So, I have this small metal box, plus a three-ring binder covered in blue fabric, chock full of my paternal grandmother’s recipes. My cousin sent them to me a few years ago when I was desperate to recreate my grandmother’s spectacularly moist and lemon-y, lemon velvet cake (turns out her recipe was for a slightly gussied up cake-mix cake, and I was so not surprised, as I love a cake-mix cake more than almost anything).
I ended up developing my own homemade version of lemon cake yumminess, instead, but have continued to periodically rifle through her recipes looking for treats I loved as a kid, or for good old-fashioned inspiration on a semi-regular basis. The pudding recipe I developed for icebox cakes was inspired by her chocolate pudding, and I consulted her recipe for chocolate cake when developing my chocolate sheet cake. So it was that I stumbled upon her recipe for viennese brownies (brownies with an almond-flavored cream cheese swirl, for the uninitiated).
And here’s the thing: although I am by no means a cheesecake lover (hard for some to hear, I know), I adore the combo of a bit of cream cheese with a lot of chocolate — think black-bottom cupcakes/muffins (and check this out for my version, filled not with cream cheese, but with mascarpone). Yet, I had never tried my hand at cream cheese brownies. An oversight, I now realize, big time. Cream cheese brownies may not be for everyone (I had a bit of trouble selling them to the pre-teen tester with whom I live), I get that. But the combo of the tangy cheese and the rich, deeply chocolate-y brownies kind of can’t be beat.
Not to mention the fact that they are gorgeous to behold — I mean, who doesn’t love a swirl? Moreover, these babies have the most delightful almond-thing going on. My grandmother’s recipe calls for topping these treats with slivered almonds prior to baking for an additional almond-boost. I chose not to in order to showcase my pristine swirl, but if you’re crazy for almonds, go for it. Once baked and cooled, I like to refrigerate the tray (cause I love them cold), and then cut them into bite-size pieces (cause I can fool myself into thinking it’s okay to eat more than I should cause they’re just so tiny and cute).
Viennese (aka Almond Cream Cheese) Brownies
For the brownies
- 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
- 2 sticks unsalted butter
- 2 tsp espresso powder
- 1 cup minus 2 Tbsp all-purpose four
- 3 Tbsp black cocoa powder you can substitute Dutch-process cocoa powder if you don't have black
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 1 yolk
- 1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
For the almond cream cheese swirl
- 1 8 ounce package of cream cheese room temperature
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 tsp almond extract
To make the almond cream cheese swirl
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese on medium high until smooth. Add the sugar, then the egg and extract, beating on medium until fully incorporated, and scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula, as needed. Do not worry if the mixture is a bit clumpy. Set aside.
To make the brownies
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13x9x2" pan with cooking spray. Line the bottom with parchment paper and spray again. Set aside.
- Place a large heat-proof mixing bowl in a medium sauce pan with a couple of inches of water in it (ie: make a double boiler). The bottom of the mixing bowl should not touch the water. Place the chocolate, butter, and espresso powder in the mixing bowl and, over medium to medium-high heat, melt until smooth, stirring often with a whisk.
- Meanwhile, place the flour, cocoa powder, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk. Set aside.
- Once the chocolate and butter are melted, remove the bowl from your makeshift double boiler and add the sugars. Whisk well (I recommend doing this while the chocolate mixture is still hot, as the sugar melts and is incorporated beautifully). Once combined, add the eggs, yolk, and vanilla all at once and very gently incorporate the eggs/yolk into the chocolate/sugar mixture. Do not over whisk! Gently, gently, gently is the key. Finally add the dry ingredients all at once. Switch to a rubber spatula and — again — very gently fold the dry into the wet — a few streaks of dry is okay.
- Pour half of the the batter into the prepared pan. Top with spoonfuls of the cream cheese mixture. Add the rest of the brownie batter, and using a long wooden skewer, make swirly patterns all over the top of the brownies, dragging the skewer through the pockets of cream cheese and swirling it into the pockets of batter.
- Bake for 20-22 minutes, rotating the pan after 10 minutes. Begin checking the brownies with a toothpick at 18 minutes (just in case your oven is running hot). Try to stick the toothpick in a brownie section, as opposed to a cream cheese section. The toothpick should have moist-ish crumbs on it when the brownies are done. Let them come to room temperature on the counter. Tefrigerate, and then slice and serve.
- Brownies will keep tightly wrapped in the refrigerator for 3 days, but I personally freeze any and all leftovers and eat them straight from the freezer whenever I feel the need.