Homemade cheesecake brownies are the perfect decadent treat. This fancy dessert is easy to make and has a delicious fudgy cake texture with layers of creamy swirls. Bake up a tray and enjoy with delight!
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Cheesecake brownies are a great option when you can’t decide what type of dessert to make. The recipe is a hybrid of chocolate fudge with a cheesecake layer on top. To make things even more interesting, brownies are technically classified as bar cookies because they bake in a pan and are later cut into individual pieces.
I make the brownie layer with melted chocolate bars for an intense cocoa flavor, then sprinkle with extra chips before baking. Whisk soft cream cheese with sugar and eggs to create a quick cheesecake batter to pour on top. Swirl together for a stunning yet simple, shareable dessert.
How to melt chocolate
I prefer unsweetened chocolate bars containing 100% cacao to create an intense cocoa flavor for this recipe. It’s melted with butter to create a more rich consistency. When melting chocolate, place it in a bowl over barely simmering water, called a bain-marie, for gentle heating. The bowl’s bottom does not touch the water, or the chocolate will burn and turn clumpy.
Making the brownie layer
To achieve just the right brownie texture, the selection of ingredients and how they’re incorporated are essential. There is no added sweetener in the chocolate, so I mix in granulated sugar to balance the cacao’s bitterness. Eggs create richness and help with binding and lift.
A small amount of all-purpose flour contains just enough protein (10 to 12%) to create gluten formation for structure, keeping the brownies tender but sliceable. A small amount of baking soda is used as a chemical leavening agent to help the dense brownie layer rise to prevent tough bites. The brownie batter is thick and gooey to keep the cheesecake layer floating on top.
Gently mix in the flour
Gradually fold in the flour in three additions to ensure a fudgy consistency. This process uses minimal mixing, allowing the moisture to hydrate the dry particles. Vigorous stirring will cause too much gluten to form, trapping more air, creating tall and overly cakey consistency.
Save some of the brownie batter
Reserve ½ cup of the mixture to use for making the gorgeous swirls on top of the brownie. Since the batter is very thick, mix it with 2 tablespoons of water to thin out the consistency, making it easier to design.
Baking pan preparation
The brownies bake in an 8×8-inch baking pan. This size yields thicker pieces with an optimal ratio of cheesecake-to-chocolate. To make the sticky layers easier to remove after cooling, line the pan with foil and grease with baking spray. The brownie layer is evenly spread on the bottom of the pan first to create a sturdy base.
Making the cheesecake layer
It’s important to use softened cream cheese, around 65ºF (19ºC). This temperature makes it easier to whip and prevents lumps in the mixture. I find it best to use a stand mixer to beat the ingredients together, but a handheld mixer works too.
Add room-temperature eggs to the sweetened cheese. This technique makes it easier to incorporate into a silky smooth layer. The aerated egg whites help the cake rise so that the cheese is not so dense in texture. Pour this right on top of the brownie batter in an even layer.
Decorate with a swirl design
Dollop the reserved brownie batter on top of the cheesecake layer. Add 9 scattered drops, about 1 tablespoon in size. Use the tip of a knife to drag the chocolate and cheese layers’ surface together, creating a swirl pattern. I like to make figure eights up and down the top. Add some chocolate chips on top right before baking for extra bursts of chocolate.
The baking process
The cream cheese brownies bake at a moderate oven temperature of 350-degrees to ensure even cooking with slightly chewy edges. The cheesecake layer is thinner, setting faster than the brownie beneath.
After 20 minutes, loosely cover the baking pan with foil to prevent the surface from getting too brown. Then finish baking until a toothpick inserted in the center has just a few crumbs sticking to it. Do not overbake, or the texture will become dry within minutes.
Cool thoroughly before slicing
Cool completely before slicing to allow the layers to set completely. Use the foil edges to lift it out of the pan. For clean cuts, dip a knife in hot water, wipe it off, and make your slice, then repeat the process.
Other tasty topping options
- Swirl in some creamy peanut butter or almond butter
- Add Nutella on the top for a hazelnut flavor
- Sprinkle on mini chocolate chips, or white or dark morsels
- Top with chopped nuts like walnuts, pecans, or almonds
The importance of bake time
Underbaking results in a gummy texture (toothpick inserted comes out wet). Overbaking yields cakey and dry slices (no crumbs on the toothpick). In just 5 minutes, you can see the texture drastically alter. Between 195 to 200ºF (91 to 93ºC) is about the right doneness in the center (with some crumbs sticking to the toothpick). The edges will be slightly more cakey and chewy, with a fudgy consistency.
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- 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, broken into pieces
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened to 65ºF (19ºC)
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Adjust the oven rack to the lower third position. Preheat to 350ºF (177ºC).
- Lay down two foil sheets in an 8×8-inch baking pan perpendicular to one another, with extra foil hanging over the edges. Push the foil into the pan's corners and up the sides, and smooth out the surface. Lightly grease with baking spray or vegetable oil and set aside.
- In a medium saucepan, fill about a third of it with water. Heat over low heat until barely simmering. Place a medium heatproof bowl over the top. The bottom of the bowl should not touch the water. Add the chocolate and butter to the bowl, occasionally stir until the mixture is smooth, about 5 minutes. Take the chocolate off the heat.
- Brownie Layer: Whisk in the granulated sugar until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking after each addition until combined, about 30 seconds per egg. Whisk in the vanilla extract until combined, about 10 seconds.In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the flour to the chocolate mixture in 3 additions. Gently fold with a spatula until the batter is just moistened, with flour streaks just disappearing. Do not overmix.
- In a small bowl, add ½ cup of the brownie batter and 2 tablespoons of water, whisk to combine. This process makes it easier to swirl the topping later. Set aside. Transfer the remaining batter to the prepared pan, smoothing the surface.
- Cheesecake Topping: In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, add the cream cheese and mix on high speed (setting 10) until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed, 1 minute.Add the granulated sugar and mix on medium-high speed (setting 8) until combined, about 30 seconds. Whisk in the egg and vanilla extract on medium high speed (setting 8) until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, about 30 seconds.
- Add the cheesecake topping over the brownie layer. Use a spatula to smooth the surface evenly.
- Drop several 1 tablespoon-sized spoonfuls of the reserved brownie batter on top of the cheesecake. It takes about 9 drops to create a checkered pattern. Use a knife to make shallow swirls, creating a marbled pattern throughout. Evenly sprinkle chocolate chips on top.
- Bake for 20 minutes, then loosely cover and tent the brownies with foil. It should not touch the surface. Rotate the pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached, and the center reaches between 195 to 200ºF (91 to 93ºC), about 15 to 20 minutes.
- Cool the brownies in the pan on a wire rack until they reach room temperature, about 1 ½ to 2 hours.
- Use the foil to help lift and remove the brownies from the pan. Use a knife dipped in hot water and wiped down between each slice to give clean cuts. Cut into squares, 9 large or 16 smaller pieces. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- Melt the chocolate in the microwave: Instead of using the double boiler method on the stovetop, use a medium microwave-safe bowl, heat the chocolate and butter for 1 minute on high power. Stir until the chocolate melts. If needed, heat for 30 seconds, stir to combine.
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