Chess Squares, Nieman Marcus Bars, Paula Deen and Gooey Butter Cake....The real origin

Kevin & Amanda's Chess Squares
So, I saw this recipe on Pinterest a few weeks ago and thought, hmmm.  I need to try this! With my daughter's open heart surgery, starting my final year of school and then a few major work projects, the blog got lost in the shuffle for a bit. 

Last week however, I started on a cooking binge and the first thing on the clip board to try were these chess squares.  I read the blog that posted the recipe and realized they were reminiscent to her of another recipe.  I thought they sounded (and looked) like something I used to have at my grandmas.  So the sleuth in me kicked in, and a hunting I went, trying to find the progression on the variations of  this recipe and ultimately, the origins.

Nieman Marcus Buttermilk Pie
Paula Deen's Gooey Butter Cake
Searching for "Chess Squares" took me to Nieman Marcus Bars, which led me to the Nieman Marcus Website and their Butter Cake.

I then found the Paula Deen "Gooey Butter Cake recipe" - which is no different than all the other recipes for Chess Squares out there, but she called it Butter Cake - so then I went on the Butter Cake search.

That led me to a blog that described what this particular writer thought to be the origin - A German Bakery mistake in St. Louis.

 Yes, St. Louis claims to have been place of origin for the Gooey Butter Cake, the mistake of some German-American Baker. But lets get picky here.

Traditional English Chess Pie
The more I researched, the more I realized that what we now call as Chess Squares really is an amalgamation of German Butter Cake and the English Chess Pie - or cheese pie.

Original St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake
Gooey Butter Cake (I live in MO, so give me some credit here) and Chess Pie are different.  Yes, they are both Gooey - but the real, original Gooey Butter Cake (not Paula's concoction) does NOT contain Cream Cheese.   That cheese/custard filling that is very distinctly a part of Chess Squares really comes  from the Chess Pie origins, that Cheese pie/Curd that is distinctly British. 

So to break it down:

Chess Squares have evolved from Chess Pie.

Nieman Marcus Bars or another name for Chess Squares got their name more than likely from it's
Buttermilk Pie.

Paula Deans Gooey Butter Cake are Chess Squares/Pie and NOT Missouri's Gooey Butter Cake.

The real Gooey Butter Cake has evolved from Butterkuchen or German Butter Cake and is more like a pound cake.

Have we got this all cleared up now? 

What we do know - They ALL are really yummy!  The batch I made - disappeared in less than 10 minutes!

We have provided the easy recipe below, just for your library!


My version of Chess Squares
1 box yellow butter cake mix
3 eggs
8 oz of cream cheese, softened

1/2 c (1 stick) butter, melted
4 c Powdered Sugar - sifted

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Spray a 9 x 13 cake pan (I prefer a glass pan for this recipe).  Mix cake mix, melted butter and 1 egg.  It will form a soft dough.  Press the dough into the prepared pan.

Mix the sifted powdered sugar (this will make for a very smooth custard), softened cream cheese (make sure it is plenty soft) and 2 eggs until smooth and creamy.

Pour the sugar/egg/cream cheese mix on top of the cake dough mix.   Bake at 300 degrees for 40-50 minutes.   The mix will be light and bubbly.  Do not overcook.  You want a creamy gooey center!