My nephews, as I mentioned previously, were annoyed that “Chess” pie had nothing chess about it. No grid, no squares, nada.
Because they are violently spoiled, apparently, I set out to make a chess tart that would be more to their specifications, and ended up with a really delicious bar cookie that is also very nice to look at and could be used — in a pinch — for an actual game of chess.
For the base of the tart, I knew I wanted a simple shortbread. Shortbread is fool-proof and yummy and in my mind, I was hoping to replicate an amazing bar cookie with black and white swirled frosting I remember eating when I was little at a now defunct French-style deli in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto called Pig By the Tail or the Charcuterie. They made this bar cookie that I will never forget and have never tasted again and part of me was longing to recreate it. I didn’t. But I didn’t fail entirely either because Nephew Chess Tart is both delicious and “chess-y” (see photo at bottom).
For the chessboard, I researched lots of frosting recipes, in an attempt to figure out how I could get a grid that was neat-looking but also tasty. Because tasty was an issue with me (and always is), I rejected fondant — that hard sort of sticky frosting pastry chefs normally use for precise decorations. It looks gorgeous but I don’t care for the taste — too rubbery. Instead, we opted for simply melting white chocolate buttons (from a baking store, specifically for decoration) with a little bit of Earth Balance and a semi-sweet chocolate Lindt (eating) bar with Earth Balance and powdered sugar added to it.
The tough part was the squares. After we had pressed the shortbread dough onto the jelly roll pan, the older nephew drew a precise grid on it and then we all pitched it to form ridges around the outline of each of the squares, so the frosting would have boundaries, even after the base had baked. We had no idea if this would actually work. In fact, I kept saying that there was NO way it would. I was glad to be wrong!
Nephew Chess Tart
2 cups of flour
1 cup Earth Balance (softened) plus 3 tablespoons for the frosting
1/2 cup powdered sugar plus several tablespoons for the frosting
A pinch of salt
6 ounces of dark chocolate
6 ounces of white chocolate
Preheat the oven to 350 and grease a jelly roll pan well.
Mix the Earth Balance, flour, salt, and 1/2 cup of powdered sugar either in a mixer with a paddle or a food processor until it forms a ball and is completely blended. Press this ball until flat into the jellyroll pan. (This takes a while so I recommend having teenaged boys on hand to help!)
Once the dough is completely evenly covering the bottom of the pan, mark a grid with a pizza cutter or knife and pinch ridges around the edges of each square, careful not to create any bald spots in the dough.
Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown — just turning dark brown. Set aside to cool.
Melt white and dark chocolates in separate pans, with a few tablespoons of shortening in each (adding powdered sugar to the dark chocolate if you like it sweeter). The idea is to achieve a good consistency for frosting.
Once the shortbread is cool, apply first the white chocolate squares in alternate boxes, with a pastry brush and/or spatula. (We used a very precise silicon pastry brush and I can highly recommend it!) Don’t worry about going outside the lines too much with the white, since the dark chocolate will cover it completely.
Once the white squares are complete, do the dark chocolate. If the frosting(s) become too tough at any point, reheat them, and/or add a little bit of milk or shortening to loosen them up. The boys tasted the dark chocolate at one point and decided it was too dark so I added a pinch of powdered sugar and melted that in slowly to sweeten it a bit.
As you see pictured above, we used a cutting tool to keep within the lines while frosting before we discovered that my mother was so much better at it than us and made her do the rest! As my younger nephew says, the most important thing to remember while baking is to have grandma around.
The end result was a wonderfully crunchy if slightly dry confection that was perfect with tea. It cut easily into squares for serving as you can see from the photo at the top of this post. If I made it again, I might put in a little bit of orange juice and zest, to liven it up, but it was certainly a success — and undeniably deserves the name “chess tart.”