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

Battle of the Coffee Cakes

We’ve been on a bit of a coffee cake kick over here in the Recipe Box Project kitchen lately. Whether it’s for friends in town visiting, hosting a weekend brunch, or just for ourselves as a weekday morning treat, coffee cake is one of those things that takes a normal morning from ho-hum to spectacular… something that’s particularly important when you’re starting month four of Extremely Early Mornings thanks to a Puppy Who Sleeps All Day and Wakes Up at the Crack of Dawn.*

coffee cake #1

coffee cake #1

I’ve made three coffee cakes in the last month, but I’m gonna try to drop them on you gradually so I don’t overwhelm you with too many breakfast options at once. So here are two lovely ones to start with: The first one is an easy recipe—one bowl, no weird ingredients (unless you’re like me and realise halfway through making it that you don’t have enough milk. Facepalm.), and best of all, no fruit to prep. The crumb on this one was spectacular—dense but still fluffy, soft and pillowy but still crumbly, the perfect combination of cake and breakfast bread. But that description does nothing to prepare you for the amazing crust. You guys, the crust on this is so spectacular. I mean, you’ve got cake batter, you’ve covered it in melted butter, and then you sprinkle it with sugar and cinnamon and just enough flour to make it come together and cook it on high? It’s perfect. Crispy and spicy with just enough crunch to make you excited for that top layer, even a day after it’s made.

coffee cake #1

coffee cake #1

Coffee cake #1

Coffee cake #1

The other one involves prepping some apples (peeling and chopping very finely), but otherwise also nice and simple, one bowl, and a sticky-sweet, toasty topping bursting with apple flavour. This one looks perfect in its pan but even better popped out of it; it stands tall and fluffy and looks amazing on a cake stand served up at a brunch. Best on the first day, when the topping is still that perfect balance of crispy and sticky, but it still tastes great on day two or three.

Coffee cake #2

Coffee cake #2

Judson and I have been passing an irritatingly long-lasting summer cold back and forth for awhile, so I didn’t feel comfortable sharing these cakes with anyone, just in case… which ended up being even better because, well, more for us! Plus, what better motivation is there for getting out of bed on a morning when you’re still battling the world’s most lingering cold than the promise of a warm slice of coffee cake, a hot cup of coffee, and a sunshine-filled Scotland day? Also, they freeze beautifully, so make one of each and pop half in the freezer for your next busy week.

*This time of year, the sun literally rises in Edinburgh around 4:30am, so when I say crack of dawn, I mean MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT.

Coffee Cake #2

Coffee Cake #2

Coffee Cake #2

Coffee Cake #2

The verdict:
COffee Cake 1: Quick & easy plush coffee cake

5 spoons out of five. This is an amazing breakfast treat, and probably you should make it to help get you through this week. Seriously, make this coffee cake ASAP. I opted to leave mine in the cake pan for a more rustic (read: lazy) approach, but you could just as easily line the pan with paper and remove it to serve on a platter. Or make it as cupcakes. Or bake it in a springform pan so you can just remove the ring and serve!

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coffee cake 2: Sticky-Toasty apple coffee Cake

4 spoons out of five. This cake is great, but it's slightly more work than the first one (due to the apples) and its much better on day 1 than day 2, so I subtracted a spoon for both of those.

one year ago: White cake with creamy chocolate frosting
Two years ago: Mandarin Barbecue chicken

The recipe:

Quick & Easy Plush Coffee Cake

the directions:

Preheat oven to 200C/400F and grease a 9-inch cake pan.
Sift 2 c flour once, then measure.
Add baking powder, salt, and ½ c sugar, then sift again.
Cut in 6 tbsp butter.
Beat egg and milk together, then add to flour mixture, stirring until blended.
Turn into prepared pan and spread evenly (mixture will be thick).
Melt remaining 1 ½ tbsp butter and brush over batter in pan.
Mix together remaining 4 tbsp sugar, 1 tbsp flour, and cinnamon (and cardamom, if using).
Bake 15-20 minutes until pick inserted in middle comes out clean.

the ingredients:

2 c + 1 tbsp flour
2 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
½ c + 4 tbsp sugar, divided
7 ½ tbsp butter, divided
1 egg, beaten well
½ c milk
½ tsp cinnamon
Optional: ¼ tsp ground cardamom

The recipe:

Sticky-Toasty Apple Coffee Cake

The directions:

Grease a springform or 8x10 square pan. 
Preheat oven to 175C/350F.
Sift together flour, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt & baking powder.
Cut shortening into dry ingredients until it looks like cornmeal
Add eggs & milk then stir until smooth.
Pour into prepared pan and cover with apples.
Sprinkle with brown sugar (up to 1/3 c depending on tartness of your apples and your taste).
Bake 20-30 minutes until well-brown on top and a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.

the ingredients:

2 c flour
3/4 c sugar
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 c shortening or Stork
3 eggs
1 c milk
1 c apples, peeled & chopped finely
1/4 to 1/3 c brown sugar (to taste)

Italian Walnut Cake

Here’s a fun fact you can remind yourself next time you think I’m cool: my first job was at the local public library and I loved it. All I did was shelve books for 10 hours a week (at $5.93/hour), but I worked with the coolest group of people and I loved the hell out of that job. Anyway, one day I was complaining to the youngest person on the full-time staff (and possibly the coolest person I’ve ever known) about not knowing what to write a paper for my AP European History about, and she said ‘duh, Eurovision.’

Knowing nothing about this, I asked her if that was a TV channel and was duly educated: Eurovision is a song contest that happens every year in Europe where each country sends their best act to sing against all the other countries to win… I’m pretty sure they just win bragging rights and maybe the right to hold the next Eurovision in their own country? I can’t remember if I ended up writing the paper on Eurovision- in a world without Youtube, finding performances to watch stateside was a drag, but I couldn’t stop reading about it; I was hooked.

If you’re not familiar, there’s a whole sea of weird nuances to Eurovision that I don’t think a transplant to this continent can ever really grasp, but it’s like a game of Risk trying to figure out who will vote for who; each country gets points to allocate to each act but they all vote based on politics and past events, not actual merit, so the whole thing is a bit of a joke. France always takes it super seriously, but most other countries play up the camp value and know the whole thing is a bit of a joke. I always feel bad for the countries you know are going to lose (coughRussiacough) just because no one likes them, and there’s all these rules about not including anything political in your songs- but last year the Ukraine sneaked in a pretty political song and still won, so this year they hosted and it was awesome.

Judson and I planned a night in around Eurovision on Saturday night: a cheese & charcuterie plate with representation from as many countries as we could think of, cocktails from Italy and Russia, printed ballots to allocate our own points to, fully-charged phones to live-tweet as needed. It was a blast- we stayed up until the wee hours screaming at the TV when the points weren't going in our favour, snacking on all kinds of treats and snuggling with the dog when things were boring. Moldova should have won but they were totally robbed, but it was still a blast and I'm already counting down the weeks until Eurovision 2018 in Portugal.

We may have overindulged on the Moscow Mules a bit, though- this morning was a little rough so I was glad I thought ahead and prepped this Italian Walnut Cake for us to munch on this morning with our (very hot, very black) coffee. A little hair of the dog and all that. I know I'm always over here promoting the idea of cake-for-breakfast, and while I don't regret it, I also don't want it to be assumed that all I eat is cake. However, I really don't know what else you'd do with this cake. It's not sweet enough to be really desirable as a dessert, and it's too hearty to be served after a meal. Rum notwithstanding, the rest of the ingredients are basically the same as what you'd put into a breakfast bread, so I stand by having it for breakfast- especially on the morning after a celebration of all things European like we had this weekend.

The verdict:

3 spoons out of five. It kicked our hangovers in the teeth and had us feeling better by lunchtime, but it was a bit dry and falls into that 'not-sweet-enough-for-dessert-but-sweet-enough-that-I-feel-guilty-eating-it-for-breakfast' category. It's definitely an old-fashioned type of cake, the sort of thing that would probably be great to make next time you have family coming to visit.

One year ago: Fried Chicken & German Potato Salad
two years ago: Oatmeal Toffee Lace Cookies (still a favourite in the RBP kitchen!) 

the recipe:

Italian Walnut Cake

the directions:

Grease a 9-inch round layer cake pan with 1 tbsp (14 g) of the butter.
Place oven rack in the bottom half of the oven and preheat to 175C/350F.
Chop walnuts very fine but do not reduce to a paste, then set aside.
Sift together flour & baking powder, then set aside.
Beat remaining butter and sugar.
Add egg, rum and lemon zest to sugar mixture and beat until blended.
Stir in the walnuts, a little at a time, mixing well after each addition.
Gradually stir in the flour mixture, mixing thoroughly.
Turn into prepared pan, leveling the top with a spatula.
Bake until a wooden pick inserted in the centre comes out clean and cake is well-browned, about 35-40 minutes.
Place on a wire rack in the pan for 10 minutes before loosening edges and turning out, then allow to cool completely right side up.
Store overnight in a tightly sealed airtight container to allow the flavours to come together completely before serving.

the ingredients:

½ c (113 g) butter, softened
8 oz walnuts
1 c flour, sifted
1 ½ tsp baking powder
2/3 c sugar
1 egg
2 tbsp rum
1 tbsp lemon zest