Claire’s Cream Cheese Brownies

by Christine Burns Rudalevige | Photographs by Dominic Perri

In Virginia Willis’s new cookbook called Lighten Up, Y’all (Ten Speed Press, March 2015), she gives credit to French-trained pastry chef Claire Perez for helping her build the recipe for these dark, rich, knock-your-socks-off chocolate brownies. Willis likes to call these “grown woman” brownies, and advises to make them for yourself and your loved ones rather than the next PTA meeting. The secret ingredients are local applesauce and buttermilk. Makes 16 (2-inch-square) brownies.

4 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese

2 tablespoons sugar

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 large eggs, at room temperature

¾ cup (115 grams) whole-wheat pastry flour

½ cup (50 grams) best-quality cocoa powder

¾ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon fine sea salt

¼ cup canola oil

6 ounces (170 grams) best-quality semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped

1 cup sugar

½ cup low-fat buttermilk

½ cup unsweetened applesauce

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325°. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine cream cheese, 2 tablespoons sugar, and vanilla, beating until creamy and smooth. Separate 1 of the eggs, reserving the white, and add the yolk to the cream cheese mixture. Beat to combine, then set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil and chocolate over medium heat; whisking until the chocolate is melted. Whisk in 1 cup sugar and stir until melted. Add buttermilk, applesauce, and vanilla. Remove from the heat. Add remaining whole egg and reserved egg white, whisking constantly until incorporated to prevent the eggs from curdling. Add flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Transfer brownie batter to prepared pan.

Using a tablespoon, drop 9 dollops of cream cheese mixture on top of the brownie batter. Draw the tip of a sharp knife or skewer through the two batters in a crisscross fashion to create a swirled effect.

Bake the brownies until the top is just firm to the touch, rotating halfway through baking, about 40 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

Coat a knife with nonstick cooking spray and cut brownies into 16 squares. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.