Chess Squares are an easy variation of Chess Pie, with a buttery shortbread crust and a sweet chess pie filling. They’re made from just a few simple ingredients, so they’re easy to make and taste divine!

Chess squares stacked on a plate with powdered sugar on top.

Here’s the thing about Chess Pie, which leads to this recipe for Chess Squares. The recipe comes from simple ingredients that you would typically have in your home—butter, eggs, flour, sugar, and the unique twist on Chess Pie: cornmeal and vinegar.

I’ve seen several recipes for Southern Chess Squares that call for a yellow cake mix and cream cheese, and I’m sure they are delicious! I wanted something a little more like chess pie but with a cookie crust.

This recipe is more traditional but still super easy!

Tools needed

There are no special tools needed for this recipe because it’s so simple! You just need a 9×13-inch baking pan like this one, or even your regular old Pyrex dish will do.

And maybe a pretty platter like this one to serve your chess squares on–don’t you love those gorgeous handpainted flowers? I do!


A lot of people use buttermilk in Chess Pie but I never have. I use an old recipe that just calls for melted butter, sugar—which I changed to brown sugar, and eggs.

Then you add just a tablespoon each of flour, cornmeal, vinegar, and vanilla, along with a pinch of salt.

How to make chess squares

Rather than a pie shell, the filling is poured over a buttery shortbread crust, giving these Chess Squares just the right texture for a great hand-held snack.

  1. Make and bake the crust.
  2. While crust is baking, make the filling.
  3. Pour filling over warm shortbread crust.
  4. Finish baking.
  5. Rest for one hour or more and then cut into squares.
Overhead photo of a pan of chess pie bars.

Tips for chess squares

  • Make-ahead: You can make these chess bars a day or so before you need them. You could even make the shortbread crust a couple of days early and then bake the filling later. Lots of options!
  • Storage: Store the bars in an airtight container on the counter. No need to store in the refrigerator.
  • Serve: Chess squares are great for a bridal shower dessert or just an after school snack. Serve these with any easy weeknight dinner for a treat.
Green ceramic platter stacked with chess bars.

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4.86 from 7 votes

Chess Squares

Chess Squares are an easy variation of Chess Pie, with a buttery shortbread crust and a sweet chess pie filling. 
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 50 minutes
Total: 1 hour 20 minutes
Servings: 16 squares
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  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Shortbread Crust

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened and diced into chunks
  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 vanilla bean


Crust Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350. Line a 9×13 inch pan with foil, allowing the foil to hang over the sides, and lightly grease the foil.
  • Whisk flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean and mix into flour. Work in butter. Press into prepared pan. Bake 20-25 minutes until lightly browned. Allow to cool for 10 minutes.

Filling Instructions

  • While shortbread is baking, make the filling. Add brown sugar to melted butter and whisk until smooth. 
  • Add the rest of the ingredients to the brown sugar and whisk until smooth.

Putting It Together

  • Allow crust to cool for 10-15 minutes, then gently and slowly pour the filling over the warm shortbread crust. Bake for another 20-25 minutes until top is lightly browned and filling is not jiggly. Remove from oven and cool pan on a wire rack for one hour before removing foil. Then gently pull out the foil and slice the pie into squares.


Serving: 16squares, Calories: 320kcal, Carbohydrates: 36g, Protein: 3g, Saturated Fat: 11g, Cholesterol: 76mg, Sodium: 165mg, Sugar: 20g
Course: Cookies
Cuisine: American
Calories: 320
Keyword: chess cookie bars, chess pie bars, chess squares
Love this recipe?Mention @southernfoodandfun or tag #southernfoodandfun!

Update Notes: This post was originally published April 18, 2017, and on May 16, 2019, was updated with one or more of the following: step-by-step photos, video, updated recipe, new tips.

Lucy standing behind a counter with a cheese board and glass of wine.

About the author

Hi, I’m Lucy! I’m a home cook, writer, food and wine fanatic, and recipe developer. I’ve created and tested hundreds of recipes so that I can bring you the best tried and true favorites.

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4.86 from 7 votes (7 ratings without comment)

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  1. How much is a stick of butter? In Australia we use kilograms as a measure. But I can convert ounces as long as I know the weight. TIA