Just after picking up Sky-Girl from her first day in daycare, she snuggled in close while I sat on the couch paging through a King Arthur Flour catalog. It was as if I was possessed: within 15 minutes of eyeing this recipe for chocolate cream cheese brownies in its pages, tucked between ten different kinds of vanilla extracts and various muffin tin choices, Sky-Girl and I were out the door to walk to the grocery store to pick up baking cocoa, cream cheese, and cream. That was a few months ago, when she first started daycare, when my soul was crumpling as I let my youngest go. This baking, I thought as she snuggled in my arms, this will get my mind off of things, thinking of her return to daycare the next day. The shakshouka wasn’t distracting enough for me on her first day of attendance. And maybe my hormones were playing some internal monologue, easily cajoling me into a sweet baking distraction, the fragrance of chocolate like a dose of Ativan to calm my nerves.
As I mixed and washed up my chocolatey mixing bowls, Sky-Girl fell asleep in the sling cradled next to me, the chocolate odor lulling her there, that rill of sleep, warm next to me. This was our together time again, trying to squeeze in just a little more. And calming for me, perhaps the anxiolytic being more Sky-Girl than the chocolate. And being calm doesn’t mean being lazy. It’s being relaxed, soaking in surroundings while still getting things done. Basically, it’s not lazy to not take any photos of the baking process. Or to swirl.
I didn’t swirl the chocolate batter and cream cheese as one would expect in a recipe like this. I disrupted the consistency of the batter with walnut pieces (I can’t not resist adding nuts to brownies) and unapologetically don’t care about what these brownies are expected to look like. I was on a mission to bake and mire myself in creamy chocolate if not for a mere comforting 40 minutes. Bonus when the kids didn’t whine during dessert while I ate the brownies. (Yes, I did actually wait for them to come home and finish dinner before I took any bites. What a nice mommy.)
It’s never easy being a working mother, in or out of the home, even after a few months of adjustment. Chocolate may just make it a little more tolerable for me.
One year ago: butterscotch cashew bars (another way to mire one’s self in sugar)
Two years ago: rooibos chai
Three years ago: rosemary focaccia
- BROWNIE BATTER: 1 cup (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter
- 2¼ cups (15¾ ounces) sugar
- 1¼ cups (3¾ ounces) baking cocoa
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
- i tablespoon (yes, TABLEspoon) vanilla extract
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup (4¼ ounces) all-purpose flour
- 2 cups (12 ounces) bittersweet chocolate chips, or chopped chocolate
- CREAM CHEESE BATTER: 1 pound cream cheese, room temperature
- ¾ cup (5¼ ounces) sugar
- ⅓ cup (1½ ounces) flour
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 2 teaspoons water
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 2 large eggs
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter a 9 x 13-inch pan. I also lined mine with parchment.
- TO MAKE THE BROWNIE BATTER: In a large saucepan, melt the butter then add the sugar. Cook at medium heat until well-combined and mixture looks shiny.
- Remove from heat and add in cocoa, salt, baking powder, espresso powder, and vanilla extract. Cool slightly, then whisk in eggs. Whisk in flour until smooth.
- TO MAKE THE CREAM CHEESE BATTER: Beat the cream cheese until smooth (an electric mixer or heavy-handed wooden spoon work equally well).
- Mix in the sugar and flour, then the cornstarch slurry, vanilla extract, cream, and eggs.
- Fold in the chocolate chips into the brownie batter. Spoon about half of the mixture into the prepared pan, then top with three-fourths of the cream cheese batter. Plop remaining brownie batter on top, then finish with remaining cream cheese batter, swirling the two together, if you desire.*
- Bake brownies for 35 to 45 minutes. (I baked in a metal pan and it took 45 minutes.) When done, a toothpick inserted in the center should come out almost clean and edges should be set.
- Cool completely before cutting and serving. I think these taste better on the second day. Yield is 24 brownies, in 2-inch squares. Since these are rich, I prefer cutting them even smaller. They also freeze well for 3-4 months if tightly wrapped in foil, then plastic. Thaw them wrapped in the fridge.