Cream Cheese Brownies are such a great way to easily dress up a batch of brownies. As you can see from my photos, I went with a Halloween motif for mine. And don’t they look really cool?? I’m not one for cute, crafty food projects like making spiders from black licorice and other assorted candies… I just don’t have the passion for that kind of thing. I don’t mind minimal decoration, like with sugar cookies, but I just can’t swing the really crafty, seasonal stuff. That’s why I love using cream cheese brownies for Holidays- you can just dye the cream cheese a signature color and let the celebration begin! Right up my alley. Or, as with Red Velvet Cream Cheese Brownies, you can dye the brownies : )
Now, there really isn’t much to turning a regular brownie into a cream cheese brownie. It’s a very simple recipe and the cream cheese filling is easy to make just as long as your cream cheese is really soft. Otherwise, you will have a lumpy batter and will never be able to smooth it out. To create the signature cream-cheese-brownie-swirl, you take the filling and dollop it across the top of your favorite 8″ square batch brownie batter then you simply drag and curve a butter knife throughout the brownie and filling. To get the very best swirl though you need to layer your brownie batter and cream cheese filling. What I mean by this is pour about half the brownie batter in and smooth it out along the bottom, then dollop half the filling. Repeat with what you have left. This ensures that all the brownie batter won’t be on the bottom, which makes it easier to pull up and swirl. Ya know what I mean? The cream cheese layer is just so thick if you put it all on top that it’s hard to pull up the brownie batter when you go to swirl.
I’ve been having really bad luck finding a good 8″ square pan recipe. I actually made these brownies twice because the brownie texture from my first batch came out so dense and dry that I couldn’t fathom sharing them with anybody but my garbage. I’m pretty sure they were over baked, even though I took them out 8 minutes earlier than the recipe asked (why Cooks Illustrated had me bake an 8″ square pan of brownies 50-60 minutes I will never know…) but I wasn’t willing to try that recipe again. I had a similar experience with the brownie recipe I used for S’mores Brownies this summer and that was a Dorie Greenspan recipe. They just call for baking times that are FAR too long! I don’t know where they are getting these numbers… So in the end you really just have to be smarter than the recipe. There is no reason an 8″ pan of brownies should bake an hour. It’s just ridiculous. Unless it’s like three inches thick or something odd like that… I ended up researching and comparing various 8″ pan brownie recipes and realized that there wasn’t much variation to them. (It’s strange because you can find SO many vastly different 9″x13″ pan brownie recipes). I decided to just stick with Dories’ but to just change the suggested baking time. It’s a small change, but boy, does it make a difference!
The most important factor with baking any brownie recipe is not too over-bake it. You want the knife to be messy when you cut into it. If it comes out clean then the brownies are dry or cakey, neither of which we are going for here. There is a fine line between gooey-fudginess and dense-dryness. You’re better off under-baked than over-baked I always say. If too under-baked for your taste, then a quick remedy is to just pop the pan in the fridge. There is no solution for a dry brownie. Either way if you are going to make a batch for an 8″ square pan then please, please, please do NOT overbake them or just take the easy way out and use a good ol’ Ghiradhelli box mix. They are my favorite brand to use for an 8″ square pan. If you want to do a 9×13-inch batch then all you have to do is double the recipe. Very easy. BUT! In this case there are far better homemade brownie recipes in which I would intrust you with for a moist, chewy brownie- this one is my personal favorite. Or again, you could use a box mix made for a 9×13-inch pan.
I used Americolor Gel to color these brownies. It’s super concentrated. Much better than the liquidy drops you get at the store!
- For the Brownies:
- ½ cup all purpose flour
- ¼ tsp salt
- 4.5 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
- 8 Tb (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- For the Cream Cheese Filling:
- 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 1 Tb heavy cream, optional
- For the Brownies: Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare 8" square pan with parchment paper or cooking spray. Whisk flour and salt in small bowl until combined; set aside.
- Melt chocolate and butter in medium heatproof bowl set over pan of almost-simmering water, stirring occasionally, until mixture is smooth. Remove melted chocolate from heat; whisk in sugar and vanilla; then whisk in eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding next. Continue whisking until mixture is completely smooth. Add dry ingredients; whisk until just incorporated.
- For the Cream Cheese Filling: Beat cream cheese in small bowl with sugar until smooth. Add egg, vanilla, and heavy cream, if using.
- Transfer half of brownie batter into prepared pan. Drop half of cream cheese mixture, by spoonfuls, over batter. Repeat layering with remaining brownie batter and cream cheese filling. Using tip of butter knife, gently swirl batter and cream cheese filling.
- Bake until edges of brownies have puffed slightly, center feels not quite firm when touched lightly, and toothpick inserted in center comes out with several moist crumbs attached, 30 to 35 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking.
- Let brownies cool in pan on wire rack to room temperature. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 3 hours. Don't cut brownies until ready to serve.