars are so easy and so good. The crust is very thick – essentially as thick as the sweet, cream cheese-y filling – and very buttery. It all adds up to some incredible gooey goodness. Be sure to secure one for yourself, though, because they disappear very quickly.

Chess Squares

Yield 24 2-inch squares
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes

These creamy chess squares start with a soft and buttery cake mix crust topped with a layer of sweet cream cheese filling.

Chess Square on a white plate


For the crust:

  • 1 package yellow cake mix*
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

For the filling:

  • 16 ounces cream cheese
  • 16 ounces confectioners' sugar
  • 2 large eggs


To make the crust:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Combine cake mix, butter, and egg. Stir in pecans.
  3. Press mixture into bottom of a 9" x 13" pan.

To make the filling:

  1. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat cream cheese and confectioners' sugar until smooth and well-blended. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
  2. Pour mixture over crust in pan.
  3. Bake 40-45 minutes or until filling is set.


*Cake mixes have gotten smaller over the years, so you may experience issues with this recipe. My experience making this recipe was with an 18.25 ounce cake mix, but most of today's cake mixes are 15.25 ounces. You can add the missing 3 ounces from another cake mix or try adding 3 ounces of flour. I've been making this recipe for many years. While this is not my original recipe, I have no clue where it originated.

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    66 Comments on “Chess Squares”

  1. Maybe I’m not totally objective since the baker is my sister; but, ….these are WONDERFUL!! Always good and always a hit with everyone.

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  3. I’ve made this cake with a little bit different of a recipe but it was absolutely GREAT!! I’m hooked on it! I’m sure I’ll be baking it regularly!!!!

  4. on the chess bars is it white or brown sugar

  5. Dee, it’s confectioner’s sugar.

  6. Pingback: Chocolate Chess Squares

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  8. Jennifer – I have now made the Chocolate
    Chess Bars a half dozen times. My friends and I up here in God’s Country (Minnesota) had never heard of them, but they are now a permanent part of our recipe collections. Thanks so much.

  9. Teresa, I’m glad you like them! Definitely one of my favorites. 🙂

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  12. what brand did you use for the yellow cake mix?

    • Bad Chess Square recipe..I could tell when you said add 3 more ounces of cake mix or flour..then you mentioned it not the recipe you normally use…those are 2 clues not to try it.

  13. shasa, I like Duncan Hines.

  14. i made them yesterday, they were soo good!

    thanks for the recipe. this definitely will be a regular for me

  15. A friend gave me this recipe years ago and I still make it occasionally. It’s delicious and very easy to make.


  16. In Central Illinois over to St. Louis it’s called Gooey Butter Cake. It’s a big thing!

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  18. Paula Deen calls this recipe ooey gooey butter cake which I’ve been making for a long time. so so good, yet addictive.

  19. Ive had these with coconut in the filling. No recipe. Any thoughts on how much you would suggest if you were going to add coconut?

  20. Do you grease the bottom of the pan before you put crust

  21. I just made these and mine turned out more like a cake with no crust like the pic above. I am curious if you may kno where i could have went wrong?

  22. They had No crust,It was more like a cake.. 🙁

  23. I’ve made this twice now. Once with red velvet cake mix and once with carrot cake mix. Both times it was awesome. I’m going to definitely try your original recipe.

  24. Melissa its because this recipe says to use 2 boxes of cream cheese when really only 1 is needed mine turned out like a cake as well but went back and remade it using 1 box of cream cheese 8oz and not 160z

    • thanks, I wish I had read this comment 1st . I used 16 oz. of cream cheese also ,not 8 oz. cream cheese. my cake mix was watery , I followed the recipe step by step. were did I go wrong .

      • Hi, Mo. I’m sorry you had troubles. Did you by any chance substitute margarine for the butter? That would definitely make the crust wetter, as there’s usually more water content in margarine versus butter.. And just to clarify, it is “1 cup of butter, melted”, not “1 cup of melted butter”. The latter will be a bit more than the former.

  25. Pingback: Biscoff Gooey Butter Cake

  26. Never had them with pecans, will be trying this recipe soon
    Thxs for sharing. Your site is awesome!

  27. I just made these and mind looks and taste more like cheese cake my boyfriend hated them where did I go wrong nothing like the chess squares I’ve seen before.

    • Hi, Regina. I don’t think you did anything wrong. The topping is essentially cheesecake. Maybe there are other versions out there, but these are how I’ve been eating and making them for years.

  28. 8ozs. Or 16ozs. Of cream cheese will vary on how gooey or creamy your top layer will be. If you beat your eggs before you add them will effect the thickness as well. Once refrigerated, it won’t be as mushy. Its southern its supposed to be rich!

  29. I used to know a lady that added brown sugar to her chess bars. She has passed away and would not share her recipe. The bars also had pecans and cream cheese. They were delicious and I’ve never been able to find a recipe for them. Any ideas how to go about making something similar?

  30. Can you use walnuts

  31. Followed the recipe exactly EXCEPT I used pecan meal (which is just pure pecans finely crushed) in the base layer.  The consistency was more like thick cake batter therefore I had to pour it rather than press it into the pan.  It’s baking now.  I’m a little worried about how this is going to turn out since that bottom layer was so thin. I always use butter, not margarine.  Should I have done something differently?

    • Hi, Martha. I’m sorry you had troubles! The crust mixture definitely shouldn’t be like cake batter. If you didn’t change anything about the recipe, then I’m not sure what could have happened. Just to make sure, you’re mixing dry cake mix, 1 cup of butter (melted AFTER measuring, i.e. two sticks), 1 egg, and pecans. The mixture should be moist but be a consistency that you could press into the pan.

  32. Do these need to be stored in the fridge 

  33. Can you double this recipe?

  34. can you use salted butter instead ?

    • There’s no standard for how much salt is in salted butter, so that is why I generally don’t recommend baking with it. But in a pinch, you can use it and adjust the amount of salt in the recipe. Because there isn’t any added salt in the recipe, you won’t be able to make that adjustment. If you don’t mind a saltier final result, then that’s perfectly fine.

  35. I made these and they came out having not solidified enough, but the edges were burnt. I followed the recipe exactly. Any advice?

  36. Thanks for sharing this recipe. My mother made these all the time when I was a child growing up in Northeast Tennessee.. I could not stop eating them! All my aunts and mom’s friends made these too.  The pure recipe is definitely southern and we called them “chess bars”. You can make them with or without nuts.

  37. I just made these and the top layer is definitely more like cheesecake. Maybe my understanding of what chess squares are differs from others. This isn’t at all what I expected. The top doesn’t have that nice glaze crunch texture and it’s just not chess squares to me.

  38. For the crust, I think I used too much butter. 1 stick of hard butter is 1/2 cup. Since I was using sticks and reading the label on them, I used 2 sticks of butter, which equaled 1 cup of hard butter exactly, then melted it.

    It ended up being 1 whole cup of melted butter that I poured into the cake mix. I felt like man, this is a lot of butter. Should I have used just the 1 stick? 

    The end result was what many commenters had an issue with: a sunken middle where the crust disappeared in the middle and it all kind of separated to the sides. I think my crust was way too wet and not much of a crust going in. 

  39. I’ve never paid any attention to how many ounces of the cream cheese and I have made about 10 of these.  Today my son purchased the items on the list,  I just realized I was supposed to use 16 oz not 8 oz cream cheese 😂😂😂😂 Oh well they have turned out well !  My first time to use 16 oz cream cheese will be today!  I’ll let you know  what happens!  🤣🤣🤣

  40. Since the pandemic everything I make gets an infusion of ‘spirits’ and some type of citrus peel. I live in SanDiego and more people have their own citrus than not. So, I added the zest of one large orange to the crust and the zest of two large oranges, 1 Tbs. of Grand Marnier in the Cheesecake topping. That’s a fantastic recipe the way you shared it, but the orange additions really upped the ante. The third time I made them (the first time I DID follow your directions) I used lemon zest and Limoncello. Delicious! Thank you for being such a generous person and sharing your wonderful recipes🤗. MaryJo 

  41. I just made this tonight. I was so excited to make it and share it with my colleagues, but it didn’t look or taste Luke I expected. I baked it in the aluminum pans from Walmart, followed the recipe exactly (minus the pecans), but I left it in the oven for 45 minutes. So, I think that was too long because there’s a dark brown skin on top, making it taste burned, and the cake “crust” tastes like an overcooked cake. I made 2 pans and I’m terribly disappointed. But, I’m not giving up. I’m going to try again for 40 minutes and use a glass dish to see if that makes a difference. I do have a question please, can the “bar cookies” be frozen? Thanks.

    • Yes, that does sound like it was over-baked. As for the type of pan, I generally don’t recommend baking in glass pans because of how differently the conduct heat versus a metal pan. You usually need to make some adjustment to temperature and baking time to make it work well. You can definitely freeze these. Just wrap them very well after they’ve cooled.

  42. What am I doing wrong???? The first time I made these they were perfect and gooey, like they’re supposed to be. Then I’ve tried several more times, and each time it turns out like cheesecake, in taste and consistency. I don’t know why they turned out that first time but haven’t any other time. I’m trying to follow the recipe exactly.

    • I’m sorry you had troubles, Robin! If you’re not changing the recipe at all, then it could be ingredients. Did you change any of them? Maybe different brands? Also, the top layer is essentially cheesecake, so I’m not sure what’s different for you from the first time to the next times.

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