When St. Patrick's Day rolls around, I like to bake something festive to follow the corned beef and cabbage. Most of my attempts have been unsuccessful. Green pound cake and green sugar cookies tasted exactly like the vanilla versions, and my kids just picked at them. Green marshmallow treats were rejected outright. Maybe because green is the color of spinach and Brussels sprouts, it isn't automatically appealing in a dessert.
Green isn't the least-appetizing color on the spectrum. That honor goes to blue, a color rarely occurring naturally in food. Scientists have determined that blue-colored foods actually suppress the appetite, and diet doctors have recommended installing a blue light in the dining room to discourage overeating. Green is less surprising in food. We easily accept green salads, beans and cabbage. But because we don't associate green with sweet treats, it's hard for us to get excited when presented with dyed-green rice pudding, caramel corn or crepes.
The trick to making a visually appealing St. Patrick's Day dessert is to use ingredients that are naturally green. This way, our expectations after looking at the dessert match our experience when we taste it. This year, choose a recipe that uses pistachio nuts, limes, green tea or kiwi. If you'd like, boost the hue of your pistachio ice cream, key lime bars, or green tea mousse with a little food coloring. But don't go overboard and into neon or emerald territory. You want a natural-looking result.
Mint is another good choice. We have been conditioned from childhood to salivate at the sight of pale green mint chocolate chip ice cream, so when we are presented with mint cheesecake brownies we respond positively to the color combination and all that it promises. Cheesecake brownies aren't difficult to make. Just spread a layer of cheesecake batter on top of a layer of brownie batter in the pan and bake. A small offset spatula comes in handy for spreading. A low temperature is best, so the cheesecake layer won't curdle. Remove the brownies from the oven when they're still a little loose in the center. They'll firm up as they cool, and the edges won't be overbaked.
MINT CHEESECAKE BROWNIES
For the brownies:
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 ounces (2 squares) unsweetened chocolate
¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For mint cheesecake:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
¼ cup sugar
1 large egg yolk
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon peppermint extract
2 drops green food coloring
½ cup mini chocolate chips
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Adjust the oven rack to the bottom third of the oven. Line an 8-inch-square baking pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil, making sure that the foil is tucked into all the corners and that there is at least 1 inch overhanging the top of the pan on all sides.
2. Make the brownies: Combine the butter and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high, in 30-second bursts, stirring in between, until chocolate is just melted and mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.
3. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a small mixing bowl.
4. Whisk together the sugar and eggs in a large mixing bowl. With a wooden spoon, stir in the chocolate mixture and vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture until just incorporated. Spread in an even layer into the prepared pan.
5. Make the mint cheesecake: Combine the cream cheese and sugar in a medium mixing bowl. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the mixture until very smooth. Add the egg and beat again until smooth. Stir in the salt and flour. Stir in the peppermint extract and green food coloring until the color is even. Stir in the mini chocolate chips.
6. Heap tablespoonfuls of the cream cheese mixture over the brownie batter and smooth with a spatula to create an even layer.
7. Bake the brownies in the bottom third of the oven until they are set around the edges but still a little wobbly in the center, 45 to 50 minutes. Let them cool completely on a wire rack.
8. Refrigerate them until they are completely chilled, at least 6 hours. Grasping the overhanging foil on either side of the pan, lift out the brownies and place them on a cutting board. Cut them into 16 squares. The brownies will keep in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Makes 16 brownies.