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Friday, January 3, 2014

January ABC Challenge: Mole-spiced Brownies with Lime Cheesecake Swirl

To be honest, I approached this month's challenge with reservation.  Once upon a time, I was the type of person  who, if the dessert menu included Death By Chocolate, I was all over it.  The richer, more decadent a dessert was, especially if it included chocolate, the better.  But at some point several years ago, chocolate started to lose its appeal (gasp!), and rich foods of any kind quickly followed suit.  Besides that, the whole chocolate-and-cheesecake thing has been done a million times.  I had to find a twist or it wasn't going to happen.

A friend recently made a sweet bread with chocolate and spiced with chili and cinnamon.  I decided to go the same route with these brownies.  Interestingly, when one doesn't have a stake in the outcome, it really opens the doors to adventure!  Once underway, I decided to go even further and add the sweet spices from traditional mole along with some tangy lime, in keeping with the Mexican flavor.  (Okay, so Chinese 5-spice isn't Mexican, but it brought the anise and cloves to the party in one easy-to-use measure.)

A chopstick  really helped to break up the
thick chocolate batter and get it swirled in.
The directions call for cooking the butter and sugar "until the mixture is smooth and shiny."  Well, it was getting pretty thick after several minutes, but it still wasn't smooth.  I took it off the heat anyway.  As it cooled, it got even thicker.  (I wonder if this affected the final texture.)  Consequently, it was something of a challenge getting it swirled into the creamy cheesecake batter.

As it turns out, these brownies were a disappointment.  For one, they confirmed a growing suspicion...  I don't like cinnamon and chocolate!  I don't know why not.  They were also extremely rich, as I knew they would be.  I think the addition of chocolate chips was overkill.  They are already so intense, even with reduced sugar, and chocolate tends to steal the show anyway, no matter what.  I would have preferred a ratio of cheesecake to chocolate of about 3:1; the recipe is closer to 1:2.

Lastly, though  many people complained that they needed much longer to cook, mine were overdone in just 35 minutes.  I had halved the recipe and used an 8x8" pan, which is larger than half of a 9x13"  pan, so I should have started checking them after 25 minutes.  They didn't burn, but were a little on the gummy side, and the cheesecake had large air pockets throughout, as if there were too much egg  or something.  (Perhaps it was the flour...  Why is there flour in the cheesecake anyway?  And did I forget to cut the flour quantity in half??)

Besides the added flavors, I reduced the sugar, increased the salt, reduced the vanilla, and omitted the chocolate chips.  Here are the ingredients I worked with for a half recipe quantity, with my changes noted:

Chocolate batter
1/2 cup unsalted butter
*3/4 cup sugar (reduced from 1 1/8 c)
5/8 cup baking cocoa
*1 teaspoon salt (increased from 1/2 t)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
*1 1/4 teaspoon ground red chili (likely New Mexico hatch)
*1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice
*1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips

Cream cheese batter
8-ounce package cream cheese
3/8 cup sugar
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
*1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (reduced from 1 t)
1/8 cup heavy cream
1 large egg
*zest and juice of one lime

Conclusion:  This type of item doesn't appeal to me, so I would not make it again.  The flavor combination I used was interesting; I really liked the little bit of heat from the chili, and the tangy lime was a nice contrast against the richness of the brownie.  I will definitely use the chocolate/chili/lime combination again.

Recipe:  Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies via King Arthur Flour


  1. I'm so sorry you weren't happy with these. All of your changes sound so interesting. Pretty pictures!

    1. Thanks, Karen. And while I didn't care for the brownies, I really enjoyed the flavor experiment, so it was all worth it. :)

  2. I think I might have enjoyed your brownies with all of the lovely spices you added to them but I, too, would have preferred a higher ratio of cheesecake to brownie. I'm sorry they weren't a hit for you even with the changes. They do look great though!

    1. Thanks, Zosia. It was fun playing with the flavors.

  3. Hello I' sorry to hear that you didn't like the chocolate cheesecake brownies, they look good!

    1. Thanks, Maggie! I'm sure my co-workers will enjoy them.

  4. They look really pretty. The swirl is perfect! Very bold of you to try those spices. It sounds yummy (I love anise but never tried it with Choc). Too bad you didn't like them. At least they won't have to be trashed :-)

    1. Hi Hanaa. I'm not sure I've ever had anise in chocolate either. I kept trying to figure out if I could detect it, but I can't say I did. Only the cinnamon was truly noticeable, at least to me.

  5. Love the addition of spices. I share your reservations about making and eating rich calories laden food. Can you believe it, they are still lying in my fridge!!

    1. Ha! Sunita, mine sat in the refrigerator over the weekend, and then I took them to work on Monday. Only two were left at the end of the day, and I still have them.

  6. If you're not into rich, sweet things anymore I can understand these weren't your cup of tea. Never knew it was possible that chocolate could loose its appeal, still waiting for that day :)

    1. Strange, I know. Perhaps I just overdosed in my younger days.

  7. I stumbled over "smooth and shiny" while cooking the butter/sugar mixture, too, because it seemed that it was shiny to begin with, and didn't really get smooth. I love Mexican Hot Chocolate, so the added spiciness would have appealed to me (not to my husband, though). For me it is still the more chocolate the better, but these brownies are really very rich, you can only eat a very small piece at a time.