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Lemon Chess Bars

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Lemon chess bars have a cakey crust topped with a gooey cream cheese and butter filling. They are easy to make and taste phenomenal. Make a batch to see for yourself.

Stack of lemon gooey butter cake bars with cakey crust and gooey cream cheese, lemon and butter topping.

This yummy treat, also known as lemon gooey butter cake, is sure to be a hit with lemon lovers. It has that ooey-gooey texture we all know and love with a really nice citrus pop of flavor.

The best part is this recipe starts with a cake mix, so it is really super simple to make. You can have it in the oven in no time at all.

Ingredients for lemon chess bars including cake mix, butter, eggs, cream cheese, lemon juice, and powdered sugar.

If you love lemon desserts like classic lemon bars, you are going to have to give these yummy lemon chess squares a try. They are similar to my lemon cake bars, but thicker and much more ooey gooey-er!

Gooey Butter Cake vs Chess Bars

Gooey butter cake is a St. Louis tradition. Over the years home bakers have adapted the recipe to make the decadent treat an easy one that can be made at home.

We live only a few hours from St. Louis, so we have been enjoying the treat for as long as I can remember. Using a cake mix to make the base and lots of butter and cream cheese to get the rich texture, it is an easy treat to fall in love with.

Of course, over the years we have come up with different flavor combinations such as funfetti gooey butter cake, pumpkin gooey butter cake and apple spice gooey butter cake. They are all delicious and have that trademark texture.

Recently I learned that when you go south, they have another name for this dessert. It seems southerners call our beloved gooey butter cake chess bars.

I believe it is because the filling has a similar texture to chess pie. I believe in equal opportunity dessert love, so I figured we would call this lemon version lemon chess cake so that everyone can find it and love it as much as we do.

Tips and Tricks

We like using a lemon cake mix for this recipe to help accentuate the lemon flavor. You can use a white or yellow cake mix if that is what you have.

For even more lemon flavor feel free to add some lemon zest or a little bit of lemon extract. As written, the recipe gives you a nice lemon flavor but if you want it punchier, you can make that happen.

Dusting powdered sugar on cut lemon chess squares.

It will be easier to get a smooth filling if the cream cheese is good and softened before you make the filling. The butter can be softened or melted, either way works.

Beat the cream cheese well before adding the other ingredients. That is your best chance for getting the lumps out.

Be sure to spray your pan well. The term ooey-gooey should give you an indication that things could get a little bit sticky and you want to enjoy every last morsel of this tasty treat.

Hand holding lemon gooey butter cake showing golden edge and soft gooey center.

Let your lemon chess bars cool completely before you cut them. They are still gooey even when cooled, so cutting them hot is just asking for a mess.

Chess bars and gooey butter cake are traditionally garnished with a simple dusting of powdered sugar. Do this after they are cooled so it doesn’t melt into the cake. Of course it will taste great without the additional powdered sugar, but it does help to make it look finished.

Store your chess bars in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. They can be enjoyed cold, at room temperature or even warmed up a bit.

Stacked lemon chess bars topped with powdered sugar, ready to eat.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you freeze lemon chess bars?

Yes. If you don’t think you can eat the whole pan of chess bars in a few days, you can freeze extra pieces for up to 3 months. Just put them in an airtight container or freezer bags and you will have an easy treat later. A few seconds in the microwave will have them back to ooey gooey in no time.

How do I know when a gooey butter cake is done?

Because the center of this cake is meant to be gooey, normal tests like using a toothpick won’t work for this treat. The cake is done when the edges are golden brown. If you give the pan a slight shake, the outer two to three inches should be set and the center should have a bit of jiggle.

More Easy Lemon Recipes

If you prefer cookies to bars, try making lemon gooey butter cookies. They also start with a cake mix and have a soft and wonderful texture.

Or try making these TikTok lemon brownies. I haven’t tried them, but they look delicious.

Did you make this recipe? Please leave a review in the recipe card below!

Stack of lemon gooey butter cake bars with cakey crust and gooey cream cheese, lemon and butter topping.

Lemon Chess Bars

Servings: 16 Servings
Author: Carlee
Lemon chess bars have a cakey crust topped with a gooey cream cheese and butter filling. They are easy to make and taste phenomenal. Make a batch to see for yourself.
4.70 from 13 ratings
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 1 hour



  • 15.25 oz. lemon cake mix
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup butter melted


  • 8 oz. cream cheese softened
  • ½ cup butter soft or melted
  • 3 large eggs
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 3 cups powdered sugar plus more for dusting


  • Preheat oven to 350°F and grease a 9×13-inch pan.
  • In a medium bowl, stir together cake mix, one egg and one stick of melted butter. Press mixture into the bottom of the greased pan to form a crust.
    15.25 oz. lemon cake mix, 1 large egg, ½ cup butter
  • In the same bowl, beat cream cheese until it is smooth and creamy. Add butter and mix to combine.
    8 oz. cream cheese, ½ cup butter
  • Mix in eggs, one at a time until they are incorporated. Then stir in lemon juice and powdered sugar.
    3 large eggs, ¼ cup lemon juice, 3 cups powdered sugar
  • Pour cream cheese mixture over the crust.
  • Bake for 40-45 minutes. The edges should be golden brown and set, but the center should still have a little bit of jiggle when you gently shake the pan.
  • Allow to cool at room temperature for at least an hour. Then serve or move to the refrigerator to chill until you are ready to serve.
  • Dust with powdered sugar if desired and store any leftovers in the refrigerator.



Serving: 1barCalories: 351kcalCarbohydrates: 44gProtein: 4gFat: 19gSaturated Fat: 11gPolyunsaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 91mgSodium: 352mgSugar: 33g

Nutritional Disclaimer

“Cooking With Carlee” is not a dietitian or nutritionist, and any nutritional information shared is an estimate. If calorie count and other nutritional values are important to you, we recommend running the ingredients through whichever online nutritional calculator you prefer. Calories and other nutritional values can vary quite a bit depending on which brands were used.

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Recipe Rating

Courtney king

Wednesday 12th of July 2023

Could i bake this cake in an aluminum foil pan would i have to spray the foil pan


Wednesday 12th of July 2023

Yes, a foil pan should work. I would spray it first just to make sure it doesn't stick.

Courtney king

Friday 19th of May 2023

I have question can i bake this cake in an foil pan do i need to spray it


Friday 19th of May 2023

I would. It will make getting it out easier later.

Courtney king

Monday 15th of May 2023

I could i use yellow cake mix instead of the lemon cake mix and for the filling do lemon juice


Monday 15th of May 2023

Yellow cake mix would work. If you wanted to make sure there is plenty of lemon flavor, you could always add a little lemon extract. Though, I think they would be delicious either way.

Andrea Nine

Wednesday 22nd of February 2023

You know I’m all in for this lemony goodness! YUM!


Wednesday 22nd of February 2023

You are going to love these!