Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Brownies

Well, I knew it would happen eventually.

Remember way back when this project first started and I was making one cheesecake every month?

That was a long 12 months.

I thought I ran out of cheesecakes and while I definitely ran out of cheesecakes proper, I did find this recipe only a few days ago for ‘Philly Marble Squares.’ And let’s be real: these are chocolate chip cheesecake brownies. So I wasn't super thrilled to find the recipe... because I'm still recovering from the cheesecake saga of 2015-2016.

Do you ever set kitchen goals for yourself? Like, ‘I’m going to learn how to make macarons’ or ‘I’m going to learn and master the difference between Swiss and Italian meringue buttercream’ or ‘I’m going to teach myself to frost cakes’ or whatever? No? Just me? Well, if so, I think it’s important to note that I’ve conquered macarons and buttercreams and frosting techniques are next on my list.

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Well, one of my cooking goals has been to get better about mise-en-place, or prepping for a recipe before I actually dive in to cooking it. It seems silly, but getting all the ingredients together, measured, and set aside would save me a shedload of dishes (no dishwasher, remember?) and probably drastically improve the results of my more sensitive baking endeavours. The unexpected bonus of cooking in this way is that it makes me feel like Julia Child hosting a cooking show when I have pre-measured glass prep bowls filled with ingredients I can just pour gracefully into the mixing bowl instead of faffing around looking for a measuring cup while my whipped cream overwhips itself into butter or my meringue falls flat before I have a chance to stir in my almonds. (Can you tell I’ve been on a macaron kick over here?)

I was on the fence about how much prepping for a recipe before actually cooking it could really help make the process go smoothly, but I gave it a try on this recipe and now I’m never going back. It’s an easy recipe, but it does require several steps that need to be taken fairly simultaneously, so I’ve listed the steps below such that you won’t get stuck halfway through realising that your chocolate isn’t melted or your cream cheese mixture isn’t… mixed. Doing it this way gives you ample time at the beginning to be interrupted if, say, your puppy needs a sudden walk while you’re still in the middle of sifting the flour and somehow makes the actual ‘active cooking’ part shrink to take up almost no time at all.

I thought these would be just a slightly softer, richer brownie when I read the recipe, and honestly was afraid they might come out too firm to really be enjoyable but not only was I wrong, I was thrilled to be wrong. I haven’t made brownies this good in awhile, and I make a lot of brownies. The ‘brownie’ part is less dense and fudgy than a normal brownie and verges closer to a really soft sour cream pound cake; top that with a barely-sweetened cream cheese mixture and stud the whole thing with chocolate chips and you’re in business. A dessert that tastes as good chilled from the fridge as it does at room temperature, doesn’t leave your fingers a sticky mess and involves no ‘wait for cake to cool, then frost’ steps is a win in my book. This passed the test of someone who doesn’t love cheesecake but does love chocolate (me) and someone who doesn’t love cake but does love cheesecake (Judson). Bonus? When I presented them to a group, they were gone in less than a minute.

The verdict:

4 spoons out of five, but ONLY because they rose unevenly so the top of the dish of brownies looked rippled. But I think it's important to note that this is a spoon demotion purely for cosmetic reasons, not flavour.

One year ago: One-Egg Cake with Creamy chocolate frosting
two years ago: Brioche

the recipe:

Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Brownies

the directions:

Grease and flour a 10x15-inch jelly roll pan (I think this would work just as well in a cake pan of a similar size).
Preheat oven to 185C/375F.
Combine flour, 2 c sugar, baking soda and salt in a bowl and set aside.
Combine 2 eggs and sour cream, stir well and set aside.
Combine cream cheese and remaining 1/3 c sugar, stirring until smooth.
Add remaining egg to cream cheese mixture, stir until smooth and set aside.
Combine butter, water & unsweetened chocolate in a pot and melt over medium heat. Bring to a boil then immediately remove from heat.
Stir in flour mixture to melted butter mixture until thick and pulling away from sides of bowl.
Add sour cream mixture and stir until uniform.
Pour into prepared jelly roll pan.
Pour cream cheese mixture over chocolate mixture, trying to pour uniformly across the entire surface.
Drag a knifepoint through the mixture in swirly designs to create a marble effect.
Sprinkle with chocolate chips, then bake 20-30 minutes until pan jiggles just slightly in the middle and a wooden pick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

the ingredients:

2 c flour
2 1/3 c sugar, divided
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
3 eggs, 2 for base and 1 for topping
½ c sour cream
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
½ c butter
¾ c water
1 ½ oz unsweetened chocolate
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips

Lemon Pecan Bars

You know how I love all things citrus, but have we discussed my deep an abiding love for lemon bars? Oh, we have? Well, then add this to the pool of knowledge about my dessert preferences: when I was a teenager, any time I needed a boost or deserved a special treat for acing a test, getting into college, or just making it through a week of Stats class, my mom would buy me a lemon square from my favourite bakery (ok, ok, it was a Fresh Market. The choices were limited). To this day, there's not a lot of desserts that take me back to middle school and high school the way that lemon squares take me back, other than my mom's Pound Cake, which we've also discussed.

Anyway, as with key lime pie or pretty much any other citrus-based dessert you can think of, my passion for lemon bars runs deep. Shortcrust base, thick sour-sweet layer of fresh lemon curd infused with lemon peel for just a hint of bitterness, all dusted in powdered sugar sure to leave your hands a mess but perfectly offsetting the robust layer of flavour-packed curd... yeah, there's not a lot I like better.

So I was automatically wary of the cream cheese and oatmeal base of these lemon bars. I mean, you can't just cut a lemon dessert into squares and call it lemon bars. Our standards over here at The Recipe Box Project are higher than that. Plus, after the Cheesecake Saga, I'm pretty meh on all things cheesecake-like or cheesecake-related. But I do love an oatmeal crust, so I powered through and made this traybake with high hopes, and it didn't disappoint.

Curd-based bars these are not, but the lemon flavour works really well with the cream cheese filling, and the oat base and crumbly topping make the whole thing seem just a trifle less decadent than their counterparts I love so much without being any less delicious. Plus, the finished product is thin and crispy, perfect for the start of summer when a heavy dessert is probably not what you want to take to cookouts or picnics... although the friends we shared these with loved them so much we all ended up eating more than one. They're just too tasty to pass up!

Make these for your next event where you don't know the host's tastes and need something easy to serve, easy to eat, and that will appeal to all palates. Part cheesecake, part lemon bar, part fruit crumble, these have something in them that everyone will love, and they're easy as pie to boot!

The verdict:

4 spoons out of five. Delicious, versatile, and easy, these are perfect for springtime outdoor parties, picnics, or poolside snacking!

one year ago: Magic Bars

The recipe:

Lemon Pecan Bars

the directions:

Preheat oven to 175C/350F and grease a 13x9 inch pan.
Combine flour, brown sugar, and sugar.
Cut in butter until mixture is coarse crumbs.
Stir in oats and nuts, then set aside 1 cup of mixture.
Press remaining mixture into prepared pan, then bake 12 minutes or until golden brown.
While crust is cooking, mix cream cheese and egg until well-blended.
Add juice and zest, stirring until combined.
Leaving the oven on, pour cream cheese mixture over par-baked crust, then sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture.
Bake again at 175C/350F for 20 minutes or until golden and toasty.
Allow to cool completely, then cut into bars and enjoy!

the ingredients:

1 1/3 c flour
½ c brown sugar, packed
¼ c sugar
¾ c butter
1 c oats, uncooked
½ c pecans or almonds, chopped
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 egg
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest, finely chopped

"I Told You I'd Be Back Eventually" Cheesecake, or, Double-Chocolate Layer Cheesecake

Well, I’m back from my wee break. And though the break was awesome, I’m excited to be back and have so much to say!

Taking two weeks off after posting every day for a month was a much-needed break. Even though December’s Holiday Almanac posts were short, they were still time-consuming to do every single day and it was great to have some time off on hols in Austria and then here in Edinburgh, cooking all the things that I’ve been wanting to make that DON’T have a place in the box… things like Broccoli with Oyster Sauce, Smoky Bean and Kale Soup, Sriracha Mac and Cheese, Baked Coconut Milk Chicken and a Galette des Rois for Epiphany.

It’s been a lot of fun, but I’m excited to get back into the swing of things and I’ve been easing myself into it cooking a few recipes over the last week when the mood struck.

And to celebrate my return, what better way to start 2016 than with the FINAL Cheesecake recipe of The Recipe Box?

You may have noticed that (for the first time since starting this blog!) I skipped making a cheesecake in December because I figured baking a different thing each day was enough, but that still means I’ve made a total of eleven cheesecakes over the past year, and I’m proud to say I’ve learned a thing or two in the process.

  • First of all: don’t discount an easy recipe! The easiest cheesecake I made over the past year was my favourite, and it didn’t even require a spring form pan!
  • In the absence of graham crackers and zwieback, my preferred crust is rich tea biscuits—not digestives, which are too grainy and disruptive. But if you’re up for something a little more exciting, grinding up a heap of chocolate bourbon cream biscuits in the food processor and adding just a wee drizzle of melted butter makes for a decadent and delicious chocolate crust.
  • I prefer cream cheese based cheesecakes, none of this ricotta and pot cheese and sour cream nonsense.
  • The more eggs in a cheesecake, the more of a pain it’s going to be to make… and the more dishes it’s going to dirty when you try to.
  • ‘Layered’ cheesecakes are so much harder than they look and I still haven’t made one that looks as pretty as the pictures always do.
  • Last (and perhaps most importantly), no one in your taste-testing audience is going to care if your cheesecake has a crack in it, or if your layers are slightly less… layered than the photos of cheesecakes they’ve seen on menus and Pinterest. Making cheesecakes is a learned skill, and every recipe is different. They’re temperamental and prone to drastically different results from miniscule changes (were your eggs actually room temperature? Did you open the oven? Did your mixer get too full to really blend the milk all the way into the batter?), and they take more practice to get right than anything else I’ve ever baked. I’m still no expert, but the people who have tasted one (or more!) aren’t complaining about my lack of expertise. They’re just excited they got some cheesecake.

This is a bigger lesson I’ve been trying to remind myself of this year: Julia Child may have said it best when she said that cooks should never apologise for their food, and the same goes for their cheesecakes. Stand up and be proud of your cooking—and your baking—even if it ends up being a massive disaster. The worst that could happen is that you end up with an awesome story to tell.

This cheesecake, however, will not be one of those disasters. I saved it for last because, even though it just comes from a Philadelphia cream cheese ad, it involves some pretty exciting things: a crunchy chocolate crust made with chocolate sandwich cookies, a layer of plain cheesecake, a layer of deep dark bitter sweet chocolate cheesecake, marshmallow crème, and you don’t even have to bake it! (And did I mention that this recipe gives you an excuse to buy marshmallow crème?

The verdict:

5 spoons out of five. DID I MENTION THE BOURBON CREAM CRUST AND THE MARSHMALLOW CREME STIRRED INTO THE BATTER?

the recipe:

Double-Chocolate Layer Cheesecake

the directions:
crust:

Mix together crumbs and melted butter until the mixture has a sandy texture.
Press mixture into the bottom of a springform pan, and press up the sides as much as possible.

filling:

Whip the cream until light and fluffy, then set aside. 
Wipe out your mixing bowl and continue.
Sprinkle gelatin over cold water and allow to soften while you beat together the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla until very smooth.
Heat gelatin very slowly (in the microwave using 15 second bursts or over low heat on the stove) until gelatin has dissolved into the water.
Gradually add gelatin mixture to cream cheese mixture, beating well until blended.
Beat in marshmallow creme and make sure not to leave too many big marshmallow creme lumps.
Fold in whipped cream gently, just until blended.
Pour 2 cups of cream cheese mixture into a medium-sized mixing bowl and beat in melted chocolate quickly (the melted chocolate will seize as soon as it hits the cold cream cheese mixture, so try to work as fast as possible with a whisk to blend).
Pour the plain cream cheese mixture over the crust and carefully spoon over the chocolate mixture, noting that you won't be able to spread it so try to spoon it evenly.
Chill until firm (this took me overnight).

the ingredients:
the crust:

2 c chocolate wafer crumbs (I used bourbon creams, but if you're Stateside, you could use Oreos)
1/3 c butter, melted (if you're not using sandwich cookies, increase this to 1/2 c)

the filling:

1 c whipping cream, whipped
4 tsp gelatin, unflavoured
1/4 c cold water
16 oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla
7 oz marshmallow creme (for me, this was a regular-sized jar from the American grocery store in town)
1/2 c semi-sweet chocolate chips or baking chocolate, melted