Ch. 19: Camouflage Brownies that can’t stay hidden

We had just finished dinner and my mom turned to me, asking, “So what’s for dessert?” I shrugged my shoulders, saying, “I wasn’t planning on making anything.” She replied back, “Why not?” I knew in that moment that I’d been baking so much that my parents were accustomed to having dessert as often as we did. And so I scrolled through some recipe sites until I found one for Camouflage Brownies off Bon Appetit’s Basically Guide to Better Baking- a series that helps new bakers improve their skills with recipes that increase in difficulty. I consider myself pretty well versed, so I decided to make this level 5 recipe. For anyone still looking to work their way up, Basically is great because it breaks the recipes down step by step, offering gifs / pictures to help you along the way. 

This camouflage brownie recipe is basically (ha, see what i did there?) an elevated cream cheese brownie- in both appearance and flavor. It starts by greasing our pan and lining it with parchment paper- the best way to ensure your brownies release so you can get a clean slice. I mean what’s the point of making brownies if they don’t come out of the pan? You then melt down the cream cheese over a double boiler until it’s soft enough to be stirred with a spatula. The cream cheese is then jazzed up with an egg, sugar, vanilla and salt. Most recipes stop here, but Sarah Jampel, its creator, takes it a step further. Half of the cream cheese mix gets some added cocoa powder for both flavor and color. Both mixes are set aside while we make the actual brownies. Butter, sugar, espresso powder, salt and cocoa powder are placed in a bowl set back onto the double boiler to melt. This step helps activate the cocoa powder, making it more flavorful. Once the mix is melted, it gets two eggs and vanilla before adding in the all purpose flour. It’s important here to stir in the flour by hand so the brownies stay fudgy and dense. All but a half cup of batter is poured into the pan and smoothed out. Now here’s where it gets fun. The cream cheese mixtures are dolloped on top of the brownie batter, alternating so they create little dot patterns on top. The remaining brownie batter is also dolloped on, creating that camouflage effect. The psychedelic brownies are then baked for about 25 minutes or until set. 

I ran into a few snags while making this and am using this post as a PSA to anyone who wants to try this out. The first issue is that the cream cheese mix is a lot looser than the brownie batter, so It didn’t quite dollop as well on top as Sarah’s did. I’d actually recommend chilling them in the fridge for a little so they’re more scoopable, rather than pour-able. As I worked on the pattern, my colors bled into each other more like a gradient rather than camouflage- still very tasty, just not quite as pretty. In terms of flavors, these were amazing. The brownies themselves are rich and fudgy and dense- just how I like them. They’re not overly sweet like their boxed counterparts and have the right combination of rich chocolate and bitter espresso. The cream cheese topping has a nice tang that cuts through the richness a bit- making for a more balanced dessert. I did have to bake these significantly longer- almost double- as I only had a glass pan. Sarah notes this in the recipe- so full blame on my part. At the end of it, if you’re looking for a way to jazz up some ordinary brownies, this is the way to go. Even if you skip the camouflage topping, the brownies themselves are incredible- it’s really something that cannot stay hidden for long. 

Full Recipe | Method by Sarah Jampel of Bon Appetit:

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