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How I tart up brownies

Updated on November 20, 2011

Prologue

Learning you could swirl cream cheese into brownie mix was a revelation. I remember the day my mom and I tried it (partly because it was also the day news broke about Natalie Wood's drowning). It turned out just as good as the version I tried in bible study.

I do much more baking and cooking from scratch than my mom did (she was from the convenience food generation), but I'm hardly averse to mixes -- my name on Twitter is Seabisquick, and not just for the pun. In fact, the brownie mix I purchase most often (Ghiradelli's at Costco) barely needs amending. It's rich and far from sugar-cake bland. That said, I still try.

First and best

The best way for me is to add up to 1/3 cup cinnamon to the mix (the recipe for one batch made in an 8x8 pan). Chocolate and cinnamon don't pair up often enough in my world (anyone remember Aztec chocolate ice cream from Haagen Dazs?). It's simple, festive and, as a former coworker once said, gives brownies a kick.

You got peanut butter in my ...

I've tried creamy peanut butter (1/3 cup), but I think I may need a mix of peanut butter and something else. You could hardly see the swirl, and in a swirl the visual is part of the charm. A friend from high school has recommended peanut butter and cream cheese mixed together.

I have mixed cream cheese with 1/4 cup French vanilla Kahlua, which I think had the desired effect (no, the other desired effect), although the alcohol did make the cream cheese crack. One recipe I saw on the Web added sugar and other things to the cream cheese to make it sound more like cream cheese frosting. To me that sounds as if you'd sacrifice the sweet-tart contrast. Cream cheese frosting sets off carrot cake just fine but I fear it would get lost in chocolate. But you brownie mavens may know something I don't.

A recent discovery

The Kahlua recipe book has a from-scratch recipe that adds that liqueur, but I was wary of using alcohol in a mix because I tried Kahlua in a chocolate brownie pie and it only kept the batter liquefied. So it was with trepidation that I added 1/3 cup Godiva liqueur to the batter, without reducing the other liquids (1/3 cup oil and 1/3 cup water, plus one egg).

I adored the results. The brownie was even moister, and I think glossier as well.

So what have you guys tried?

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