Friday, December 4, 2009

One Thing Leads to Another: Peanut Butter & Chocolate Cheesecake Swirl Brownies . . .

Just as night leads to day, so Thanksgiving led me to this recipe. Thanksgiving? Yes, that's right. We spent Thanksgiving afternoon and evening with my husband's family (my mom- and dad-in-law Nancy and Joe, along with my two brothers-in-law, Ben and Chris). We got there around 3pm, and preparations for the feast were well underway with several loose ends still to tie up. Nancy was in her element in the kitchen, juggling the cooking of at least six tasty items, while urging on her overworked oven. More hearty and delicious meals have emerged from that oven than you could shake a stick at, and this was sure to be another.

The pause before eating was welcome, as it gave us all a chance to catch-up and chit-chat without any urgent imperative to rush. My two sons, Nathan and Charlie, took the opportunity to explore the patch of woods that surround much of Nancy and Joe's home. I sat inside, near the huge back window right next to the dining room table. Before long, two quiet deer came out in the open and peered curiously toward the house. The grayish-beige of their autumn coats let them move about, chameleon-like, among the trees and brush.

It was a classic Thanksgiving afternoon in Michigan . . . overcast, appropriately quite chilly, and filled with the sights and scents that evoke an endless stream of memories, and a warm sense of holiday anticipation.

Now, Nancy and Joe have always enjoyed cooking and they appreciate interesting, well prepared food made from scratch (my kind of in-laws). Along with that, they love to read. Put the two together and what you have is the perennial likelihood that there will never be a dearth of scintillating reading material laying about--reading material not unlike the January '09 issue of bon appetit magazine, which I picked up in their living room during that pleasant lull before dinner. It is that issue of bon appetit that gives us today's recipe.

Good enough to eat . . .

In the months that I've had this blog, I realize I've never once posted a recipe for a typical brownie. Well, that's not going to change here because this particular brownie is anything but typical. It's better than typical. Of course, formulas for brownies with a cheesecake element are a dime a dozen, but I decided this one would be worth a try because of what it distinctly didn't promise. Clearly, it wasn't a recipe for a goo-filled, hyper-sweet, chock-full-of-stuff kind of brownie. In fact, the presence of bittersweet chocolate and the absence of any other type of chocolate was the determining factor that drew me in. That, paired with the use of natural peanut butter (well, "natural" to the extent that it doesn't contain added sugar--and thus excess sweetness) told me that this isn't your kid's brownie. Oh, older kids will probably like these. Both of mine do, but they've become pretty discerning about homemade baked goods, much to my amusement and delight. I don't think, though, that these brownies were conceived with kids' taste preferences in mind.

So, enough philosophizing and meandering and pondering--down to brass tacks. What did I change in the recipe? I altered only a few minor aspects. I increased the amount of flour from 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup because I'm not really crazy about super-gooey, almost-no-flour, chocolate desserts (this was a good decision, trust me). I baked the brownies in an 8" x 8" pan because I don't own a 9"x9" pan (and who does own one in that non-standard size anyway?). I didn't use parchment paper in the bottom of the pan, but just used baking spray in the pan (worked out perfectly). Also, I decided to drizzle chocolate across the top of the unsliced brownies because I could tell my "swirls" weren't going to be evident; I took matters into my own hands. Just gotta do that sometimes, you know? Oh, and I took modest but meaninful liberties with the wording of the instructions, as always.

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cheesecake Swirl Brownies

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray an 8" x 8" baking pan with baking spray, or line pan fully with parchment.

For the brownie layer:

8 oz. bittersweet chocolate (I used two Ghirardelli's 62% bittersweet bars)
1/2 unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, large
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup All Purpose flour (I used bleached)
1/4 tsp. salt

For the cheesecake layer:

One 8 oz. package full-fat cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup creamy (smooth) natural peanut butter (made with only peanuts and salt; I used Trader Joe's)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup granulated
2 eggs, large
2 Tbsp. heavy whipping cream
2 Tbsp. All Purpose flour
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped

To prepare the brownie layer:

In a medium saucepan over low heat, stir together the chocolate and butter until smooth; remove from heat and cool the mixture for 10 minutes.

Using an electric mixer, beat together the sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a medium bowl on medium speed until very fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Beat in chocolate mixture on low speed, then beat in flour and salt.

Spread batter in pan.
Set aside.

To prepare the cheesecake layer:

Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat together the cream cheese, peanut butter, and vanilla in a medium bowl until smooth.

Gradually add in the sugar, still on medium speed, beating until fluffy. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time.

Beat in the cream, then the flour.

Transfer 1/3 cup of the cheesecake batter to a small bowl and reserve.

Spread the remaining cheesecake batter over the brownie layer.

Place the 2 oz. of chopped chocolate in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on low power in 10-second intervals until chocolate begins to melt, then stir until smooth. Mix the melted chocolate into the reserved 1/3 cup cheesecake batter.

Drop the chocolate batter by heaping teaspoonfuls atop the cheesecake layer. Using a thin stick like a chopstick or wooden skewer, swirl the chocolate batter in a figure-eight pattern through the white cheesecake layer. (When I tried to do this, my chocolate cooled and become thickened when it hit the batter, so it wouldn't let me do the cute figure-eight design with my skewer; that's what inspired me to drizzle chocolate on the top of the brownies and I'm glad I did!)

Bake the brownies until the edges of the cheesecake layer are puffed and the center is set, about 35 minutes or so.

Cool the brownies in pan on rack for 10 minutes. Carefully invert them onto the rack, then immediately invert them back onto another rack.

Let them cool further or force-cool them, uncovered, in the fridge or in even the freezer for maybe 15 minutes.

If you want to drizzle chocolate on them, do it now, before the bars are truly cold. Melt a couple of ounces of dark or semisweet chocolate; while it's still a bit warm, drizzle it over the bars using a spoon.

Let the chocolate set before you cut, cover, and store the bars.

To store them, keep them in the fridge (covered), or well packaged and placed in the freezer.

They keep really well. You could make some today and, if promptly frozen, I'm sure they'd still be perfectly good on Christmas day. They're good eaten cold or at room temperature, and they just cry out for a fresh cup of coffee!

(If you'd like to comment on this post or read any existing comments, click on the purple COMMENTS below!)

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