The “umm” in the title refers to the fact that I don’t believe there is a ‘best’ of anything, especially when it comes to food, but it’s a term that’s used quite often in many situations to spark people’s curiosity enough to take a look at and maybe try. The word ‘best’ is entirely subjective, so what may be the best for some, may not be the best for others. To me, these peanut butter cheesecake brownies are the best in comparison to other peanut butter cheesecake brownies I’ve tried.
My quest for perfect peanut butter cheesecake chunk brownies came about when I wanted to create something for someone I used to know who loved peanut butter, cheesecake, dark chocolate, and brownies. Well, that someone is no longer a someone in my life, so, if you want to look at it in a spiritual sense, that batch of brownies not turning out the way I had hoped was for a reason.
Brownie kismet, perhaps?
Now it was time to literally start over and give these brownies another few shots. Another few shots is actually an understatement, since it took 4 more tries before I was satisfied enough to proclaim them the perfect peanut butter cheesecake chunk swirl brownies – maybe ever.
This was my first attempt back in April. WHERE’S THE CHEESECAKE? They tasted good and were super tender and moist – but it wasn’t even close to what I was striving for.
The first attempt was back in late March-early April, the last 4 attempts were in a span of one week. I usually keep a clean work space (well, try to) when cooking and baking, but by the 4th attempt, as you can see below, I said “Fruck it!” and basked in a heavenly mess of chocolate, peanut butter, empty cartons, egg shells.. ad whaddamessitum! I was getting peanut butter in my chocolate amd chocolate in my peanut butter. I wasn’t even close to perfect peanut butter cheesecake brownies yet, much less brownies in general.
Yes, it can happen in baking, but it’s a little far-fetched when some dude is walking down the street eating peanut butter from a jar and a gorgeous woman comes flying out of nowhere and slams into him, spiking her chocolate bar into his jar of peanut butter. They fall in love, invent the peanut butter cup, and become multimillionaires – until he leaves her for the hot, young blonde in his office who turns him on to Mentos.
I even stepped on a few empty, cracked egg shells that hit the floor and ignored the smushed little white bits of *calcium, some of which stuck to my shoes – occasionally leaving a trail of little white specks for my cats to swat. I was in a zone! The world could have ended, and I would have still been melting, mixing, beating, swirling, as I disintegrated into ash.
What I wanted was an obvious cheesecake bite and texture in these brownies – heavy on the peanut butter flavor in the cheesecake batter. In a lot of cheesecake swirl brownies, the cheesecake batter kind of melts into the brownie batter, a swirl or bit here and there, along with a slightly tangy, moist bite, which isn’t a bad thing at all – BUT, I wanted a big bites of cheesecake. Think of a cheesecake with a brownie crust, but divide and swirl both together. In other words, creamy chunks of cheesecake easily distinguishable visually, texturally, and palatably throughout the moist, dense fudgy brownies.
I searched online, and was surprised to see that there weren’t many PEANUT BUTTER cheesecake swirl brownie recipes. In fact, I found just three along the lines of what I envisioned, one from Bon Appetit, which was just a layer of brownie topped with a peanut butter cheesecake-chocolate swirl…so, no. The second was from Anna at Cookie Madness, which look great, but no chunks, and the last one at Baking Blonde’s Weblog, which are topped with Reese’s peanut butter cups. BUT, as mentioned above, I wanted those cheesecake chunks and more peanut butter.
From there, I decided to just look for plain cheesecake brownies ( 1 TRILLION hits), and ended up at David Lebovitz’s Cheesecake Brownies, which was exactly what I was looking for – a good amount of thick, creamy cheesecake distributed throughout the brownies. Now the conundrum – how was I going to incorporate the peanut butter seamlessly, and what adjustments do I need to make to get that same bite and effect, with a distinct peanut butter flavor, in the cream cheese batter? This is where my journey to the last four attempts began.
I tried several different amounts of peanut butter and cream cheese, and whole eggs versus egg yolks, until I finally reached what I think is pretty close to the ultimate ‘loaded’ pan of peanut butter cheesecake brownies. One trick to get those lovely swirl/chunks of cheesecake, is to pour half the brownie batter into the bottom of the pan, then spoon several dollops of the peanut butter cheesecake batter on top. DO NOT swirl/marble them together.
Yep, you read that right, no swirling allowed in step one!
Step two..gently pour/scrape the remaining brownie batter on top of those dollops of peanut butter cheesecake goo, spreading it delicately, and top the remaining brownie batter with more dollops of the remaining cheesecake batter. NOW you can swirl away. Just the top though, although it’s OK if the first layer gets swirled a bit, just not too much, as you want those cheesecake chunks (well, I know I do.).
I brought some of my attempts, and the final brownies, to my gym.
Veering wayyy off topic for a moment;
I’m now doing my PT in this awesome, state of the art gym. Heat treatment and deep knee massages prior to getting my booty whipped, vibrating electrode ice treatments after getting my booty whipped. Top of the line work-out machines, all with digital cable TV’s and Ipods, (although the music they blast in the gym is awesome, a lot of classic rock) loads of great classes (just signed up for Pilates and Kickboxing), a driving range out back, along with one of my favorite ‘sports’ to play..ever, miniature golf.
Is mini golf considered a sport?
That said, knee massages sound great, right? Well, it’s painful while it’s happening, but in a good way. It’s what you feel the next day that isn’t good. The first three sessions, the post massage mornings were hell. They’re manipulating my knee in ways it’s never been manipulated, not to mention my quad, which needs to be built up again to support my knee, since it was pretty much atrophied for quite a while. However, the pain doesn’t last too long, and is starting to ease up, depending on which Physical Therapist massages it, so no complaints here since……
I can WALK again!
We’re talking without a brace, walker or cane! So what if I walk like Herman Munster for now, and it isn’t easy yet? I can finally freakin’ walk!! I’ll touch on that more in my next entry, along with a funny story regarding two women, one of them moi, and most men’s obsession with two women.
Back to the brownies. Everyone who tasted them, especially the final pan of brownies, said I should sell them, so I’ll take that as a good sign that maybe they could be the ‘best EVER’? On the anti ‘nothing is best ever’ side; they’re really good – if you love a sinfully rich brownie loaded with peanut butter cheesecake chunks and swirls.
If you refrigerate these brownies prior to eating them, the peanut butter cheesecake really pops. I prefer these made with milk chocolate, but as I’ve mentioned in previous entries, I usually bake with dark chocolate since it seems to be a favorite of many. I mostly bake for others, not myself – except when I crave peanut butter and chocolate in the wee morning hours.
Yes, Peanut Butter Freak, I Am.
* One of my favorite Julia Child ‘gems’ used to come after she or a guest chef cracked an egg and a piece of shell fell into whatever they were preparing – “Oh, just leave it in there for extra calcium.”
Peanut Butter Cheesecake Chunk Brownies
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 4 ounces milk chocolate, or bittersweet chocolate or semisweet chocolate, chopped
- ⅔ cup sugar
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- ½ cup flour
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 8-ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- ½ cup creamy peanut butter *
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 whole, large egg OR 1 egg yolk.. if you want a really dense cheesecake batter **
- Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8-inch square pan with foil or parchment paper, making sure it goes up all four sides. Use two sheets if necessary. Mist with non-stick spray or grease lightly.
- Stir chocolate and butter in medium saucepan over low heat until smooth; cool 10 minutes. Using electric mixer on low speed, or stir in with a wooden spoon - sugar, eggs, and vanilla into cooled chocolate mixture, until uniform. Stir together flour, cocoa and salt, then stir or beat it into the butter, chocolate, sugar, egg mixture. Spread half of this brownie batter in pan.
- In a separate bowl, beat together the cream cheese, peanut butter,whole egg or egg yolk, sugar, and vanilla until smooth. DO NOT OVER BEAT!
- Drop large spoonfuls of the peanut butter cheesecake batter across the top of the first layer of brownie batter. Do not swirl them together. Cover the peanut butter dollops with the remaining brownie batter and the remaining peanut butter cheesecake batter in dollops, then take a knife, spatula, spoon handle, or whatever you have on hand that can 'swirl' well, and swirl the TOP layer of peanut butter cheesecake batter with the brownie mixture. Lift up some of the brownie batter to insure the brownie mixture swirls in as much as possible, since it can be little heavier than the peanut butter cheesecake batter, depending on whether you use a whole egg or just the yolk. As mentioned above, it's ok if some of the first layer of both batters swirl together, just not too much.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the batter in the center of the pan feels just set, or a skewer contains a few moist brownie crumbs sticking to it (you would stick the skewer in a center chocolate area).
- Let cool, then lift the brownies up and out using the foil or parchment paper and peel it away/off. Cut the brownies into equal squares.
** The first photo of the cheesecake dollops and last photo are the brownies in which I used 1 egg yolk in the peanut butter - cream cheese batter. All other brownie photos (including the unbaked swirl photo) were made using one whole egg in the peanut butter - cream cheese batter. The whole egg produces a smoother, creamier peanut butter cheesecake texture, whereas using just the yolk produces a more dense peanut butter cheesecake texture, like NY cheesecake..as you can clearly see in the photos.