chess cake

chess cake n Also sp chescake [Varr of cheesecake; similar spp are found occasionally in English texts from the 16th century onward, but the implied pronunciation, which represents a regular shortening (as in shepherd from sheep) was probably widespread at one time. 18th-century English cheesecake recipes contain no cheese in the usual sense, and are very much like those quoted in 1 below.]

1 A tart with a rich filling consisting chiefly of eggs, butter, sugar, and occasionally curdled milk, variously flavored and sometimes with the addition of fruit or nuts. esp Sth, S Midl; formerly also NEng Cf chess pie n, chess tart n, transparent pudding n

p1720 in 2004 Harbury Colonial Virginia’s Cooking 246, Chees Cakes. Boyle a quart of cream or milk wth. 8 eggs well beat stir it till tis a curd Þn. [=then] strain it and mix it wth. ye. curd of 3 quarts of milk 3 quarters of a pd. of fresh butter 2 greated biskets 2 ounces of blanchd almonds pounded with. a little sack & orange flower water ½ a pd. of currants & 7 eggs spice & salt beat it up wth. a little cream till tis very leight Þn. fill your chesscakes. [DARE Ed: Copied from an English recipe for “Cheese Cakes” first published c1720, in which the last clause reads: “then fill your Cheese-cakes.” (There are other changes in spelling and content, including the substitution of “salt” for “sugar.”)] 1761 Boston Gaz. & Country Jrl. (MA) 11 May 1/2, There were six tables, . . upon each table a good rich plumb pudding, a dish of boil’d pork and fowls, and a corn’d leg of pork, with sauce proper for it, . . besides chess cakes and tarts, cheese and butter. 1795 in 1946 William & Mary Qrly. 3.283 seVA, Mince pies, puffs, chescakes, flumery, apples, nuts, raisins & almonds &c. [DARE Ed: Later in the same diary the form “cheese-cakes” is used (Ibid 288).] c1805 in 1870 To-Day 10 Salem MA, Our fare consisted of cold ham and tongue, jellys, whips, custards, creams and blancmange, trifles, tarts, puddings, chescakes, grapes, nuts, raisins, almonds, cakes of every description, and confectionery. 1858 AR State Gaz. & Democrat (Little Rock) 30 Oct [2]/7, Pastry.—. . Best chess cake, Mrs. J. A. Frith, premium. 1870 Elliott Mrs. Elliott’s Housewife 257 NC, Chess Cake. The yelks of sixteen eggs, half a pound of butter and one pound of sugar. Beat the whole very light and flavor with lemon extract. Bake in shapes lined with puff paste. 1877 Daily Democratic Statesman (Austin TX) 20 Apr [4]/4, The Boston chess cake man, he that goes about with the tin boxes filled in the inside with cream and chess cakes and on top with light rolls and home-made bread, was yesterday taken for his honor Justice Tegener by a couple from the country. 1908 Courier–Jrl. (Louisville KY) 2 Feb sec 3 4/4, Cream together three-quarters of a cup of white sugar and two tablespoonfuls of butter. Beat the yolks of three eggs light and stir into this cream. Add the juice and half the grated peel of a lemon. . . Fill open shells of puff paste with this and bake. . . When the cakes are done, draw them to the door of the oven and cover with a meringue. . . When baked in pate pans they are called “chess cakes.” When cooked in larger plates they are “lemon pies,” or “transparent puddings.” 1912 Table Talk 27.337, Old Virginia Chess Cakes—These were loved by our grandparents, but rarely seen now. . . [B]ake crust in small pans in a quick oven, and then fill with the following mixture: Three eggs beaten thick with sugar, one-fourth of a teacupful of butter, one half of a cupful of milk turned with a teaspoonful of vinegar, a little sherry, and one-half of a nutmeg, grated. Return to the oven until brown on top.—Laura R. Talbot, Lansing. 1916 Boston Eve. Globe (MA) 22 May 3/8, [Advt:] Special in Pastry Shop Raspberry Chess Cakes, doz. 50c. 1928 Montgomery Advt. (AL) 1 June 4/6, He cannot help having some sort of opinion on this subject, as on the subject of picnics, chess cake, sugar in cornbread, politics, doctors, soft drinks, the Mississippi flood, the boll weevil, the weather. 1940 Tampa Morning Tribune (FL) 12 Oct 20/5, For all who are interested in collecting cooking lore, the story of the cheesecake, familiarly known throughout the south as “chess” cake or pie, is one of the most interesting. 1951 Pittsburgh Sun–Telegraph (PA) 30 Apr 2/4 cTN, The usual fare . . will be replaced by tomato, filled with crab meat and shrimp, . . old Tennesse ham, . . and a special Tennessee delicacy made of eggs and butter called “chess cake.” 1965 Cincinnati Enquirer (OH) 2 Sept Food sec 3/3, Chess Cakes or Chess Pie. . . Cream butter and sugar; then add slightly beaten eggs. Next add seasonings, nuts and raisins. Line 12 muffin tins with rich pie dough. . . May also be baked as a pie without a top crust. 1993 Mason Valley News (Yerington NV) 10 Dec sec 3 8/5, It is a family tradition to serve this dessert at Thanksgiving and Christmas. . . Mom’s Chess Cakes . . . Cream butter and sugar well. Add eggs and beat. Add the rest of the ingredients [= walnuts, raisins, chopped apples, vanilla, salt] and mix well. . . Line muffin pans with pie dough and fill each one ½ full with batter.

2 also chess pie cake: A dense, sticky cake or bar cookie made with essentially the same ingredients as 1 above, with the addition of flour and leavening, and sometimes with a cream-cheese topping; hence nouns chess (cake) bar, chess cake square one of the serving pieces into which this cake is typically cut. chiefly Sth, S Midl

1967 Nashville Tennessean (TN) 25 May 59/1, Chess Cake . . . Melt butter then add both the brown and white sugar. Cream. Add egg yolks. Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder. . . Fold in the nuts and vanilla. Beat egg whites and fold into mixture. Bake . . in a 9×13 greased pan. 1976 Jackson Sun (TN) 22 Apr 11/3, The dining room table held a festive display of refreshments for babies and mothers alike including fruit punch, milk, chess cake squares, chicken and rabbit cookies, and chocolate marshmallow bunnies. 1985 Odessa Amer. (TX) 30 June 38/5, Chess Cake Bars. . . Mix 1 egg with cake mix and butter. press into 9×13 pan. . . Mix soft cheese [=cream cheese] with 3 eggs, powdered sugar and vanilla until smooth. Pour onto above mixture. . .Bake. . . Cool. Cut into squares. 1988 McLean Co. News (Calhoun KY) 23 May 21/4, Chess Cake is much like its counterpart, the Chess Pie. Like the pie, Chess Cake is made with very basic ingredients such as butter, brown sugar, vanilla, eggs, flour and nuts. . . Unlike a regular cake, this cake has a dense, moist texture. 1996 Austin Amer.–Statesman (TX) 5 June sec F 10/1, An anonymous reader sent in copies of the $175 Cake. It appears to be a chocolate version of that popular bar cookie known as chess bars or gooey cream cheese bars. 2011 Clarion–Ledger (Jackson MS) 18 May sec B 6/4, Miniature key lime tarts, peanut butter brownies and cake balls were delightful, but the best treat by far were tiny bites of chess pie cake. 2014 DARE File—Internet KY, You’d think Kentuckians would know how to make hot browns and Derby pie by now. . . But come Thanksgiving they search anew for those recipes, along with chess bars, a more generically Southern dessert.

Etymological Supplement:

c1580 in 1877 Grosart The Spending of the Money of Robert Nowell of Reade Hall, Lancashire 396, To Lawrance wild his maid whoe broughte a capon & a chescake—xijd.


1645 Prognostication upon W. Laud, Your cheskake cap and magpy gowne. (Cited at OED3 cheesecake n. C1)

<Early English Books Online; Wing P3651>

1688 in 1894 Hist. MSS. Comm. 14th Rept., App., Part II. The MSS of his Grace the Duke of Portland, Preserved at Welbeck Abbey 3.416, My father Foley has been “out of order a day or two eating a naughty chesscake.”


1787 Elphinston Propriety Ascertained in her Picture 187, Dhe same propriety dhen dhat writes . . cheze and pleze, vine and spike . . ; must write, hwat must be red, . . chezcake and plezzant widh plezzure, vinyard and spicnard.