I love Halloween. We always have a party, and I always go overboard with the variety and quantity of treats I make. I get nervous about whether we will have enough food, and then I get anxious about whether I’ll be able to pull everything together in time. It can be a little scary…
I also loved the pumpkin enchiladas I posted about here. I never would have expected the flavors of rich, fruity pumpkin, mild creamy goat cheese, and the deep roasty chocolate of mole sauce to go together well. But they did, and it got me thinking of other ways of combining this trio. Spurred by a statement of dessert desire by a sick friend, the project became brownies. Pumpkin cream cheese brownies: could such a thing be?
There are a million recipes for brownies, but I went with Dave Lebovitz’s Cheesecake Brownies, which turned out to be a really good idea. Though I was at first thrown off by and nervous about the complete lack of leavening products, I fought back my temptation to add some baking powder and mixed the ingredients exactly as written. It was the right choice.
Rather than simply swirling the cream cheese dollops with the thick, shiny chocolate batter, I also added about a cup of pumpkin puree mixed with a teaspoon or two of pumpkin pie spice. I swirled. I swirled and swirled and swirled, and still no chocolate came to the surface. I scooped and plopped and swirled some more, and finally a few rich brown slivers came to the surface. It was kind of a monster. But keeping in mind that at its Latin roots, a “monster” bears in its etymology the idea of showing us something, I decided that was good enough, and I’d have to wait and see what it had to show me. I deposited my weighty, ugly baby into the oven for almost an hour.
Fifteen minutes or so into the cooking process, I started to smell that incredible, mouthwatering aroma of chocolate cooking. Half an hour in, a delicate curl of cheesecake inserted itself into the scented air. I couldn’t smell the pumpkin much, but suddenly there was chocolate-cheesecake-spiciness, and I wanted to pull the whole thing out and just eat the whole thing with a spoon.
I resisted, and when the collection of smells had solidified into a… well… a thing from which an inserted toothpick came out clean, I set it aside on the counter to cool. It was truly a frankensteinian creation. The brownie layer was dark and rich and barely disturbed, while the top was a delicate whipped pale orange that cut like a harvest-flavored mousse.
The taste was so good. The brownie was dark and rich; it was definitely of the fudgy brownie ilk rather than the cakey, flakey brownie. The pumpkin and the cream cheese read like a pumpkin cheesecake, with all the creamy smoothness of a cheesecake and all the spongy custard-y quality of pumpkin pie. They were delicious together, just as the same flavors – with considerably less sweetness – melded in my pumpkin enchiladas.
While the flavor was great, it did read more like a layered dessert than a brownie. I think this is because I used the full amount of cream cheese mix Dave Lebovitz calls for PLUS a cup of pumpkin puree. There was just too much goodness to swirl evenly. My proposed solution to this is to layer half the chocolate, then dollop on the cream cheese and pumpkin, then top it with the other half of the chocolate batter before mixing. It seems it will be easier to swirl together the much denser, thicker chocolate with the delicate creaminess of the additional flavors if the chocolate is divided up.
This was truly a Frankenstein creation, but it was certainly not a monster, except perhaps in the sense that it demonstrated deliciousness. It will make its debut at our Halloween party this year, swirled and sliced and dressed to impress, in orange and “black.” Its trio of components all vying to be the star means I won’t have to make as many kinds of treats, because here’s the trick: this is a three-in-one.
See, trick-or-treat’s not so scary…