Sunday, January 15, 2012

Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies

CAUTION: The recipe you are about to read is considered an occasional, very indulgent treat and is by no means intended to be a nutritious staple recipe in anyone's household!

My sister's baby shower was yesterday.  When we were discussing food ideas a couple of months ago, the decision was unanimous - no, we would not be buying the standard flavorless, overly sugary white-frosted sheet cake from Costco with "It's a Boy" spelled out in blue sugar-paste lettering.  The women in this family take dessert seriously, and the only thing that could live up to our expectations would be cheesecake brownies.

Most cheesecake brownie recipes have an ingredient list that starts with: "a box of your choice of brownie mix."  And truth be told, the only way I have ever made brownies is out of a box (or pouch - Trader Joe's sells a brownie mix where all you do is cut open the pouch and dump it in the pan - no eggs or oil needed...and no, they do not taste very good).  I decided to make it fun and extra special and took on the challenge of making them completely from scratch.

Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies
Inspired by the recipe on Tammy's Recipe's:

Makes one 9 x 13 pan of brownies.

Ingredients for brownie mix:

1 cup butter (2 sticks)
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 eggs
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup of your choice of mix-in (optional): chopped nuts, chopped Oreos, toffee, etc. (like I said - this is an indulgent treat!)

Ingredients for cheesecake mix:

1/3 cup sugar
8 ounces cream cheese, softened or slightly warmed
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla


Electric mixer
Double boiler
9 x 13 baking dish
Parchment paper
Mixing bowls


1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2.  Melt butter over low heat in double boiler (truth be told, I don't have one - you can get creative with two different sized pots or a small glass bowl with a slightly larger pot).  Warm or soften cream cheese (I popped mine in the toaster oven, right in the foil package, on low for a few minutes).  Grease baking pan with butter (this is a great use for your butter wrappers - just rub along the inside of the pan).  Measure out just enough parchment paper to line the bottom and sides of pan with a small overhang.  Press paper into pan (it should stick because of the butter).  This step is optional but really helps avoid having to scrape the brownies out of the bottom of the pan after baking.

3.  For brownies: in a large bowl, cream butter and sugar with mixer on low speed.  Add vanilla and eggs and mix on low briefly.  Add cocoa powder, flour, and baking powder and stir well with a rubber spatula until wet and slightly combined.  Mix briefly on low with mixer until thoroughly incorporated.  Note: Be careful throughout this step not to over-mix.  You do not want to fluff too much air into the mixture and make your  brownies cakey.  I added the step to pre-stir after adding the cocoa powder, flour, and baking powder because otherwise you will end up with a poofy cloud if you go straight to using the mixer (learned this from experience making two batches of these!).  Add your choice of mix-ins and stir to combine.

4.  For cheesecake: in a separate bowl, mix your softened cream cheese with sugar on low speed until no lumps remain.  Add egg and vanilla and stir by hand or mix on low until smooth.

5.  Pour 2/3 of the brown mixture into your greased, parchment-lined baking pan.  Smooth out with a rubber spatula if necessary.  Pour cream cheese mixture on top, smoothing out with a rubber spatula.  Pour remaining brownie mix on top, smoothing out with a rubber spatula once again.  Cut through batter with a knife several times to create marbled effect.

6.  Bake for 35 - 45 minutes, until a knife or toothpick comes out clean.  Transfer out of pan to wire rack to cool (not necessary, but you might as well if you used the parchment paper - it lifts right out).  These are certainly edible while warm, but the cheesecake layer definitely tastes way better after being completely chilled in the fridge.

The verdict: These were a big hit at the shower.  Everyone was gobbling these right up and coming back for seconds (myself included).  These are definitely a worthy indulgence.  Several people wanted the recipe, so I decided to make a whole blog post out of it.

On the subject of healthy upgrades: These are an indulgent treat.  There is way too much sugar in them to view them as anything else.  However, making these from scratch helps you avoid ingesting rancid, partially-hydrogenated, genetically-modified vegetable oils (which cause cancer and heart disease), chemically enriched and bleached white flours, corn starch made from genetically modified corn, and "artificial flavorings" - whatever that means.  In addition, while I wasn't really concerned with trying to make these "healthy," I used certain wholesome, high-quality ingredients I always keep on hand.  I made these with grassfed butter (Kerrygold or Humboldt Creamery are good brands), organic sugar (I used evaporated cane juice sugar from Trader Joe's, but a whole-cane sugar like rapadura/sucanut would be even better), homemade vanilla extract (expect a future post on this), pastured eggs from the farmer's market, organic white unbleached flour, and celtic sea salt.

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