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Today is my brother’s birthday! A is four years younger than me (which makes him practically an infant) and I love him tons. Tons. But… he is impossible to shop for. His hobbies are specific and expensive. I think I’ve done okay, for the most part, in choosing things for him in the past, but this year I just couldn’t find anything I thought worthy of getting. Luckily for us both, I have been dying to send him a box of goodies, and so I decided to go big and do so for his birthday. A jar of precious preserved sour cherries, some Super Purple! jam and these ooey-gooey, chocolate-overload cheesecake brownies. Here’s the back story.

For as long as I can remember, A asked for a cherry pie instead of cake on his birthday– this used to blow my mind as a child. There was no frosting on a pie. (My, how tastes change: I don’t like much frosting and now request cheesecake for my own birthday.) Now, I’m not taking anything away from my Mom, who makes killer cherry (and every other kind of) pies, but you have to admit that a 6-, 8-, 12-, whatever-year-old requesting a pie on his day to have any cake he wanted was unusual. Am I selling him short? With a birthday so close to Easter most years, maybe he knew that he would have cake on Easter, as we usually did, and it played to his advantage to request a pie. Variety is the spice of life, and all. Regardless of his motives or reasoning, cherry pie made from that luscious canned filling I still crave (we used to fight over who got to lick the lid of the can, which is SUPER safe) was standard birthday fare for A, and I wanted to do something to honor that tradition.

I couldn’t exactly send a pie cross-country. I thought about doing something elaborate with the elements of the pie made but separated and uncooked, a cute pie tin and cooking instructions included but a) he’s a boy; b) he didn’t inherit the baking gene in quite the same way I did; and c) I wasn’t quite sure how to pull that off. So the interpretation of the traditional cherry pie loosened a bit. Every once in a while, to spice things up, A would have one of Mom’s awesome cheesecake pies with the cherries as topping; cheesecake is slightly easier to interpret and mail. I have been eyeing this recipe from smitten kitchen for months and thought this was the perfect time to give it a try! Basic idea down, now, how to do the cherries? Didn’t I mention sending a jar of preserved cherries with the brownies? Yes I did. Why aren’t they in the brownies, you may wonder. It’s kind of funny, but the pie plums that starred in my last cheesecake bars actually taste closer to our beloved canned cherries than my own preserved cherries. It’s something about the syrup they’re in, maybe the cinnamon? or the thickness compared to the juice the cherries are in, but they just do. Now, why didn’t I just make A some pie plum cheesecake bars and send those? Because birthdays call for something special, something new, and chocolate never hurts. Never.

And so I made a batch of the incredibly dense, fudgy cheesecake brownies with my special pie plum twist, packaged them carefully, and sent them across the country to A. He got the box yesterday and texted me a picture of one unwrapped with a bite taken out, so I called immediately to get a review. “How are they? Do you like them? Do you get it?” He liked them, and did get it, but compared the taste of the plums to a different food memory of ours, one that was our silly secret for many years: they remind him of the plum baby food we used to eat when we were much too old for baby food. We both remember sneaking jars that were intended for our younger sister and brother, eating the sweet plum goo like it was pudding. (It probably wasn’t the worst thing to snack on… right?) We had a good laugh, and then I hung up so he could go back to eating brownies. Happy birthday, A, I love you!

Cheesecake Brownies with Pie Plums (adapted from smitten kitchen)

For the brownie layer:

  • 8 T. unsalted butter
  • 3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg white (the yolk is used in the cheesecake)
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla or almond extract
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2/3 c. flour

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees; grease an 8″ x 8″ pan. In a double boiler, or a glass bowl placed over a pan of simmering water, melt the butter and chocolate together; remove from the heat as soon as they are melted. Stir in the sugar, then the egg and egg white, then the salt and vanilla or almond. Fold in the flour until just combined. Pour into your prepared pan and set aside.

For the cheesecake layer: 

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, extremely soft
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla

Mix the cream cheese and sugar together until thoroughly combined; add the egg yolk and vanilla and mix. Dollop the cheesecake mixture onto your brownies and use a butter knife to lift up bits of brownie batter over the cheesecake batter (great tip from smitten kitchen!), then swirl it though.

Finishing touches:

  • Pie plums or fruit of your choice*
  • 1/2 c. chocolate chips

Place the plums, or other fruit, one by one on top of the marbled brownies; the recipe makes 9 bars, so imagine a 3 x 3 grid and try to place at least 2 pieces of fruit in each square. Sprinkle the top with chocolate chips and press down lightly with the back of spoon to push the fruit and chips into the brownies, just a little. Bake for 35 mins. and remove to cool; after cooling to room temperature, it was helpful to put the whole pan into the freezer for 15-20 mins. before cutting to ensure clean cuts and even-sized bars. Makes 9 large or 16 small brownies.

*If you don’t have pie plums, try fresh raspberries, or strawberry or cherry pie filling. I bet canned fruit in syrup would work, too, but I haven’t used any recently enough to be sure… Or, just leave them “plain”.