Sunday, 12 July 2009

Cream-cheese brownies

There are days, we all know it, when only chocolate will do.

Surprinsingly, given how much I like baking, the cocoa craving rarely strikes me. No, when I long for something sweet, it is buttery, homely desserts I am irrepressibly drawn to: a pound cake, a tray of financiers or perhaps just-made madeleines, their warm hearts deliquescing as I dunk them into a glass of cold milk.

So it was a bit of a shock last week when I felt a sudden urge to make brownies. I tend not to bother with brownies because you can buy perfectly good ones from specialty shops (my favorites are from The Natural Kitchen, in Marylebone, although Leon makes a Middle Eastern version rich in orange peel and exotic nuts that is sometimes just the ticket). The other reason why brownies aren't a regular guest at my table is that, while I enjoy the first few bites, I often find them too cloyingly sweet to eat a full portion.

If you share that particular feeling, let me introduce to THE brownie recipe you have been waiting for. It comes, as is often the case, from my baking bible, How To Be A Domestic Goddess, by Nigella Lawson. Presentable, these brownies are not, but the heart of cream cheese introduces a fresh, sour note that is the perfect counterpoint to their sweetness. You can eat these beauties at room temperature, or fridge cold, although I must warn you that the latter option somehow made my brain totally impervious to the satiety signals supposedly preventing us humans from eating ourselves into a sugar coma.

125g (4 1/2 ounces) dark chocolate
125g (4 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter
200g (7 ounces) full-fat Philadelphia cream cheese in aluminium wrapper rather than plastic container (I used just and found it enough)
75g (3 ounces)plain flour
200g (7 ounces) caster sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla-bean paste
A pinch of salt

Preheat the oven at 180 degrees. Melt the chocolate, previously broken into pieces, in the microwave at full power (in mine it took roughly 1 minute). When the squares starts to lose their consistency, add the butter, also cut in chunks, and heat for a further 30 seconds. Mix well.

In a separate mixing bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar until the mixture is pale yellow and creamy. Add the vanilla extract/paste and a pinch of salt. Now pour in the chocolate/butter batter. Finally energetically beat in the flour.

Pour HALF the mixture in a 23cm square tin (easier for cutting the brownie into squares but obviously a round tin would work fine too). Then cover that layer of batter with thin slices of cream cheese. If you got the one wrapped in aluminium --unlike me-- the process will be much easier and you will get slices rather than great big lumps spooned out of the plastic container.

Cover with the rest of the batter. Put in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. The top should look and feel dry but a knife inserted in the heart of the cake should still come out sticky. Wait for roughly 10 minutes before cutting into squares. Don't worry about messing up the first slice. It's inevitable.


  1. I THINK that if you chill the cream cheese within an inch of its life - even daring to try 30 minutes in the freezer - even that which comes from the tub plastique will slice evenly and assist you in your layering ...

  2. Dear Johnny,

    You make such a good point. The freezing would definitely make cutting out even slices easier. Thanks for the tip.

  3. My wife and I made these to take to my parents' house last weekend, and they were gratefully gobbled up. They've gone to my top five desserts list! Thank you.