Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Matt's Kitchen in D.C. - Prize Winning Cheesecake Brownies

I work as a judicial clerk at a court located in the District of Columbia. One of the judges on this court (not the judge I work for) recently held a "brownie bake-off" - an event he apparently holds traditionally as part of pre-St. Patricks day festivities. I'm not sure why brownies, exactly, but my competitive spirit and culinary ambition drove me to enter the contest. The first thing I did was to enlist the help of my trusty co-clerk, who I will call Brigitte (not her real name). We decided to each choose a brownie test recipe and make it, and then compare notes. I opted for a cheesecake brownie using marscapone cheese, while she opted for a cocoa-powder based brownie that can only be described as "ultra-chocolatey." We then brought our creations to chambers for our co-workers to sample and provide feedback. Brigitte's came out quite well - they looked attractive, and delivered a deep and not-too-sweet chocolate dose. Mine were more of a failed attempt, unfortunately - the cheese didn't really set properly and browned in an unsightly manner in the oven. The feedback we got was consistent - Brigitte's chocolate brownie was superior, but tasters really liked the cheesecake angle if I could just figure out how to execute it better. So Brigitte and I agreed that I would try to make a revised version over the weekend that combined and improved our respective versions. To boost the cheesecake, I settled on the idea of using half marscapone and half cream cheese, thinking that maybe the cream cheese would help with the consistency and add some tang. Originally I had only added half an egg yolk, but this time I would add one egg yolk plus a whole egg. Finally, I would make a quick chocolate sauce to drizzle over the top, which would add a boost of chocolate flavor and help mask any imperfections in the cheesecake layer. This second recipe was much more successful, so I have included it below.

Finally, as you may have guessed, I am happy to announce that we won 2nd prize for our efforts. There were 21 contestants, so the competition was pretty fierce. Most importantly, our brownies were swept clean before any of the other entries during the post-judging "public consumption." This is the first cooking competition I have ever entered, and while admittedly not "Iron Chef," I am exceedingly happy it went well. Hope you enjoy the recipe -

Cheesecake Brownies

For the chocolate layer:

10 tbsp. butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or dutch processed)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

For the cheesecake layer:

4 oz. marscapone cheese
4 oz. cream cheese
1 egg plus one egg yolk
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla

For the chocolate sauce:

2 oz. bittersweet chocolate
2 tbsp butter
1/8 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla
1/8 cup water

Preheat the oven to 325, and line an 8x8 pan with tin foil, leaving edges sufficient to lift the cooked brownies out later.

For the chocolate layer: Using a double boiler or a mixing bowl standing in a pan of simmering water, melt the butter gently and slowly add the sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Don't worry if it looks grainy, it will smooth out eventually. Take the mixture off the heat and let cool slightly, then add the vanilla. Stir in one egg at a time, stirring to incorporate completely, then stir in the flour. The mixture should be smooth now - put it into the lined pan and level it off if necessary.

For the cheesecake layer: Add the marscapone and the cream cheese to a mixing bowl and add the eggs, sugar and vanilla. Stir until the mixture is smooth and liquid. Pour it over the chocolate mixture.

Bake the brownie batter for around 30-35 minutes, until the cheesecake is set and a cake tester comes out with a just a small amount of batter on it from the chocolate layer. Remove from the oven and let cool. In the meantime, make the chocolate sauce:

For the chocolate sauce: Chop the chocolate and heat it with the butter in the double boiler or in a small saucepan sitting in a larger pan full of simmering water. Add the sugar and vanilla and stir. Add the water very gradually, getting it to the consistency you want - it should be pourable but slightly thick, not too watery. When the brownies have cooled, use the sauce to create designs on the top, or just splatter it Jackson Pollack-style if you want.

Finally, put the brownies in the freezer until they are cold and on the verge of freezing (don't forget about them!) , then remove them, lift out the tin foil and slice the brownies however you like. They will be much easier to slice cleanly once they have chilled down (however, they are best when served at or near room temperature).


  1. Matt, these look amazing!! So glad the contest was a success. I am absolutely going to have to try your recipe out and make a batch myself.

  2. How bad could these be? there's nothing bad in them! Dynamite!


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