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!
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!
Check out my favorite tools for this chess bars recipe:
And maybe a pretty platter like this one to serve your chess squares on–don’t you love those gorgeous handpainted flowers? I do!
Ingredients for Chess Bars Recipe
Want the printable recipe? Just scroll down!
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.
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Old-fashioned Fudge Pie – a favorite recipe of our readers!
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.
Step 1. First you’ll make the crust: start by lining a 9×13 inch pan with foil and allow the foil to hang over the sides. Lightly grease the foil with butter or baking spray.
Step 2. Whisk flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl until blended, then scrape in seeds from a vanilla bean and mix into the flour. Work in the diced butter and press the dough into the prepared pan.
Bake the crust for 20-25 minutes until lightly browned and start on the filling. When you remove the crust, allow the pan to cool for 10 minutes.
Step 3. While the shortbread is baking, make the filling. Add brown sugar to melted butter and whisk until smooth. Then whisk in the rest of the ingredients until smooth.
Step 4. 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.
Step 5. Remove your chess squares from the oven and place the pan on a wire rack for one hour or longer before removing the foil. Then gently pull out the foil and slice into squares.
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.
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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
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened and diced into chunks
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 vanilla bean
- 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.
- 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.
More cookie bars you’ll love:
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.