Unexpected Bliss In a Bar: Chess Squares

Last fall was an incredible cookbook season -- I can't remember another time when so many highly anticipated baking cookbooks have been released in such rapid succession. But I was surprised when I read a review by Melissa Clark declaring Sweet & Southern by Ben Mims to be "pure, unexpected bliss." I had never heard of the book or of Mims, who is an editor at Food & Wine. But the review convinced me to buy a copy, and the first recipe I decided to try was Mims' Chess Squares.

The recipe headnote says that chess squares are a favorite tailgate treat in the South, where they're made with yellow cake mix. What really sold me was the description of the bar as "the love child between a stick of butter and cream cheese -- in cake form."

This is a quick and easy recipe. You make the crust layer by beating softened butter with sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy; adding an egg; and incorporating milk, flour, baking powder, and salt. The recipe says that you should press the dough into the bottom of a parchment-lined pan, but my dough was so soft that I used an offset spatula to spread it into an even layer.

The top layer of the bars is a mixture of softened cream cheese, eggs, and powdered sugar. You pour the filling onto the raw crust layer and bake the bars until golden.
The bars were nicely browned on top and the edges were much taller than the middle (which was not a surprise because the bars in the cookbook photo have the same tall edges). It was hard to tell that the sliced bars were comprised of a separate crust and topping -- the layers were practically the same color and they seemed to blend together into a seamless whole.

I was expecting these bars to taste like a cheesecake, but they didn't -- they were better. The best description I can come up is to say that the bars tasted like a delicious vanilla cake but with a creamy and decadent texture. The edges were definitely my favorite part, because they were extra dense and chewy. I was so impressed with these bars -- I don't particularly like chess pie, but these squares were better than any chess pie I've ever tasted. They were fantastic and I would happily make them again and again.

Recipe: "Chess Squares" from Sweet & Southern by Ben Mims, recipe available here from Food & Wine.


Louise said…
Your photo, and description, are a lot more appealing than the ones on Food & Wine. And I totally agree with you concerning the new cookbooks. I received some for Christmas, but I'll be getting more soon. As if I need any more cookbooks.