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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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!
Lemon Chess Bars
- 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.