Creamed Cheese Brownies with Salted Dark Chocolate Topping

From the book Let Them Eat Vegan! by Dreena Burton. Excerpted by arrangement with Da Capo Lifelong, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2012. www.dacapopresscookbooks.com Photo by Hannah Kaminsky.

Wheat-Free, Soy-Free

No faux cream cheese to be found in these deep, rich, fudgy brownies. Cashews stand in for a cream cheese–like layer, which takes these brownies to, “OMG these are freaking good!” ’Nuff said—go make them.

Creamed Cheese Layer:

1 cup soaked cashews

2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 tbsp water

1 tbsp pure maple syrup

2 tbsp vanilla non-dairy yogurt (if using coconut yogurt instead of soy, add another 1 tsp lemon juice)

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/8 tsp (rounded) sea salt

Brownie Layer:

1 cup + 2 tbsp sifted (or light) spelt flour

¾ cup unrefined sugar

½ tsp sea salt

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1 ½ tsp baking powder

1 tbsp arrowroot powder

3 tbsp pure maple syrup

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

¼ cup + 1 tbsp plain or vanilla non-dairy milk

3½ tbsp neutral-flavored oil

Topping:

1/3 - ½ cup chocolate chunks (use a good quality dark chocolate bar, and break/cut into small chunks)

Few pinches coarse sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8-inch square cake pan with parchment paper.

Prepare cream cheese layer: Puree all those ingredients with an immersion or high-speed blender until very, very smooth (a mini food processor can also be used, but it usually doesn’t produce as smooth a texture as does an immersion blender). Process for several minutes, if necessary, until very smoothed out.

Prepare the brownie layer: In a separate bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt, and sift in the cocoa and baking powder.

In a small bowl, first combine the arrowroot with the maple syrup, stirring until smooth, then add the vanilla, milk, and oil. Add the wet mixture to the dry. Stir until evenly mixed and thick.

Transfer about two-thirds of the mixture to the prepared pan. Use a square of parchment to help the press mixture into the pan evenly and spread it out. Spread the cream cheese layer over the top. Then, as best as you can, spread the remaining brownie batter over the cheese layer. You can take pieces and lightly spread first with your fingers and place in patches over the cream cheese layer—and it doesn’t have to fully cover; there can be spaces—most will fill in and come together while baking.

Add the topping: Place the chocolate chunks on top, and then sprinkle with the salt. Bake for 28 to 30 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan, running a spatula around the outer edge to loosen. (The brownies will appear not fully cooked, but do not cook longer—I repeat, do not cook longer! Instead, let cool and they will become fudgy!) Once cooled, score the brownies with a sharp knife to ease cutting the chocolate before it completely hardens. Then refrigerate brownies to cool more, cut into squares and dig in! Makes 16-20 brownies.

If This Apron Could Talk: Trust the baking process! The amount of batter used for the base—and then topping— looks like it cannot possibly fill out to form a beautiful brownie. Lucky for us, the oven creates some magic in about half an hour!