A few days after Christmas, I was hurriedly rolling through Target with Little C, enduring her kicks to my femurs from that kid seat thing they put in shopping carts. I rounded a corner and saw an explosion of pink and red and hearts and glitter. They were putting up Valentine's Day stuff before New Year's, people! I was still bloated from Christmas dinner! This all felt so wrong. Like one of Those People, I confronted the staff member assembling the display and was all, "Hey, let me have my holiday hangover one holiday at a time, Target!", and she was all, "Hey, Andy Rooney, why don't you just chill out and feel the love?!"
(Actually, the Target staffer didn't really say that, I think she was mostly just startled by my crazy ponytail and dowdy post-Christmas binge ensemble of Fat Pants and an unreasonably large tunic. But I felt the vibe of what she was thinking.)
A few days later, however, I did indeed get to thinking about Valentine's Day treats because apparently I am very influenced by marketing and mortifying experiences at Target. Ergo, Chubby Hubby Brownies were born.
I've decided I needed to tell you about these brownies now, weeks before Valentine's Day, just in case you're like me and find that baked goods are a key part of any perfect gift for cheesy holidays. Chubby Hubby Brownies, in fact, are the ultimate brownies for dudes. And even if you're not struggling to think of a gift for a dude this Valentine's Day, you need these brownies in your life.
It all started with my very favorite brownie recipe. Then I got to thinking about the glory that is Ben and Jerry's Chubby Hubby ice cream. And then things got a little crazy. Like malted-cheesecake-swirl-caramel-bits-and-peanut-butter-filled-pretzels-crazy. Hoooo, boy.
But like that staffer at Target--innocently doing her job, who I questioned so fervently--ignore my craziness. Just enjoy the results. Because these are really something. And you won't see any references to a Chubby Hubby of my own in this post, because my husband is one of those irritating high-metabolism people who can eat a whole pan of these brownies and never gain an ounce--he just stores them in his hollow leg. But he is my permanent Valentine anyway.
Chubby Hubby Brownies
I used those little cubes of caramel that come wrapped in clear cellophane, because they hold their shape well during baking. You can find several brands of peanut butter-filled pretzels out there--the ones at Trader Joe's are great.
These brownies are especially fabulous chilled. But you didn't hear it from me.
For the swirl:
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 large egg
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup malted milk powder
For the brownies:
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons oure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 ounces store-bought caramels, unwrapped and quartered
3 ounces peanut butter-filled pretzel nuggets, lightly crushed
Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8x8- inch baking pan with foil or parchment and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, beat together the cream cheese, 1 egg, sugar, vanilla and malt powder until smooth and creamy. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, melt the chocolate and butter together in a double boiler or in the microwave, stirring occasionally until smooth. Whisk in the cocoa powder and set aside to cool.
In another medium bowl, whisk together the 3 eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt until combined, about 15 seconds. Whisk the cooled chocolate mixture into the egg mixture. Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon until just combined.
Spread half the brownie batter evenly in the prepared pan. Sprinkle half the caramel bits and half the crushed pretzels evenly over the top. Pour in the cream cheese mixture and smooth the surface with a spatula. Dollop the remaining half of the brownie batter over the cream cheese mixture in 5-6 generous blobs. Using a butter knife, lightly swirl the brownie batter and cream cheese mixture together. Sprinkle the remaining caramel bits and pretzels over the top.
Bake until slightly puffed and a toothpick comes out clean when tested 1 inch from the edges (it will look a bit underdone in the middle), about 40-45 minutes. Cool on a wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours, before cutting and serving. Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.