Do you ever get obsessed with a certain food and eat it every single day for weeks or even months? This is not a rhetorical question. I’m genuinely wondering if I’m crazy or not. I do this same thing with new music or TV shows on Netflix, so it may just be my personality to become obsessed with things. In this case, I’ve recently rediscovered my childhood love of cinnamon toast that my mom used to make for me. My new favorite afternoon snack is cinnamon toast with a cup of my favorite Earl Gray tea. I cannot get enough, even though I know that eating bread with butter and sugar on it everyday is not the healthiest thing in the world. Eventually, I’ll get tired of it and move on but I can tell I’m not anywhere near that point yet.
In the midst of the cinnamon toast obsession I was browsing through my grandmother’s recipe box again looking for inspiration. I don’t intend for all the recipes I post here from now on to be from her collection, but I have to say, it’s very handy to have that resource when I’m feeling uninspired about what to make. I came across a recipe for Chess cake that was obviously a popular recipe (the original baker made photocopies to give out because so many people asked for it) so I decided to give it a try.
If you’re unfamiliar, Chess pie is a simple and traditional Southern pie with a sweet, buttery filling. This “cake” is similar, except I can’t call it cake, it’s a bar. The texture isn’t cake-like at all, it’s chewy and gooey and buttery just like a soft, fudgy brownie. It’s a blondie! This is one of those recipes that has sort of weird magical (okay, actually scientific) properties where it separates into layers as it bakes. The key seems to be folding whipped egg whites into the batter at the very end and that somehow bakes into a bar that has a buttery crust on the bottom and sides, a soft, chewy center and a thin, crackly crust on top.
The very weird thing is that when I was researching other Chess cake recipes almost every single one (even on reputable sites like Epicurious!) called for a box of cake mix. Now, I’m not going to pretend that I haven’t made a boxed cake mix before. Or even that I haven’t made a boxed cake mix almost entirely so I could eat that wonderful cake batter that is full of delicious crack (or something). But I started this blog to learn to cook and now I try to make things from scratch when possible. It takes maybe 5 extra minutes to make these chess bars from scratch than it would if you used a mix and this way you know exactly what ingredients are going into the recipe.
The original recipe calls for sprinkling powdered sugar on top of these bars. But due to my current obsession, my first thought when biting into one of these bars was: Cinnamon! These bars are so soft and buttery that I knew they would be even better with a cinnamon-sugar topping, so I immediately made another batch. I’m definitely a bigger fan of the “Snickerdoodle” version of these Chess bars, but feel free to replace with powdered sugar if you don’t like cinnamon. Both versions are delicious!
Snickerdoodle Chess Bars
from Back to the Cutting Board (adapted from my Grandmother’s friend Mary Margaret)
Dessert | Yield: 18 to 24 bars
Prep time: 30 min | Cook time: 45 min | Total time: 1 hour 15 min
- 1 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 1 lb. (about 2 1/2 tightly packed cups) brown sugar
- 1 cup white granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs, whites and yolks separated
- 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
- 2 cups flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 4 tbsp. sugar
- 1 tbsp. cinnamon
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Line a 10×10″ or 13×9″ baking pan with foil and coat with baking spray. In a small bowl, mix together the cinnamon and sugar for the topping. Set aside.
- Add melted butter to a mixer bowl with paddle attachment. Add both sugars and beat well.
- Separate your egg whites into a smaller bowl and set aside. Beat yolks into the sugar mixture until well combined. Mix in vanilla.
- Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Mix into the batter until just combined. The batter will be thick.
- Tip: The batter is thick, so be gentle and patient as you fold in the eggs. I suggest following these instructions for the best results. Using your mixer (with a new or washed bowl) or a hand mixer, whip egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter just until incorporated.
- Spread into prepared baking pan. Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar mixture on top. (You may only need half or 3/4 of the mixture, depending on how cinnamon-y you like things. Save the rest for cinnamon toast!)
- Bake for 35 to 45 minutes. Insert a toothpick to test for doneness. The bars should be set in the middle but still slightly gooey inside. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Lift the foil out of the pan and cut into squares. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Store tightly wrapped in foil or plastic wrap. These taste best when eaten within 3 or 4 days.
Do not be alarmed, these bars will deflate as they cool! The better you were at folding your egg whites, the less deflated they’ll be but they are still meant to be thin like a brownie.
If you don’t like cinnamon, omit the cinnamon-sugar topping and instead sprinkle powdered sugar on top of the cooled bars.
You can also stir in 1 cup of chopped nuts right after adding the flour mixture to the batter.
This recipe can be halved and baked in an 8×8″ square pan. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes.