That I have a go-to cheesecake should surprise no one. It's this delicious and versatile Brownie Cheesecake. The batter takes only 4 ingredients, and you can mix just about any little tidbit you want in it!
I've made this cheesecake for my cheesecake-holic sister's birthday the last two years running, and several other times before that. Why? It helps me clear out the freezer. Whenever I have too many brownies for us to eat, I cut them and freeze them, just to use in cases like this. Cookies or fudge that doesn't turn out? Into cheesecake they go.
If you're wanting a customizable cheesecake that brownies, cookies, fudge, or any other kind of little goodie, this Brownie Cheesecake is the cheesecake for you!
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Make the crust
First, make a crust. I use chocolate animal crackers for a chocolate crust, but you can use regular graham crackers instead if you'd prefer. Crush them in a zipper back with a meat mallet (gently, so you don't tear the plastic) or with your fists, as my 6 year old prefers. My preference is a food processor, which makes everything very fine and uniform.
Stir in 3 tablespoons of sugar, and 5 tablespoons of melted butter. Nothing should be soggy or clumpy, but everything should slightly stick together.
Grease a 9- or 9.5-inch Springform pan, including the sides. Gently pat the crust along the bottom, and up the sides about an inch. If you pat too hard, the crust will be hard to cut through. The height doesn't have to be perfect. Bake 8-10 minutes, to help it set.
Make the filling
First, be sure your cream cheese is completely softened. If it's not, you WILL have lumps, which no one wants in a creamy cheesecake.
Use a stand mixer, hand mixer, or food processor to make your batter. No need to clean the food processor first, as long as you're ok with a few crumbs in the batter. (Which should be ok, since you're putting brownies in there anyway!) That said, I prefer the stand mixer.
Beat the cream cheese until it's creamy. Give it a long mix - 4 minutes! Scrape down the bowl, then add the sugar and the vanilla. Beat for another 4 minutes!
Scrape down the sides, then add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Beat one minute after each egg, for 4 more minutes!
Don't be tempted to skip out on all this beating. It aerates the batter and improves the texture of the cheesecake, making it very smooth and creamy.
Next you add your mix-ins! Add 2 cups of cubed brownies. Fold them in with a rubber spatula, although you can also stir with the stand mixer on low, very briefly. If your brownies are from the freezer, be sure they're thawed before adding, or the cheesecake won't bake evenly.
Scrape your batter into the crust. It's ok and normal if the batter goes above the crust. It won't stick - that's why you've greased the sides of the pan. Tap the pan on the counter several times to release air bubbles from the batter, making for a smoother cheesecake.
Bake the cheesecake
Some Springform pans leak, so place your pan on a baking sheet and bake on it to keep your oven clean.
Place the cheesecake and pan in the oven, then add water to a pan below it to create steam. (See section on Preventing Cracks below.)
Bake the cheesecake at 350F for about 45 minutes. You'll know your cheesecake is done when it's set about 3 inches from the edge, but is still slightly wobbly and damp looking in the middle. It's ok - it will continue to bake as it cools.
Some people place their cheesecake in a water bath to try to prevent cracks. I don't like doing wrapping the Springform pan in foil to prevent water from seeping into the crust, and not everyone has an oversized roasting pan that can hold a 9-inch pan.
I use steam instead. Place a metal roasting pan on the bottom rack of the oven while it preheats. Meanwhile, heat some water in a pot or teapot. When you put your cheesecake into the oven, pour the hot water into the metal pan. (Don't let it splash on you or on the oven glass!) Hotter water steams more quickly, which helps the cheesecake bake more slowly, reducing the chances that it cracks.
When your cheesecake is done, cool it in the oven with the oven door cracked open with a wooden spoon or something else heatproof that won't burn you if you touch it. Slowly releasing the heat like that helps prevent drastic temperature changes and further reduces the chances of cracking.
After about 1-2 hours, it should have cooled off enough to remove it from the oven. Let it cool on the counter for a little while. Once it's completely cool, stick it in the fridge.
Even with beating your batter thoroughly and using steam in your oven, your cheesecake may still have cracks. No problem - that's what ganache is for!
Once your cheesecake is completely cold and set, it's time to make the ganache. You can do this on the stove, or in the microwave. Remove your cheesecake from the fridge while you make the ganache, to remove the chill.
For the microwave, just heat the cream and chocolate in 15 seconds. Stir after each one, and repeat until melted and smooth. After 1 minute, switch to 10 second bursts to avoid scorching the chocolate.
On the stove, you can melt it in a heat-proof bowl over a pot of barely simmering water, or directly over very low heat. Stir until melted and smooth.
Immediately pour on the cheesecake. Let set for 15-30 minutes before serving.
Your crust can be made from any kind of cookie. I prefer chocolate animal crackers. Graham crackers are fine as well. Don't include any cream filling, though. So, if you use something like Oreos, only use the wafer part, and scrape off the filling.
You'll want 2 ½ cups of animal crackers, which will crush down into 1 ½ cups of crumbs. This is 5 ounces by weight, which is how I usually measure.
I like the crunch of sugar when I make the crust. For a smoother crust, dissolve the sugar into the melted butter first, or blitz with the animal crackers.
I have often used Neufchatel cheese in place of regular cream cheese to lighten up cheesecake. It works here rather well, since the cheesecake is splitting attention with brownies. However, your cheesecake may have more cracks.
I typically use brownies that I've made and frozen. I recommend Hershey's Best Brownies, Best Cocoa Brownies, or Fudge Brownies. From a 9-inch pan, you'll need about 2 rows. If using anything from the freezer, be sure it's completely thawed first.
Don't have enough brownies? You can use blondies or other cookies. Chocolate chips and graham crackers are also good. (Marshmallows, for a smores version, floated in the batter though, and browned a lot on the top.) If you've made candy that tastes good but didn't quite turn out, it works perfectly! In fact, I used pieces of fudge from a recipe I tried before I made my Easy Homemade Chocolate Fudge.
I use high-quality chocolate chips (like Ghirardelli chocolate chips (affiliate link), or Nestle dark chocolate) when I make ganache, simply because I hate chopping chocolate. Most people recommend chopping their own, though. Use something you'd enjoy eating out of hand.
Out of cream for ganache? Try using ⅓ cup milk and 1 tablespoon of butter instead.
We all hate cracks in our cheesecakes. This is somewhat unavoidable, and why topping your cheesecake with ganache is so important!
Beyond the original recipe (which I adapted from Smitten Kitchen), I've taken some tips from American baking legend Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours (affiliate link).
First: proper mixing! Be sure your cream cheese mixture is completely smooth before you add eggs. Whatever recipe you use, mix your batter very well. Aeration in the cream cheese batter is what makes this cheesecake very smooth and creamy, despite not having heavy cream.
That said, follow the recipe and don't overbeat the eggs beyond what the instructions say.
Second: Steam, or a water bath. I don't like water baths, so I add steam just like I do to get a nice rise and crust on yeasted breads.
Place a metal roasting pan on the bottom rack of the oven while it preheats. Meanwhile, heat some water in a pot or teapot. When you put your cheesecake into the oven on the middle rack, pour the hot water into the metal pan below it. (Don't let it splash on you or on the oven glass!) Hotter water steams more quickly, which helps the cheesecake bake more slowly, reducing the chances that it cracks.
For a water bath: wrap your Springform pan in aluminum foil about 2 inches up the sides so that water won't seep into the crust (which it WILL otherwise). Place it in a larger pan, and fill the larger pan with water. The water absorbs the heat so that the outside cooks more gently, as well as generates some steam.
Don't open the oven door while the cheesecake bakes, as this will create temperature changes that may lead to cracks.
Third: don't overbake the cheesecake! You want the center to still be jiggly, while 3 inches from the edge are set. The cheesecake will continue to bake as it cools.
Fourth: Cool your cheesecake in the oven with the door propped open slightly, such as with a wooden spoon. Try to avoid anything that would melt or that would become too hot for you to handle. This allows the heat to vent slowly, which prevents temperature fluctuations that will shock your cheesecake into having cracks.
Cool thoroughly before removing the cheesecake. You should be able to handle it with your bare hands by the time you remove it from the oven.
Obviously, cheesecake has a ton of dairy, so store in the refrigerator, tightly sealed against odors, which cheesecake will definitely pick up.
When you're ready to eat, remove the pan from the fridge and remove the sides of the pan. I usually don't have trouble with sticking, but you can run a butter knife, cake spatula, or rubber spatula between the cheesecake and the sides of the pan. I usually serve my cheesecake directly on the springform base, although I do put a pretty plate underneath it if I display it for company.
You can certainly eat your cheesecake straight from the fridge, but it will taste its best if you let it rest at room temperature for 15-30 minutes before eating it.
I don't honestly worry too much about getting completely smooth cuts for my slices. A butter knife will work fine if you haven't patted your crust in too firmly. If you have trouble cutting through the crust, switch to a sharper knife.
Storing cheesecake for longer
Once we've eaten half of the cheesecake, I cut it into slices and put it into smaller, airtight containers. Cheesecake is best for the first day or two after it's made, but we've enjoyed ours for 4-5 days after it's baked. Longer than that, and the texture may begin to change.
For longer storage, you can freeze cheesecake. Cut into slices and wrap in a layer of plastic wrap, followed by a layer of foil. Or, you can just freeze bigger portions the same way; just realize that if you freeze an entire half a cheesecake, you need to thaw an entire half a cheesecake!
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Need brownies to make this cheesecake?
A creamy, versatile cheesecake with a 4-ingredient batter. Make it with leftover brownies, or mix it up by adding candy instead!
- 1 ½ cups graham cracker or chocolate animal cracker crumbs (5 ounces; 2 ½ cups of chocolate animal crackers)
- 5 tablespoons butter (80 grams; melted)
- 3 tablespoons sugar (45 grams)
- ⅛ teaspoon table salt
- 24 ounces cream cheese (3 packages, completely at room temperature; Neufchatel cheese works too)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla (5 grams)
- 1 cup sugar (200 grams)
- 4 eggs (200 grams)
- 2 cups brownie cubes (completely thawed, if previously frozen) (cookie crumbles, chocolate chips, and chunks of fudge also work great)
- ¾ cups chocolate chips or chopped chocolate (4.5 ounces/130 grams)
- 4.5 tablespoons heavy cream (2.25 ounces/68 grams)
Grind animal crackers until fine in food processor if you haven't already. Add melted butter, sugar, and salt and process until well combined. (You can also mix this together in a bowl if you already have crumbs.)
Gently pat along the bottom and press 1 inch up the sides of a greased 9- or 9.5-inch Springform pan with 3-inch sides. The height doesn't need to be perfect. Bake for 8-10 minutes at 350F. Set aside briefly while you make the batter.
While you make the batter, place a metal pan on the bottom rack of your preheated oven, and heat about 1 cup of water on the stove.
Beat (your completely softened) cream cheese with an electric or stand mixer for about 4 minutes. Don't skimp! You need proper aeration.
Scrape down the bowl, and add sugar and vanilla. Beat for another full 4 minutes.
Scrape down the bowl again. Add eggs, 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl and beating for 1 minute per egg each time - so, another 4 minutes.
Gently fold in brownie bites with a rubber spatula. (You can also do this with your stand mixer, briefly on low speed.)
Pour batter into the crust. Tap the pan on the counter several times to release air bubbles from the batter. Place pan on top of another baking sheet (to minimize drips from the seams of your pan).
Place your cheesecake and pan on the oven's middle rack. Pour preheated water from your pot or teapot into the preheated metal pan on the oven's bottom rack, being very careful to avoid letting water drip onto the oven door's glass (which would crack). Also, don't burn yourself!
Bake the cheesecake at 350F for 45 minutes, until the cake is set 2-3 inches from the edge but still wobbly and damp looking in the center. It will keep cooking as it cools.
Cool in the oven with the door propped open with a wooden spoon. Remove it after 1-2 hours, when you can remove it with your bare hands. Set on the counter to cool to room temperature, then chill in the fridge for at least 1-2 hours.
Remove the completely chilled cheesecake from the fridge while you make the ganache.
Place chocolate and cream in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave in 15-second bursts, stirring after each one, until chocolate is melted and smooth.
Spread over cheesecake. Let ganache set for 30 minutes before serving or refrigerating.
Remove from refrigerator 15 minutes before serving. Store leftovers tightly sealed in the fridge.
Pat your crust lightly, or it will be hard to cut.
Cream cheese must be completely softened, or your cheesecake will have lumps.
Completely aerate the cheesecake batter as per the instructions for the best texture and baking results. Do not overbeat the eggs beyond what's in the instructions.
From a 9-inch pan, you'll need about 2 rows of brownies.
I use leftover brownies that I've frozen and then thawed. I've also used fudge that I've frozen and thawed. Whatever add-in you use, bring it to room temperature before adding.
To prevent cracks, use a water bath when baking the cheesecake if you're more comfortable with it, although I prefer the steam method.
Leftover cheesecake may be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and then foil, and frozen.
Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen, with instructions enhanced from Dorie Greenspan's Baking. Calorie count is an estimate only.
Originally posted October 2, 2017; recipe updated November 9, 2021.
Recipes from the past:
[Originally posted October 2, 2017. Completely overhauled in November 2021.]
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