Friday, September 18, 2009

Lemon Chess Squares

This was one of the very first recipes that I learned back in middle school- maybe even elementary school - and I have to tell you that I still absolutely love it. Chess squares are the perfect treat when you're looking for a cookie-pie-cake-bar fix all in one. The concept is really versatile too. Starting with a canvas of cake mix, cream cheese, eggs and sugar- you can make an infinite number of variations. This lemon version is really one of the best. It's very similar to a lemon square but easier to make! Preheat oven to 350 degrees. (Be sure the rack is in the middle of the oven, you definitely don't want it any lower or the bottom gets too brown.) In a mixer you start with: 1 box of lemon cake mix 1 stick of butter (softened) 1 egg Zest of one lemon Juice of half a lemon Mix until it forms a ball- will be dough like. Press it into the bottom of a greased 9 x 13 pan to form a crust. Next, mix together: 1 pkg cream cheese (softened) *Beat this first until smooth, then add the rest 1 box of powdered sugar (set aside a few tablespoons for dusting later) 2 eggs Zest and juice of one lemon (you could actually go with two for more of a zing)
You pour the batter over the crust layer and bake for approx 30-35 minutes. I always check it at 25 mins and then let it go until the top is just barely golden brown and the center still has a little jiggle to it when you move the pan. DO NOT OVER BAKE.
Once it is completely cooled, dust with powdered sugar and cut into squares. These are super fast, portable to take to a picnic but also elegant enough to serve as a dessert. I served these after our Pork Kebab meal the other night, garnished with fresh mint and a couple of fresh raspberries and they really hit the spot!
A few other great combinations that I've tried:
*Use a chocolate cake mix, omit lemon and add some vanilla extract or Kahlua to the filling
*Use a devil's food cake mix, add 2 or 3 T cocoa powder to the filling
*Use a yellow cake mix, add vanilla and almond extract to filling- serve with fresh berries
*Use a red velvet cake mix, add vanilla and almond extract to filling
*Use a spice cake mix (or add pumpkin pie spice to a yellow cake mix) and add 1 cup of canned pumpkin (and one extra egg) to the filling
If you eat 1/3 of a pan of these in one sitting as I've done before, you'll look a little like my cat Caesar after a big meal...