Swirled Cream Cheese Pumpkin Brownies
I spent the better part of middle school fantasizing about my life as a musical. An appropriately directed breeze would blow my hair attractively at all times, back up dancers would materialize on command, and I’d sing duet across from the hunk of the class. Our hit first single: “We go together like Swirled Cream Cheese Pumpkin Brownies.”
Maybe my mother rented us too much Rodgers and Hammerstein (by the age of six, I could march my way over to the musicals section of Blockbuster unsupervised), but to this day, songs still burst into my head at the slightest prompt. When I glanced out at our yard a few hours after we raked a small nation’s worth of leaves and saw that fresh ones had already replaced them, my reaction was to sing the Backstreet Boys: “Oh my God, we’re back again.” When telling Ben goodnight, I break into The Music Man‘s “Good Night Sweetheart,” which might be cute if I could resist attempting to imitate every member of the barbershop quartet. And when I took my first bite of these Pumpkin Swirl Brownies? “At laaaaaaaaaaaast my love has come along.”
Etta James, you speak to my chocolate and pumpkin-loving soul. I wish I could give you a Cream Cheese Pumpkin Brownie to thank you.
A fudgy brownie batter swirled together with a pumpkin cheesecake batter, then baked to perfection, this dessert duo sings in beautiful harmony. It’s the best of all Glee mashups, fused with a Beyonce/Jay-Z chart-topper, smothered in every song Danny/Sandy sing together in Grease.
What I’m trying to sing, er, say: pumpkin cheesecake and fudgy brownie are a pitch-perfect match. Every bite boasts rich chocolate flavor, light cheesecake tang, and a touch of warm spices. These pumpkin brownies are super soft and chewy, need only two bowls to make (one for the brownie batter, one for the cheesecake batter), and could easily be in your oven 20 minutes from now.
While you are certainly not obligated to bake these pumpkin brownies in a skillet (a 9-inch square baking pan will work too), desserts served in skillets fill me with inexplicable joy. I love the bit of crust the skillet adds to the brownie edge to contrast the gooey center, as well as the fact that a skillet can double as an attractive serving piece. I was feeling fancy, so I cut the pumpkin brownies into slices, but I can just as easily imagine myself (and you!) placing a skillet of hot pumkim brownies down in the center of our tables, passing out forks, and making those lucky folks seated around it very very happy.
For the encore: melty vanilla ice cream. I’ll sing for second helpings!
Swirled Cream Cheese Pumpkin Brownies
For the Brownie Batter:
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter — (1 stick)
- 1 cup lightly packed brown sugar, — light or dark
- 1/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder — plus 2 tablespoons
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder — (optional but delicious—will yield a more intense chocolate flavor)
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs — at room temperature
- 3/4 cup whole wheat flour, — white whole wheat, or regular. I used regular and didn’t notice it one bit
- 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
For the Pumpkin Cheesecake Batter:
- 4 ounces reduced fat cream cheese — at room temperature (do not use fat free)
- 1/2 cup pure pumpkin puree — (do not use pumpkin pie filling)
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice — OR all of the following: 1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, and 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 large egg — at room temperature
- Place rack in the lower third of your oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9 to 12-inch ovenproof skillet (it does not need to be cast iron, just oven safe up to 350 degrees).
- For the brownie batter: Melt the butter in medium saucepan set over medium heat. Add the brown sugar, then stir to combine. Let heat for about 30-60 additional seconds, until the mixture is beginning to bubble and a bit more of the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat, then stir in the cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, espresso powder, and vanilla. Let cool for a few minutes, until the batter feels warm but not uncomfortably hot when touched with your finger.
- Whisk in the eggs one at a time, fully incorporating between each addition and stirring until the mixture is shiny. Add the whole wheat flour, stirring until the batter is smooth once more, then stir in the chocolate chips. Set aside.
- For the pumpkin cheesecake batter: In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese and pumpkin together until smooth and no lumps remain. Beat in the granulated sugar, all purpose flour and spices until smooth and combined. Beat in the vanilla and egg.
- Spoon half of the brownie batter into the prepared skillet. Smooth the top with a spatula, then dollop 2/3 of the pumpkin cheesescake batter on top. Dollop on the remaining brownie batter to create patches, then the remaining pumpkin cheesecake batter. With a butter knife, gently swirl the layers together, being careful not to overmix. Work quickly so that the batters do not set.
- For a 10-inch skillet, bake for 35 to 45 minutes*, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with only a few wet crumbs clinging to it (do not over bake!) and the edges are set. Check the brownies at the 20 minute mark—if you feel the top is brownie too quickly, lightly tent with foil, then continue baking as directed. Let cool, then cut into wedges and enjoy.
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