cream cheese marbled brownies

Last weekend, en route to the Professional Bull Riders Showdown at Madison Square Garden, and after some beers at what, without a doubt, must be the most sordid bar in Manhattan, Jocelyn’s roommate told me that even the sound of a baby crying could immediately bring on PMS-like symptoms for her. She’s that repelled by them. I laughed, because she’s damn funny, but then it hit me: earlier this month I held a friend’s 3-month old baby, marveled at his wrist-less arms and ankle-less legs (hidden beneath rolls, you see) and sniffed his tiny baby noggin and since then, I cannot stop eating chocolate. It’s getting worse and worse. What is usually just a two to three day bout of increased chocolate cravings every, oh, 28 days or so is incessant. Unending. Borderline obsessive, minus the borderline part.

cream cheese marbled brownies

And now we’ve graduated beyond the cookies that brought us no world peace to cream cheese-swirled brownies. I try, I really do, to offset the inevitably amassed results of the fact that I am incapable of avoiding the ingestion of cocoa mass: boiled brussel sprouts, dull vegetable udon soups, miles and miles of crunchy salads as well as distances on my other tormentor, the roller-blade like hulking machine mass at the gym, but all of this just dances around the fact that in the freezer, a few marbled beauties wait impatiently for our reunion. I mean, I couldn’t bring them all work, could I?


This isn’t really a new recipe, but an adaptation of the Cooks Illustrated Classic Brownie recipe I fell hard for a months ago. That was the point, after all, to find a dreamy go-to recipe and then tweak it to my hearts cravings content, which last night, came in twists and swirls. I spilled a small amount of a cream cheese mixture between layers of the brownie batter and circled it about with the tip of a knife. Playing with my food has rarely been this much fun. I had to add 10, maybe 15 minutes to the baking time to get the center to set. It’s not the first time I’ve had a hard time getting them to cook through and while I’m not sure if my oven runs cool (likely, and no pun intended) or if the recipe needs adjusting but I am sure that nobody complains about a stickier center, especially from the freezer, two at time, sometimes before noon. So, what’s Alex’s excuse?


Cream Cheese Marbled Brownies
Adapted liberally from Cook’s Illustrated

Be sure to test for doneness before removing the brownies from the oven. If underbaked (the toothpick has batter clinging to it) the texture of the brownies will be dense and gummy. If overbaked (the toothpick comes out completely clean), the brownies will be dry and cakey.

[Note: This recipe was refreshed and updated in September 2009 — Check it out.]

For swirl
3 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon all purpose flour

For brownies
1 cup (4 ounces) pecans or walnuts, chopped medium (optional)
1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into six 1-inch pieces
2 1/4 cups (15 3/4 ounces) sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 325°F. Cut 18-inch length foil and fold lengthwise to 8-inch width. Fit foil into length of 13 by 9-inch baking dish, pushing it into corners and up sides of pan; allow excess to overhand pan edges. Cut 14-inch length foil and, if using extra-wide foil, fold lengthwise to 12-inch width; fit into width of baking pan in same manner, perpendicular to first sheet. Spray foil-lined pan with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Beat cream cheese and two tablespoons butter in medium bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually add 1/4 cup sugar and beat until well blended. Beat in egg. Mix in one tablespoon flour. Set mixture aside.

3. If using nuts, spread nuts evenly on rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven until fragrant, 5 to 8 minutes. Set aside to cool.

4. Whisk to combine flour, salt, and baking powder in medium bowl; set aside.

5. Melt chocolate and butter in large heatproof bowl set over saucepan of almost-simmering water, stirring occasionally, until smooth. (Alternatively, in microwave, heat butter and chocolate in large microwave-safe bowl on high for 45 seconds, then stir and heat for 30 seconds more. Stir again, and, if necessary, repeat in 15-second increments; do not let chocolate burn.) When chocolate mixture is completely smooth, remove bowl from saucepan and gradually whisk in sugar. Add eggs on at a time, whisking after each addition until thoroughly combined. Whisk in vanilla. Add flour mixture in three additions, folding with rubber spatula until batter is completely smooth and homogeneous.

6. Transfer half of batter to prepared pan; using spatula, spread batter into corners of pan and smooth surface. Pour cream cheese mixture over, then second half of brownie batter. Swirl the batters together decoratively with the tip of a knife. Sprinkle toasted nuts (if using) evenly over batter and bake until toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into center of brownies comes out with few moist crumbs attached, 35 to 45 minutes, watching carefully for overcooking. Cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours, then remove brownies from pan by lifting foil overhang. Cut brownies into 2-inch squares and serve. (Store leftovers in airtight container at room temperature, for up to 3 days, or, ahem, in the freezer until your resistance gets the better of you.)

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64 comments on cream cheese marbled brownies

  1. Sarah

    I found a recipe very similar to this on epicurious, except it also includes a bit of almond extract (1 teaspoon maybe??) and chocolate chips mixed into the batter.

    I LOVE love LOVE them!!! They are fantastic.

  2. noel

    yuuuuuummm….these look fabulous. i’ve recently been eating cream cheese smeared atop thick slices of the dense chocolate loaf cake in nigella lawson’s “how to be a domestic goddess.” (if anyone’s tried it & has comments, do share…) now it occurs to me that i may as well just go ahead and mix the cream cheese into the batter, doh! what kind of chocolate did you use?

  3. What glorious looking swirls of choco…Oh, we all have our crosses to bear! You do so well with this one.
    Yeah, I vote for some choco chips in the next batter.

  4. Those look awesome. Donna Hay’s Triple Choc Brownies are also TO DIE FOR. I made them at Christmas and my Mom said they were her new favourite holiday treat [trumping chocolate chip shortbread, lemon squares, and other assorted and beloved baked goods].

    Here’s the recipe:
    Triple Choc Brownies
    by Donna Hay. Makes 20 pieces [allana’s note: ha!]

    185g (6 oz) butter
    185g (6 oz) dark chocolate, chopped
    3 eggs
    1¼ cup caster sugar (superfine) [regular sugar works too]
    2/3 cup plain flour (all purpose)
    ½ cup cocoa powder
    ¾ cup roughly chopped milk chocolate
    ¾ cup roughly chopped white chocolate

    1. Preheat oven to 180’C (350’F). Grease a 23cm (9 inch) square cake tin and line base with baking paper.
    2. Place the butter and dark chocolate in a saucepan over a low heat and stir until just smooth. Allow to cool.
    3. Place eggs and sugar into a bowl and beat with electric mixer until light and creamy.
    4. Fold chocolate mixer into egg mixture.
    5. Sift in the flour, cocoa and mix to combine.
    6. Add the milk and white chocolate then pour into cake tin.
    7. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes or until set. [takes longer in my oven]
    8. Allow to cool then cut into squares.

  5. Uh-oh, babies eh?

    I crave chocolate, and sometimes the best I can do is give in, eat too much of one kind and then try to wait until I buy/make the next kind. So I will enjoy these lovely hazelnut, chocolate wafer cookies and eat too many. Then I don’t crave them as much; then I try to resist buying or making those tempting truffle-like brownies or chocolate rum torte for as long as possible:).

    Just take solace in the fact that chocolate, really truly, is good for you.

  6. that’s hysterical – my boyfriend and i went to the same show saturday night!! how awesome was it? i was riveted enough to eat an entire bag of cracker jacks! oh and the brownies just made me go from slightly peckish to ravenous!

  7. LyB

    Ok, so you’re THINKING about babies, I’m pregnant, and at the rate you’re posting about chocolate recipes, I’m NEVER getting rid of this “baby” fat I’m gaining by the second! Thank you very much! I’m still getting the ingredients for this tomorrow, to heck with baby fat!

  8. jb

    i ate a nestle’s crunch bar everyday of my second child’s pregnancy. needless to say, he is the sweetest boy in the universe. You also reminded me that all my kids smelled like melted butter when they were babies — the best smell in the world.

  9. Shelly

    Is this the same brownie you made a couple months ago, just tweaked? Can I say I just hate you, and get away with it?! LOL Naw, I don’t hate you… ;-)

  10. My favorite brownie recipe twist as of late is to make my batter as usual, and then pour half of it in the pan, cover it with a layer of Andes mints, and then top with the rest of the batter. It’s delicious (and best straight out of the oven with minimal cooling time, in my opinion), and now I’m craving them once again.

  11. Omgosh! How can a blog be so beautiful… so hilarious… and yet so evil… at the same time? Logging onto your blog compels me to the kitchen unlike anything aside from Nigella Lawson’s show. Truly, great work! Keep up the chocolate! (Oh! – a little kitchy, I know, but have you ever sunk shards of Symphony bars into your brownie batter before baking? Yum…)

    I found you through the Well Fed contest. Congrats on your (well deserved) win! I have only one question: will you pick up the tab for my online Weight Watchers subscription? :D


  12. Deb,

    Your brownies look amazing. I have been craving so much chocolate lately and I’m impressed by that, since my whole life I was able to control myself whenever necessary.

    I think you just found out what my problem is. :D

  13. Well, my number 1 source for chocolate addiction is actually induced by YOUR blog!
    Oh dear Deb, how am I going to sleep now under the constant fear of binging on chocolate while sleeping?

    PS blame you for that! :)

    – fanny

  14. Oh, you’re good – those are tiny brownies! Even to only have 2! I made walnut fudge from this month’s recipe in cook’s illustrated and attempted to cut them into small bites to reduce my intake. Nu-uh, no good. I eat them about 5 at a time, the best being a la mode over ice cream………… mmm… ice cream….

    seriously, though, these look delicious. I’ve never made or even tasted cheese swirled ones, so I should try making these. These photos are great! My favorite is the third one down

  15. Deb –
    It’s your fault for holding a baby. Don’t you know that this is how they get you? Better double, no triple up, your birth control for the next year.
    And I curse you bitterly for being able to bake anything that looks like these. Damn it. I can practically smell them…..
    Oh, how I suffer….

  16. Yvo

    I love how you cut them smaller so it’s actually not that bad! They look marvelous.

    Funny, I spend time with my sister’s baby and it increases the realization that I’m not ready for a baby, but doesn’t make me want chocolate. Though it DID, however, make this morning’s attempt at a Bravo Blender for breakfast taste disgusting (it smells like his formula, ugh).

  17. Joy

    I just made these and they’re amazing! My husband and I can’t stop eating them and he’s raved about them–begged me not to take them into work. Thanks for the recipe!

  18. Rachel

    just made these to take over to a friend’s house for dinner…. it took A LOT of work – lets just hope they like them as much as I do. I really like the salty bite – (I used kosher salt)

  19. Sara

    Oh my goodness, these are the best brownies I’ve ever had, and I’ve been through my share of brownies. ;) The stickier than normal consistency is nice I think. I’m having company for dinner tonight and we’re having these warmed with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. Ugh, I just gained 5 pounds typing that.

  20. Lacrema

    Just saw these linked from your 1/13/09 post, and had to tell you that I go over the top sometimes with the CI brownies… I used a quarter-recipe of that Spanish cheescake recipe (you could google it and it would come up, it is perfection) and swirl it in (yes, that’s one whole brick of cream cheese) PLUS mini chocolate chips, AND dollops of raspberry jam. It is sinful. But at least that way you actually do get 16 servings out of it. You actually get more. They are super rich. And my favorite thing ever. They make an insanely decadent sundae, too.

  21. Nadia

    I made these today and also had a great time with the swirling — the act of designing something so pretty was a reminder of the fun and artistry that go into baking itself. But the brownies didn’t taste all that different from any other really good brownie. I guess I’d been hoping that the cream cheese would bring an extra kick or salty dimension (never mind that the swirl doesn’t call for salt!) to the taste. In that sense, I was disappointed, but my expectations were probably misguided to begin with.

  22. Sophie

    I had the same reaction as Nadia. The batter was not as liquid-y and pour-y as a brownie batter usually is, and these came out pretty chewy- great as an average brownie, but It definitely didn’t have the cream-cheese taste I’d been expecting! I took them out 5 minutes early, but they were still dense and chewy. Relentless, a good brownie.

  23. aunt sarie

    i made these today. i swirled the batters, placed them in the oven with a sense of accomplishment, closed the door, and turned around to see my bowl of flour on the island, unincorporated into my beautifully swirled brownies. removed from oven, scraped all the batter into a bowl, mixed the flour with the batter, which also of course completely homogenized the cream cheese into the batter. it baked deliciously, still. in fact, a perfect brownie–crispy on the edges and top, chewy but not overly so on the inside, and i swear you could actually still smell the cream cheese. a big hit at my sister’s dinner party. a definite make-again. although this time, perhaps with the swirl? thanks, deb!

  24. Sam

    Hi Deb, I was wondering if the batter for these brownies is supposed to be super thick. Mine was thick and somewhat difficult to spread even. The cream cheese was difficult to swirl in because as I was trying to spread the second layer of brownie batter it combined a little. I’ve never had this difficulty making cheesecake brownies before because the batter has been a little thinner, but I know sometimes brownie batter is thick so I decided to roll with it and see how it went. The brownies are good but the cream cheese part is just a little too combined with the upper layer of brownie batter.

  25. BTW, these look really delicious and o i have the same question as above “I was wondering if the batter for these brownies is supposed to be super thick. Mine was thick and somewhat difficult to spread even” Hope you could answer that.

  26. Cheryl

    Hello! i took a look at the quantities and thought that 6 ounce chocolate seems rather little (as compared to most recipes online which ask for 6 ounces for an 8″ pan size). will these still be chocolatey/fudgy? at least, they do look chocolatey ;)

  27. Sarah

    I have a small (ok, large) obsession with coconut. I have to find the right places to use it, but I decided to put some in with the cream cheese and I think it was a fabulous idea.

  28. I love how the first listed ingredient for the brownies is nuts. I firmly believe that brownies should only have enough batter to hold the nuts together, but I guess I could make room for some cream cheese…

  29. I use the Surprise Me function when I have a slow day at work, like today, which brought me to this old post.
    So, my first comment ever will not even be about food.
    You went to see bull-riding! That is so awesome, I love watching bull-riding.

  30. sandra

    i’ve been dying to make these for days so i’ll make them tonight. would using whipped cream cheese make a difference in the swirl at all?

  31. Elizabeth E.

    I just made these and I totally messed them up. Big time. I forgot to use the cake flour (which was one the counter in front of me the whole time) and then I couldn’t figure out why the batter was so thick. After I put them in the oven I went back to the recipe to read it again, and realized that I had forgotten to put in the butter! I don’t know where my head is today!

    But the weird part is that they are still pretty good. I mean, I’m sure they don’t taste like they are supposed to, but they are not half bad. Seems that you can so quite a lot to chocolate and have it still taste good!

  32. Frances

    What would happen if I used the leftover cream cheese icing (i know, i know, but yes, i made double the icing and have some leftover) from your red velvet cake recipe as the cream cheese swirl here? total and utter disaster?

  33. I use a very similar recipe but this has a few twists.
    I will try yours this weekend and let my family decide which one’s better…:-)
    I play it fair of course and won’t tell them which mine just to avoid them sparing me.

  34. Emily

    I just finished baking your lemon bars for a “thanksgiving” get together thats going on tomorrow and they are AWESOME nom nom nom! about to put these brownies in the oven – so excited to see how they turn out!

  35. jennifer

    O M G. I made these brownies, and while they were in the oven baking, I decided to read the reviews … was kinda bummed when I saw that you had a revised version and when someone said they werent chocolatey enough… but once my fiance and I tasted them I was stoked!!! These might be the best brownies I have ever made! My fiance is a very picky eater, and he said they were the best ones he has ever had also. I used Tofutti cream cheese, whole wheat pastry flour bc I didnt have cake flour, and subbed semi-sweet baker’s chocolate for the unsweetened, and then subbed out 6T of sugar to even it out. These were fabulous. I am scared to make them again tho bc they are sooo good they are dangerous to have in the house! lol def make them, enjoy one or two… and bring the rest to work… unless you have some serious self control!

  36. Jeniece

    These are SO chocolately and amazing, I purposely left a little bit of batter behind in the bowl so I could lick it up! (am I the only one who does that?) I thought that the cream cheese mixture wouldnt be enough but it did work out great. I brought these to my bible study and they were gone before we were even half way through! Wonderful!

  37. Amy

    Is this the brownie recipe you mentioned in essay in Martha Stewart Living,October, 2012 edition? Wonder about the phrase “flecked with sea salt.” Did you just use the 1/2 tsp salt mixed in with the flour or did you sprinkle sea salt on top before baking? If it’s sea salt in the batter, will it melt or will you still get “flecks?” (Have never used it in baking). The picture in the article showed chocolate chips on top. Can’t wait to try this. Thanks for clarification

    1. deb

      Hi Amy — Actually, it was this one. And I’m slapping myself in the forehead right now because I realize it’s missing the salt ingredient. I usually use 1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt (about 2 grams) for it. When I make the brownies without cream cheese, I put the salt on top. I don’t enjoy the salt on top with a cream cheese swirl, so I just mix it in. When you buy flaked sea salt (like Malon) you can use it as it comes (tiny flakes) or crush it up in your fingers to make it more powder. If you don’t crush it, you’ll have faint flecks of salt in your final baking product. Some people adore this; for others, it turns them off, so it’s totally up to you.

  38. Julie

    I made these last night! They are fudgey and rich and delicious. However, I couldn’t get them quite as marbled and lovely looking as the ones in the picture. Any tips for swirling next time?

  39. Hina

    I have some leftover cream cheese frosting,….do you think that would pan out as a successful swirl if i added some flour and an egg? the frosting was made with creamcheese, butter, powdered sugar, vanilla and salt.

  40. Jessica

    Just made these for an event… and they turned out terribly! I kept them in for 20 mins longer than you suggested, and they still turned out undercooked in the middle. They weren’t very chocolately and the cream cheese bite wasn’t as pronounced as I had expected! first thing I’ve ever made from this blog that wasn’t perfect- such a shame!

  41. GLS

    Deb, I just love your blog! Lists of recipes that I want to make are on my fridge. I bake every other week for a lunch program at a local church which every week feeds as many as 70 people, who have very little, a good lunch and then dessert which I bake or is donated by a local bakery, or sometimes Whole Foods. Yummy! The donated goods are not always fresh baked which is why I love baking for the guests we serve. I also love letting my inner Baking Goddess out without the temptation of eating a whole batch or pan of something! (oh yes I could!) So thank you for your gems of inspiration. On this one I doubled the cream cheese mixture (I’m a cheesecake fanatic) and put it all on top before swirling it through. It turned out fantastically – chocolatey and decadent and the extra cream cheese mixture didn’t hurt a thing. Baking time was increased about 15 mins! Thank you for sharing your recipes and good advice! I will use this recipe and many of your others time and time again.

  42. Miche

    These were AWESOME. I also doubled the amount of cream cheese and sugar in the cream cheese mix and added vanilla extract to that as well. Sprinkling chocolate chips in doesn’t hurt, either.
    I was thinking of adding a little lemon to the cheesecake part…is that too weird?

  43. EL

    I had a recipe like this, but it was for chocolate cheesecake brownies. It was from a newspaper and the title was Maeda Hatter’s chocolate cheesecake brownies. It was scrumptious and I lost it. I have never been able to find it (although Maeda Hatter recipes are found everywhere online)again. So I have deprived myself because the normal cheesecake brownies are lacking after having had those. . .

  44. EL

    Never mind. I immediately found them this time. And yes, I did spell Maida Haetter’s name incorrectly. The recipe I just found makes them in two layer while I seem to remember them being swirled like these.

  45. Alexandra

    As I’m digging through the archives for tasty ideas I came across this gem, I love a chocolate cheese combination – have you made these more recently and is there enough of the cream cheese mixture to make it stand out? (Also, on an important note, Deb, I have been hoping to see a Smitten Kitchen book 2.0 come out!!!)

  46. Bess

    I had some whipped cream cheese nearing its expiration date coincide with a potluck event. I used the same mass of cream cheese (3 oz) and it worked out just fine. I also reduced the amount of sugar in the chocolate from 15.5 oz to just under 11 oz. For my taste, they were the perfect not-overly-sweet brownie. Very moist, the chocolate flavor was intense and nicely complemented by the cream cheese swirls which had its own sugar added (I used the suggested amount for the cream cheese mixture). The brownies had a wonderful moist, fudgy texture. I will make these in the future and add walnuts but did not want to do so at a group event for allergy reasons.

  47. Julia Rabkin

    Made these today. Followed the recipe closely, omitting the nuts and using all purpose flour because I didn’t have cake flour. Very moist and delicious. Excellent brownies!

  48. Michelle B

    Can’t wait to make this! I don’t have cake flour on hand, just regular unbleached flour. Is it okay to substitute and would it be the same measurements? Thank you!!

  49. Agnieszka

    Thank you for the recipe. It was very moist. I should have read the other comment because the amount of sugar should definitely be reduced. The brownies were overly sweet (even my husband who likes cakes more sweet had an issue with the sugar amount).

  50. Sabie005

    I just made this! Still cooling but I am sure it will be delicious. Just one question, my cream cheese batter browned quite a bit so much that you can barely see the difference between the two batters. How did you keep yours so white? Thanks!!