I get as excited about Halloween as I do about organized sports: indifferent at best. Whether this comes from being childless, squeamish, or just a total killjoy, I don’t know. But you’re as likely to see a recipe for finger/eyeball/spider-shaped treats on this site as you are baseball-decorated sugar cookies.
You’re also about as likely to spot me dressed up as a sexy cat/witch/vampire as you are to see me seated in a sports bar swilling beer and shouting at a flat-screen. (Well, maybe the beer part would be ok…)
But come October, pumpkin desserts are something I DO get excited about. I reckoned that swirling pumpkin cheesecake into bourbon-spiked brownie batter would give me a relatively quick fix, so I based a recipe off of the Gluten-Free Espresso Cheesecake Brownies I adapted from David Lebovitz last spring.
I wanted plenty of cheesecake here, as I knew that too much deep chocolate brownie would overwhelm the more delicate flavors of pumpkin and spice, so I increased the amount, and adapted the cheesecake recipe from my favorite one. Easy peasy.
Or so I thought. For my first trial, I managed to over-beat the cheesecake until it was thin and watery. Then I let my brownie batter get cold and thick. The watery cheesecake and sludgy chocolate goo were impossible to swirl together, so the brownies baked up tasty, yet cosmetically challenged.
For trial 2, I made the cheesecake batter first (careful to only beat it smooth) and refrigerated it while I made my brownie batter, which I kept warm with hot butter and chocolate, and room temperature eggs. I added extra bourbon for more boozy bite and liquidity, and swirled away.
These brownies baked up tall and handsome, with elegant, tiger-stripey swirls throughout–almost too pretty to eat.
When you bite into one, the spiced pumpkin cheesecake hits you first–rich, tangy, and reminiscing of pumpkin pies and childhood Thanksgivings. Then the chocolate emerges in the form of chewy, gooey brownie. The sweetness of both is tamed by bitter chocolate, tart bourbon, tangy cream cheese and salty, er, salt. The occasional chunk of chocolate gives you something to sink your teeth into.
Whatever October festivities float your boat, bring along a batch of these brownies to enjoy with your creepy cocktails or sporty suds. Your pals will thank you.
To warm your cream cheese in a hurry, cut it into small cubes, place them in a metal bowl in a single layer, and place the bowl on a dish towel on top of the oven while it preheats, rotating the bowl occasionally. I used Scharffen Berger 70% bittersweet chocolate for the batter, with Guittard 60% chunks folded in. These brownies have a subdued sweetness that I find just right.
Sweet rice flour is naturally stickier than the regular stuff, and fantastic for gluten-free baking. Look for Mochiko brand in the bulk or gluten-free section of well-stocked grocers. If you only have regular rice flour, try adding 1/4 teaspoon of xanthan gum along with the dry ingredients. If gluten isn’t an issue for you, you can use all-purpose flour in place of the rice and tapioca flours.
For the cleanest cuts, chill the baked and cooled brownies until firm, about 2 hours, then dip a large chef’s knife in hot water and wipe it clean between each cut. All ounce measurements here are by weight.
Makes 16 small but rich brownies
Pumpkin Cheesecake Swirl:
8 ounces (about 1 cup) pumpkin or winter squash puree
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
6 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Bourbon Brownie Batter:
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (1 scant cup) (see headnote)
2/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons Bourbon (such as Bulleit)
1/2 cup (2 3/4 ounces) sweet white rice flour
1 tablespoon tapioca flour (also called “starch”)
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (dutch-processed or natural)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (2 3/4 ounces/80g) chopped chocolate or chocolate chips
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350ºF. Line an 8×8 or 9×9″ square baking pan on all sides with parchment paper or heavy-duty aluminum foil, leaving a 2″ overhang.
Make the cheesecake:
To extract excess moisture from the pumpkin, spread the puree in a 1/4″ thick layer on a triple layer of paper towels, then stack 3 more paper towels on top, and press down gently. Let the pumpkin drain while you begin mixing the cheesecake batter. The paper towels will peel off easily.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese on medium-low until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the sugar and beat on medium speed until fluffy, a few minutes, scraping the bowl and paddle once or twice to make sure the mixture is completely smooth. Beat in the salt and spices until combined, then the egg and vanilla extract. Peel the paper towels off of the pumpkin puree and add it in, scraping the bowl and paddle again, until the mixture is homogenous. Place the cheesecake batter in the refrigerator while you…
Make the brownie batter:
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low, add the chocolate, and stir until just melted. Remove from the heat, and whisk in the sugar. Whisk in the eggs, vanilla and bourbon until smooth. Add the flour, cocoa and salt and whisk until smooth. Stir in the chocolate chunks.
Scrape about 3/4 of the brownie batter into the prepared pan and spread into an even layer. Gently pour the cheesecake all over the top of the batter. Dollop the remaining brownie batter over the top in 7 or 8 big blobs. Drag the tip of a paring knife through the batters back and forth a few times in both directions to swirl. (But don’t over-swirl–you want the mixtures to stay separate.)
Bake the brownies until puffed all over, about 40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. Let the brownies cool completely in the pan, then use the parchment handles to lift the mega brownie out. (Optionally, chill the brownies until cold for the cleanest cuts, about 2 hours). Use a large chef’s knife dipped in hot water and wiped clean between each cut to trim away the outer 1/4″ (if you like), then cut the brownies into 16 squares.
Store the brownies in the fridge; they are best within the first 2 days of being baked, but will keep for up to 5.