Vegan Red Velvet Brownies with “Cream Cheese” Layer or Swirl

Red Velvet Brownies with Cream Cheese Layer 1Yield: 9 to 16 brownies

Red Velvet is darn near sacred to me.  My aunt’s version of the cake with her unique Colonnade Frosting (off-limits now because both cake and frosting are only vegetarian) and drips of bittersweet chocolate over the top is one of the defining tastes of my childhood.  

Because of that, Red Velvet was also the groom’s cake chosen for our wedding and the wedding cake I made for my dear friend and food writer Donna Reiss when she married Art Young.  For my go-to vegan version of the cake or cupcakes, I use the recipe in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.  However, not content to stop there, I created outrageously scrumptious vegan Red Velvet Pancakes and Red Velvet Shortbread Cookies (endorsed by Better Homes & Gardens) a few years ago and, recently, Red Velvet Ice Cream and a mixed-media artwork titled, “She Wore Red Velvet.”  

One of the last remaining Red Velvet challenges was brownies.  I started by searching Red Velvet Brownies online.  When I found versions that looked like the ideal in my mind, I consulted the recipes.  The recipe I ultimately chose was not vegan, so I veganized it, making significant changes to the brownie batter–some melted vegan semisweet chocolate chips, some non-dairy milk, a bit of pureed tofu (critical to the texture and density I sought) and leavening–and even more to the cream cheese layer.  My first attempt incorporated a scaled-down version of my cheesecake batter which contains tofu and vegan cream cheese and bakes up beautifully as a full-size cheesecake.  But it baked up a bit rubbery as a thinner layer.  So, next I tried cashew cream, which I loved, but with which I had to experiment a couple of times to get the look I was after.

Ultimately, I hope you agree that the resulting brownies are beautiful, delicious, textural marvels.

Happy Valentine’s Day to you and yours!

“Cream Cheese” Layer (my quick sweetened cashew cream):

2 cups raw cashews

4 cups boiling water

*1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar (plus additional for sprinkling if making layered brownies)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

Pour boiling water over cashews, cover, and let sit for an hour.  Reserve 2 tablespoons of the cashew water, drain, and place the cashews into bowl of food processor with the reserved water and remaining ingredients.  Process about 10 minutes until smooth and significantly lightened in color and texture.  Remove to a small bowl and rinse bowl, lid and blade of food processor.  *Though I typically bake with natural sugar, the confectioners sugar keeps the cashew cream a lighter color.

Brownie Layer:

1/2 cup vegan butter

1/4 cup vegan semisweet chocolate chips

2 ounces extra firm tofu, drained

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (I use white whole wheat)

1 cup natural sugar

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup non-dairy milk

1 ounce (2 tablespoons) red food coloring (natural recommended, e.g. India Tree True Red)

1  teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon apple cider or white distilled vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray an 8-inch square baking pan with non-stick spray.  In a medium bowl or saucepan, combine butter and chocolate chips and melt in microwave or over medium heat on top of the stove.  Pour into bowl of food processor, add tofu, and process a couple of minutes or so until very smooth.  In a medium bowl,  whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Make a well in the center and pour in non-dairy milk, food coloring, vanilla, and vinegar, along with butter-chocolate-tofu mixture from food processor.  Whisk until well combined and then stir 50 strokes with a wooden spoon.

To bake, choose which type of brownie your prefer…

For Layered Brownies (pictured):  Spoon half of batter into prepared pan and gently smooth top to cover bottom of pan.  Dollop “cream cheese” layer over brownie layer and smooth to cover.  Dollop remaining brownie batter on top of “cream cheese” layer and gently smooth to cover.  (An offset spatula is nice for these tasks.)  Drag a knife or skewer (my preference) in long zig-zagging motions through all layers not to create swirls, as the top will remain solid red, but to insure that layers are “locked” together.  Bake for 30 minutes or until top is set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, but a little moist. Cool on a wire rack. Slice, sprinkle with confectioners sugar, and serve; or cover until serving time.  Alternative serving suggestion:  frost with vegan cream cheese frosting and, if desired, drizzle with melted and slightly cooled dark vegan chocolate.

For Swirled Brownies:  Spoon half of batter into prepared pan and gently smooth top to cover bottom of pan.  Dollop “cream cheese” filling and remaining brownie batter in a tight checkerboard pattern over the bottom brownie layer. Drag a knife or skewer (my preference) in long zig-zagging motions, about an inch apart both vertically and horizontally, through all layers to create swirls.  Bake for 30 minutes or until top is set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, but a little moist. Cool on a wire rack. Slice and serve; or cover until serving time.

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The Blooming Platter’s Vegan Single-Serving Microwave “Brownikins” (My Take on a Microwaved Brownie-in-a-Mug)

Brownikins--Microwave Brownie in a MugYield: 1 serving

Okay, don’t even try to convince me that every once in a while you aren’t dying for a tiny taste of something sinful, and wish you could make a miniature little confection that is quick, easy, and not a killer in the calorie department.

Well, now you can!

NPR was where I first heard about these microwaved brownies-in-a-mug, so I certainly didn’t invent them.  But I do think I have perfected a recipe that needed a little somethin’-somethin’.  I heard the program weeks ago, but I was having a powerful craving last night, so I did a little internet research and gave it a whirl.

I inadvertently overcooked my brownie a little–it keeps cooking for a bit even after you remove it from the microwave–so go easy.  But, even so, I wasn’t 100% sold, despite the fact that the recipe I tried had something like 5,000 “likes.”

I sent the recipe to my sister, Ginny, and she made one for our brownie-loving Papa, but he thought it was a little too rich in the chocolate department.  So, back to my kitchen I went this evening, this time armed with some ideas for how to improve the brownie’s taste and texture, along with some So Delicious Almond Milk Ice Cream (vegan) and a fresh strawberry to perch on top.

YUM!  A winner!  All I needed was a name.  My dear friend Sonya Harmon calls our “little” Great Dane (she’s smaller than her mate, Huff!) “Minnikins,” and I think that is the cutest name for our little gal.  So, since these “mini” brownies are almost as cute, I thought they should be called “Brownikins.”  Thank you, Sonya-kins!

Whatever you call them, you will love them!

And, by the way, you can certainly bake them in a mug as intended, but this recipe doesn’t begin to fill the mug, and I don’t like the brownie batter smeared on the sides after whisking the ingredients together.  So, I whisk it up in a small cup and then transfer into a mini-ramekin (about 1/3 cup) for the cutest presentation ever with a melon ball size scoop of ice cream and baby strawberry.  What’s one more mug to wash?

1 tablespoon canola oil or vegan butter melted

2 tablespoons water

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour (I use white whole wheat)

2 tablespoons natural sugar

2 teaspoons cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)

1/8 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon or less sea salt (I love that little crunch of salt with the sugar.  You won’t need much if you use salted vegan butter, but don’t omit, as it is needed for flavor.)

Accompaniments: vegan ice cream, a fresh strawberry, plus optional vegan chocolate sauce and vegan whipped topping

In a small cup (microwave safe if you plan to cook the brownie in the cup), whisk together melted butter or oil, water, and vanilla.  Then whisk in all remaining dry ingredients.  Whisk until smooth.  If desired, transfer to a ceramic mini-ramekin and cook in a microwave oven on full power for 45 seconds or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or ever-so-slightly moist.  Let sit for a couple of minutes before garnishing and serving.

Photo Note:  Sorry about the quality of the photo.  I was so excited with my creation, that I just snapped it with my phone sitting on the kitchen counter at 8 p.m.: no waiting for optimum lighting conditions!

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Vegan Peanut Butter-Chocolate Layer Bars AND Blooming Platter Cookbook Giveaway Reminder

Yea, I know, I’m a seasonal vegan cook, and this recipe hardly fits that description… unless, like me, you consider chocolate to be a perennial food.

This recipe was inspired by a pan of dessert bars I spied in our administrators’ kitchen at school about a week ago.  Theirs had a thin chocolate crust topped by a thick peanut butter layer and another thin chocolate ganache layer.  They looked so good that I thought I would absolutely perish if I didn’t figure out how to make a vegan version and fast.

However, I couldn’t get started on them as quickly as I’d hoped because, after I went to the  store, I came home to put the groceries away and could not find my (honey-free) graham crackers anywhere.  Figuring that I must have stuck them somewhere really odd, I looked in places like the freezer…and the washing machine.  No luck.  So, I went back a couple of days later, bought another box, and made them on Sunday for my students’ National Art Honor Society meeting last Monday.  A hit!

After just a little research, I put a couple of recipes together and fell head over heels for the result.  They are FAR better than my memory of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.  And they are very well-behaved, slicing beautifully.  They do need to stay refrigerated, but that’s a small price to pay for creamy perfection!

Yield: 24 bars


1 3/4 cup finely crushed vegan graham crackers (Nabisco brand “original” are honey-free), that’s one wrapped package within the box

1/2 cup vegan butter, melted (I like Earth Balance)

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder


2 1/2 cups natural creamy peanut butter (crunchy is fine, but the mixture is processed and ends up creamy anyway)

3/4 cup vegan butter

1 tablespoon vanilla

3 cups powdered sugar


1/4 cup soy creamer

11 ounces vegan chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a medium bowl, stir together all crust ingredients.  Press the mixture into the bottom of a 9 x 13″ pan.  I like to use the bottom of a glass to help with this task.  Bake for 10 minutes, remove from the oven, and cool completely.  Once partially cool, I like to place the pan in the freezer for the crust to finish cooling.  (Avoid placing a hot pan in the oven as it might raise the temperature of the compartment to a potentially dangerous level.)

In the bowl of a food processor, combine all filling ingredients and process just until smooth.   Add 2 cups of the powdered sugar and process until combined, pulsing if necessary.  Add the remaining cup of powdered sugar and do the same.  Dollop the mixture over the cooled crust and pat evenly to cover.  Cover the pan and refrigerate until the ganache is cool enough to use.

In a 1-quart saucepan, bring  soy creamer to a simmer.  Remove the pan from the heat, add chocolate chips, and stir or whisk until mixtures is smooth.  Let it cool to room temperature and then spread thinly over the peanut butter layer.  It will look like there might not be enough ganache, but there is the perfect amount (if you don’t eat too much of it while frosting the bars!).    Cover and refrigerate for 2 more hours.  Slice into bars and serve.  Store any leftovers–leftovers, yea, right–in the refrigerator.

This recipe was adapted from Midwest Living (Eagle Ridge Inn and Resort).


Just 2 days left in my Blooming Platter Cookbook giveaway!  Go here for the details and simple directions on how to enter and win!


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Vegan Peanut Butter-Cream Cheese-Chocolate Chip Frosting

Okay, so I said that the only thing that might make my Vegan Peanut Butter, Banana, Graham Cracker Brownies better was frosting, but that that “almost seems too decadent if there is any such thing.” Turns out there isn’t. The brownies are really good unadorned. But, with this frosting, they should be a controlled substance.

1/4 cup vegan butter, softened (I like Earth Balance)
1/4 cup vegan cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup plain or chunky organic peanut butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract plus 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
up to approximately 3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup vegan semi-sweet chocolate chips, slightly softened in microwave (some whole chips should remain)

In a small bowl, by hand or with an electric mixer, cream together first four ingredients. Beat in powdered sugar until smooth and the desired spreading consistency is reached. Then stir or beat in chocolate chips. Use to frost your favorite brownies or cupcakes.

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Vegan Peanut Butter, Banana, Graham Cracker Brownies

Yield: one 8″ pan of brownies

These brownies are chock-full of everything I love. The only thing that might make them better is a frosting, but that almost seems too decadent if there is any such thing. See what you think.

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 mashed over-ripe banana
1/4 cup crunchy or smooth organic peanut butter (I heat it for 10 seconds in microwave so that it is easy to incorporate into the batter)
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup peanuts (I like the salted and roasted kind)
1/2 cup semi-sweet vegan chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil a metal 8-inch square metal pan. (If you use a 9-inch pan, you should probably only bake the brownies for 25 minutes.) Mix together first 7 ingredients. With a wooden spoon, stir together until all ingredients until they are completely combined. Then stir in peanuts and chocolate chips. Gently spread batter evenly in pan and bake for 30 minutes or until brownies are set and top is slightly glossy.

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Vegan Almond Fudge Topped Shortbread

Yield: 1-9 x 13″ pan or 24 bars

Our administrative team at school loved these bars that I brought in as an almost-Thanksgiving treat so much that they requested the recipe, which I was happy to share. But first I had to tease them by saying that the key ingredient was tofu (though there is no tofu in the recipe).

This dessert or sweet snack couldn’t be easier or the results tastier. I found the recipe at and simply substituted my discovery of Cream of Coconut for the sweetened condensed milk. Once again, it worked beautifully. You might want to visit the site, as there are lots of scrumptious sounding recipes that are all within the vegan’s grasp knowing that Cream of Coconut is a perfect one-to-one substitute for sweetened condensed milk.

1 cup vegan butter (I like Earth Balance), softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups vegan chocolate chips
1-15 ounce can Cream of Coconut
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/3 cups (or so) sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with non-stick cooking spray. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter, powdered sugar and salt in a large bowl until fluffy. Add flour; mix well. Press with floured hands evenly into prepared pan. (I like to flour the bottom of a glass and use it for even pressing.) Bake for 20-25 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Remove from oven to wire rack.

Melt chocolate chips with Cream of Coconut in a heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in almond extract. Spread evenly over shortbread. Garnish with almonds, pressing them down gently, but firmly with the palm of your hand into the chocolate. Cover and chill 3 hours or over night until firm. Cut into bars.

Source: Adapted from (I simply substituted Cream of Coconut for the sweetened condensed milk)

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Vegan Layered Fudge and Peanut Butter Cheesecake Brownies

Yield: one 9 x 13″ pan

Okay, these are hardly “lite,” but my tofu-based peanut butter cheesecake lightens them up just a smidge so that you don’t go into overload quite as early in the experience of swooning over these three-layered beauties as you might otherwise.

My go-to vegan brownies provide the base for a thick layer of vegan peanut butter cheesecake which is capped with a rich peanut butter-fudge frosting. A garnish of peanuts, whole or halved, provides the perfect crunchy contrast to all of that chewy-creamy goodness.

Vegan Brownies:
Scant (or stingy) 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups white sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups water or coffee
1 1/4 cups canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Optional: approximately 1 cup of vegan chocolate chips and 1 cup of chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 x 13″ baking pan. (A light coat of canola oil seems superior to vegetable shortening.) In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Add water or coffee, vegetable oil, and vanilla; mix with a wooden spoon until well blended, approximately 100 strokes. (For some reason, the results seem superior when the liquid and oil are added about one-quarter cup each at a time.) Spread evenly in the prepared pan. Bake for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, make Vegan Peanut Butter Cheesecake.

Vegan Peanut Butter Cheesecake:

1 box of Silken firm tofu
1 cup of smooth or crunchy natural peanut butter
1/2-3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chocolate or chocolate lite soy milk
1/2 cup chocolate soy milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary to combine all ingredients. After brownies have baked for 15 minutes, quickly remove them from the oven, spread evenly with the peanut butter cheesecake filling and return to oven. Bake for 30 minutes or until top is slightly puffed and set. Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack. Frost with Vegan Peanut Butter Fudge Frosting and garnish with chopped or whole peanuts.

Vegan Peanut Butter Fudge Frosting:
1/4 cup vegan butter (I like Earth Balance)
1/4 smooth or crunchy natural peanut butter
1 tablespoon vegetable shortening (you may use vegetable oil instead but, if you do, mix it with cocoa powder before adding)
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2-3 cups powdered sugar
approximately 1/4 cup chocolate or chocolate lite soy milk

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together first three ingredients on high speed. Add cocoa powder with mixer turned off and then slowly bring the speed up to high to completely incorporate it. Do the same with the powdered sugar and chocolate soy milk, adding approximately 1 cup of powdered sugar and 2 tablespoons of milk at a time until desired consistency is reached. If too thin, add more powdered sugar; if too thick, add more chocolate soy milk.

Approximately 1/2 cup chopped or whole peanuts

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Oatmeal Fudge Bars

Yield: 8-12 bars

This recipe has been a favorite since my graduate school roommate, Melinda (Harvey) Shallcross, shared it with me in the early 80s. (I went to graduate school right out of high school–not!) When I became vegan a few years ago, after being vegetarian for a long, long, time, I thought I’d eaten my last Oatmeal Fudge Bar, not so much because the dough had an egg in it–that’s easy to veganize–but because the filling contained condensed milk. However, you may recall that, not too long ago, I experimented with “old-school” 7-Layer Bars by substituting Cream of Coconut for the condensed milk and they were perfect.

In the mood to bake today and with a can of Cream of Coconut in the pantry, I started reviewing my mental recipe files for other favorites formerly made with condensed milk. When I got to these creamy-chewy wonders, I knew they were what I would whip up. Again, the Cream of Coconut was the answer; the bars were as good as I remembered. I promise you, they will be a big hit with whomever you choose to serve them to, including kids. They’re school lunchbox sensations.

Oatmeal Layer

1/2 cup vegan butter (I like Earth Balance)
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup all-purpose flour (you may use part whole wheat flour)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (not necessary if your vegan butter is salted)
2 cups oats

Fudge Layer

6 ounces vegan semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips (normally, I prefer dark chocolate, but semi-sweet seems to provide a better balance in this recipe)
1 tablespoon vegan butter (I like Earth Balance)
1/3 cup Cream of Coconut (not coconut milk)
1/4 teaspoon salt (not necessary if your vegan butter is salted)

Oil a 9 x 9-inch metal baking pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make oatmeal layer: Cream together butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium-high. Beat in vanilla. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, if using. Beat on low speed, just until combined. Stir in oats until well distributed. Remove one cup and set aside. Pat remainder into an even layer in prepared pan.

Make fudge layer: place all ingredients in small microwave safe bowl. Heat for about 20 seconds or until chocolate is melted and whisk until smooth. (You may heat the mixture in a small saucepan on the stove over medium heat if you prefer.) Pour over oatmeal layer and spread evenly. Sprinkle top with reserved oatmeal mixture. Bake 25 minutes or until surface is golden brown. Cool completely and cut into bars. Store leftovers tightly covered. You may refrigerate if you like.

Source: I veganized this recipe from Beth Young via Melinda Harvey Shallcross.

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Vegan Eagle Brand Seven-Layer Magic Cookie Bars

Yield: 24-36 squares

I sometimes crave this childhood favorite made from layers of graham cracker crumbs, pecans, chocolate chips and coconut. (The Eagle Brand original contains butterscotch morsels, but I didn’t have any vegan ones, so I just used chocolate chips making my bars six layers. If you live where there are Price Chopper grocery stores–I don’t–they are supposed to carry vegan butterscotch chips. I’ve even heard Food Lion mentioned–which we do have–but I haven’t checked it out.)

The only trouble is that the “glue” that holds the whole thing together is condensed milk. I’ve researched vegan substitutions, but none appeal. I’m not sure why it hit me, but I had almost a whole can of Cream of Coconut left over after using a tiny amount in another recipe and I wondered if it could be substituted for the condensed milk in this recipe since coconut is part of the flavor profile. Plus the consistency and sweetness are very similar, at least as I recall. So, I made the original recipe, substituting the Cream of Coconut, and I’m pleased to share the habit-forming results here. For better or worse (if you lack self-control!), this old standby is now certified vegan. If this is old news to you vegans out there, my apologies, as it was a break-through for me!

One note of caution about graham crackers: Honey Grahams, as the name implies, contain honey. But I was surprised to learn that the cheaper “store” brands of even the regular graham crackers contain dairy such as buttermilk. The plain name-brand graham crackers, though, are vegan.

1/2 cup vegan butter (I like Earth Balance)
1 1/2 cup vegan graham cracker crumbs
1 cup pecan pieces or coarsely chopped pecans
1 cup vegan chocolate chips
1-3.5 ounce can shredded coconut
1 1/4 cups Cream of Coconut (about 14 ounces)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place butter into a 9 x 13 inch pan and slide into the oven for a few minutes during the preheat to melt. Remove from oven and sprinkle crumbs over the butter in an even layer. Do the same with the pecans, followed by the chips and then the coconut. Pour the Cream of Coconut over the entire concoction; there should be enough to completely cover. Bake for 25 minutes and cool in pan for at least 15 minutes before cutting. Store any leftovers tightly covered.

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