Give thanks for a chess cake

by Anya Corke Allen
11/23/2017 – For those who don't give a fig for pumpkin pie this Thankgiving, here's a dessert treat even your grandmaster will love. Anya Corke Allen is a chess player with a penchant for baking, and shared her adventures making a chocolate chess cake. Yummy! | Photos: Anya Corke Allen

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Edible Chess

My baking hobby predates my passion for chess. My dad, a food scientist who taught me to play chess when I was nine, introduced me to baking at the ripe old age of four.Anya Corke Allen circa 1994

Nonetheless, I’m certainly a baking novice: my repertoire is usually limited to making cookies, muffins, and pies. But my love for The Great British Baking Show has inspired me to step out of my comfort zone and attempt some more ambitious desserts.

Piano cakeSince my husband, Thomas, is a pianist, I made this piano cake for him (chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream frosting, plus vintage cake decorations). We decided that the logical next step was to collaborate on a chess cake.

I considered making this recipe, a “surprise inside” cake that reveals a checkered interior once it’s sliced. But as soon as I watched this ingenious video tutorial by Rosanna Pansino, I knew her recipe took the cake. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Pansino runs the popular YouTube baking show Nerdy Nummies. In this episode, she demonstrates how to make a cake that’s both playable and delectable.

Schneider and Pansino

At first, I was skeptical; it always makes me cringe when movies and TV shows have chess scenes that disregard the basic rules of chess. Pansino’s attention to accuracy, however, is impeccable. Although Pansino is not a chess player herself, she invites Kurt Hugo Schneider to guest star on her show. While Schneider is more famous these days as a popular YouTube musician, he’s also a strong chess player. With Schneider’s chess expertise combined with Pansino’s baking virtuosity, the result is an incredible-looking cake that could be mistaken for a marble chess set rather than a decadent dessert.

Schneider and Pansino cake

Schneider and Pansino’s enthusiasm and rapid-fire banter keep the tutorial entertaining throughout. At the end of the episode, they play a match on the cake chessboard, giving Schneider the opportunity to demonstrate his blindfold skills.

While Schneider and Pansino make the baking process look effortless, can mere mortals replicate their culinary feat? Thomas and I resolved to find out.

In advance, we equipped ourselves with the necessary tools and ingredients: most importantly, molds for the chess pieces and squares, available from Amazon.

Making the cake itself was a breeze; we took Pansino’s advice and used a ready-made yellow cake mix, so that we could focus our efforts on molding the halves of the chess pieces and “gluing” them together (the glue is liquid chocolate).

Our main blunder was not buying enough chocolate candy melts to make the pieces. Per the recipe, we bought two 12-ounce bags of chocolate—one dark, one white. But to mold the 64 squares and 32 pieces, we ended up needing three times that amount (a whopping 4½ pounds of chocolate—let’s not calculate the number of calories involved...)  

We also decided to dispense with the cake leveler. (The cake looks flat enough, we reasoned. Why waste perfectly good cake by chopping the top off?). That was definitely a ?! move. While the curvature of the cake creates a cool visual effect in the photos, the rooks weren’t keen on defying gravity, and kept flying off the corners over the course of our game.

Luckily, we remembered to take some pictures of the cake before devouring it!

Cake game

A closed sicilian delays the first taste

Despite a few missteps, our baking experiment was a success, thanks to Pansino’s nearly foolproof recipe. And it tasted just as good as it looks—the light, airy texture of the yellow cake nicely complemented the richness of the chocolate. For lovers of chess and/or chocolate (and who doesn’t fall into at least one of those categories?!), this is a must-try recipe.

And in case you were wondering, no, we did not consume this 12x12 slab of butter, sugar, and chocolate all by ourselves. There was plenty to go around at the office the next day!

We’re already plotting our next baking project. An orchestra? A simultaneous chess exhibition? The possibilities are endless!

Tutorial video

Photos: Anya Corke Allen

Anya is a Woman Grandmaster. She represented Hong Kong at the 2004, 2006, and 2008 Olympiad, and subsequently represented England at the 2012 Olympiad and the 2013 European Team Chess Championship. She lives in New Haven, Connecticut, where she recently completed her master’s degree in Slavic Languages and Literatures at Yale University. She still enjoys playing and teaching chess; visit to learn more.


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