When it comes to desserts (in my world, at least), more is more. Especially when it comes to Galentine’s and Valentine’s desserts–I want indulgence and richness in every bite. These brownies? All of that and more. I might have had three while watching all the romantic comedies for Galentine’s Day with my gal pals. You might be thinking: Aren’t you tired of brownies after baking six different brownie recipes for your last bake-off? Nope. Now that I understand the science of brownies, I was excited to take my learnings and wrap them into my own recipe. Plus, there’s no better time than the season of love to indulge in as much chocolate as possible. With all that in mind, I set out to create the ultimate brownie recipe. Let me specify: Salted Caramel Cheesecake Brownies.
When I tested all those brownie recipes last week, I realized (in the middle of my thousandth bite) that adding a slightly tangy ingredient would balance out these brownies’ fudgy sweetness beautifully. A rich cheesecake with a salty bite was just the thing. (I know, tough decision.) So here’s how this went down.
The Brownie Layer:
After testing so many brownies, I discovered that my ideal chocolatey square is chewy with a little fudginess. I like the bite and chew from the edge pieces. The two recipes from my bake-off that had the brownies rest in the fridge after baking were also the ones with the most chew. And because these are more like brownie bars, I wanted them to hold up their shape when cut. So these brownies are chewy and dense, kind of like fudge. To really bring out the chocolatey flavor, I use both a little espresso powder and malted milk powder. While the malt powder is completely optional, after trying it in Claire Saffitz’s recipe, I don’t know if I can make brownies without it again.
A quick tip: Don’t overbake your brownies! The longer you bake them the more you run the risk of getting dry and cakey brownies. I like to start testing my brownies at about the 25-minute mark. Then I pull them out of the oven just before they’re completely done. They will continue to bake in the tray out of the oven, ensuring a nice fudgy consistency.
The Cheesecake Layer:
I love cheesecake. It’s sweet and tangy and rich and all that’s good in the world. To keep things simple here, I wanted the cheesecake topping to come after baking. I also wanted it to set in the fridge once the brownies were done to avoid an overbaked texture. No-bake cheesecakes are all the rage, but I don’t love how so many versions use condensed milk or other additives. In doing research and remembering how I had this recipe set in the fridge, I went with the whipped cream method.
Whipping the cream and folding in the softened cream cheese yields a thick and creamy topping that, when chilled, is the perfect topping to these brownies. Make sure to allow this layer to completely set in the fridge if you want those nice clean lines when cut. If you don’t care about that, just grab a fork and go to town.
The Salted Caramel Layer:
I’ll admit, making caramel used to scare me. But once I discovered this method for homemade caramel from Broma Bakery, I realized how easy it can be. I follow Sarah’s recipe and then add A TON of flakey salt, both in the caramel and then on top. I prefer to pour the caramel over the cheesecake layer for the layered look, but you can also swirl it into the cheesecake if you prefer. You can also store the leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for any caramel needs.
Other Flavor Varieties:
If you’re not into salted caramel there are some other delicious options you could try.
Ultimate Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies Add melted chocolate and/or cocoa powder to the cheesecake filling and stir to combine. Use a chocolate fudge sauce instead of salted caramel for the topping.
Fruit-Filled Cheesecake Brownies Use your favorite raspberry or other red berry jams and swirl into the cheesecake layer. Top with fresh mint and berries for an elevated, but equally delicious dessert.
Peanut Butter Cheesecake Brownies To get really indulgent, add a little peanut butter to the cheesecake filling. Top with peanut butter cups or drizzle with melted peanut butter chocolate shavings.
If you’re still looking for a last-minute dessert for your valentine, here are some other options I love:
Another salted caramel option: Easy Salted Caramel Pots de Creme
For the chocolate lovers: Gluten Free Olive Oil Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Preserves
And for your friends who like to keep things low-key, grab some fruit and roast it in the oven or on the grill. Serve with ice cream like this. Enjoy!
1 hour + Overnight Set Time minutes
for the brownies:
- 3 tbsp (20g) cocoa powder
- 3 tbsp very hot water
- 3/4 cup (150g) chopped dark chocolate
- 8 tbsp butter
- 1/3 cup (70g) granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup (105g) dark brown sugar
- 2 eggs, room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 3/4 cup (100g) all purpose flour
- 2 tsp malt milk powder (optional)
- 3/4 tsp espresso powder
- 1 tsp salt
for the cheesecake layer:
- 8oz cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1/3 cup powdered sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 tbsp salted caramel sauce
- 1/2 cup of salted caramel sauce for topping (I prefer storebought for ease, but I use this recipe for homemade)
- flakey sea salt to top
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and position oven rack to the middle shelf.
- In a large mixing bowl, add the cocoa powder and hot water. The hot water will help bloom the flavor of the cocoa. Stir with a spatula into a smooth chocolate paste, pressing out any cocoa powder lumps.
- In a medium microwave safe bowl, add the butter and chopped chocolate. Microwave in 15-20 second increments, stirring between until the butter and chocolate have melted. Add the melted butter and chocolate to the large bowl with the cocoa powder paste. Stir to combine with a spatula until smooth and glossy. The texture will look like a very thin chocolate ganache. Let the chocolate mixture cool slightly.
- Add the sugars, eggs, and vanilla to the bowl with the chocolate. Stir to combine. The mixture will start off very grainy, but keep stirring until it becomes very smooth and thick.
- Add the flour, malt milk powder, espresso powder, and salt. Mix the batter with a spatula, folding in the dry ingredients, until combined. The batter will be thick and fudgy when done.
- Double line an 8x8 in oven pan with parchment paper, with overhangs in both directions. This will help with removing the brownies from the pan. Pour the batter into the lined pan.
- Bake in oven for about 25-28 minutes. Begin to check for doneness at 25 minutes. It's okay if a little chocolate comes off on a toothpick. You don't want to over bake, and for fudgy brownies, removing a little earlier is better.
- Let cool at room temperature for at least and hour, then place in fridge to finish completely cooling, at least another hour.
- While the brownies cool in the fridge, make the cheesecake topping. In a large bowl, add the softened cream cheese and beat until smooth with a spatula. Add 1 tbsp of salted caramel sauce and incorporate it into the cream cheese.
- Add the heavy whipping cream to the bowl of a stand mixer, whip on medium-high until stiff peaks form.
- Add the powdered sugar and vanilla. Whip until just combined.
- Add 1/3 of the whipped cream to the cream cheese, and fold in until combine. Add the other 2/3 of the whipped cream to the cream cheese and fold until smooth and fluffy.
- To top the brownies, spread the cheesecake filling over the top and smooth over with an offset spatula. Place back in the fridge to let the topping set. *If you want completely clean edged brownies, let the cheesecake topping set overnight in the fridge, or in the freezer for at least an hour.
- To serve, top with additional salted caramel and flakey salt. Slice and enjoy!
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