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Anise-scented Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies

Anise-scented Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies
Although I'd like to celebrate every day like it's National Brownie Day, today is the "official" date. In the spirit of truth and brownies, I have an admission to make. I make brownies from a boxed mix 85% of the time. It's not because I'm lazy (okay, it's not usually because I'm lazy), I just like them. I grew up on brownies made from a boxed mix and I've always kept a box in my pantry for emergencies.

Sometimes I make brownies from scratch, but I like the fact that if I have 5 minutes, some vegetable oil and a couple of eggs, we're having warm gooey brownies an hour later. So, don't judge and I promise I won't judge you if you want to make your brownies from scratch every single time.

Where am I going with this? Well, when Fernet-Branca, an Italian liqueur company reached out to see if I'd like to try a bottle of their liqueur and develop a brownie featuring it to share for National Brownie Day, I made plans that included a brownie from scratch. But then, as it often does, life got busy. As darkness filled the 4:35 pm skies, I spied a box of brownie mix sitting innocently on my pantry shelf. I bet you can guess where I'm going with this.
Fernet-Branca Liqueur
I used my favorite boxed brownie mix as a base for this brownie recipe, but if you want to make your favorite fudgy brownie recipe as the base instead, then  please do. The swirled cream cheese filling is where you'll find some Fernet-Branca along with candy-coated anise seeds that help carry the faint flavor of black licorice into each bite.

The flavor isn't in-your-face black licoricey, it's just a whisper of something more complex than regular old cream cheese. If you're a fan of the bitter, herbal liqueur, then you'll enjoy sipping it alongside one of these brownies at the end of your meal.

Anise-scented Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies
Fudgy brownies with an anise-scented cream cheese swirl featuring Fernet-Branca liqueur and candy-coated anise seeds.
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Anise-scented Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies
by Heather Schmitt-Gonzalez
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Keywords: bake dessert vegetarian soy-free nut-free alcohol chocolate cream cheese bars

Ingredients (serves 16)
  • 1 boxed fudgy brownie mix (+ ingredients to make it)
for the filling:
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Fernet-Branca Liqueur
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • pinch of fine sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon candy coated anise seeds
Preheat oven to 325° F. Spray an 8-inch square pan with nonstick cooking spray, then line it with a long overhang of parchment paper or foil, so that you can easily lift out the brownies once they are cooked. Spray again with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

Make your brownie mix according to package directions (or whip up a batch of your favorite homemade fudgy brownies). Scoop out 1/2 cup of the prepared brownie batter and reserve. Pour the remaining batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

Beat all of the ingredients (except the candy-coated anise seeds) for the cream cheese filling together until smooth. Stir in the anise seeds. Scrape the cream cheese filling over the brownie batter in the pan as evenly as possible. Pour the reserved 1/2 cup of brownie batter evenly over that. Use a thin-bladed knife to swirl the batter and filling together, creating a marbled effect.

Slide into preheated oven and bake until just set, but still fairly soft in the center, ~50 minutes (follow the time on your brownie mix or homemade mix recipe). Set on a wire rack and allow to cool for one hour before lifting out and returning to the rack to cool completely.

When ready to serve, cut into 2-inch squares. Store cooled brownies covered at cool room temperature or in the fridge. To freeze, cooled brownies can be wrapped in plastic wrap and placed inside a freezer-safe baggie.
Anise-scented Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies

I received a complimentary bottle of Fernet-Branca for the purpose of developing a brownie recipe. All opinions stated in this post are my own.