Peppermint Swirl Brownies

Peppermint Swirl Brownies

Chocolate and peppermint is a match made in heaven – there is no question about that. And if the chocolate comes in the form of a fudgy brownie and the peppermint in the form of a luscious, creamy (pink!) cream cheese swirl, well, then all the better.

How to Get the Perfect Fudgy Brownie

Here, an easy, cocoa-based brownie is made with melted butter – for both ease of use and for flavor. Sometimes brownies can call for a mixture of oil and butter, but in this instance, straight-up butter is just perfect for keeping the recipe’s ingredient list short and assembly brief. Moreover, the melted butter (and relatively small amount of flour, plus lack of a leavener) makes these brownies fudgy, rather than cakey which is just what I was after.

Cocoa Powder vs. Melted Chocolate

And I chose to only use cocoa powder here, rather than a mixture of melted chocolate and powder, for the same reasons listed above (I love short ingredient lists and easy assembly!) – and because while recipe testing, I found that an all cocoa powder brownie was slightly firmer than one with added melted chocolate – and that structure works well when swirled. 

Peppermint Extract and Candies Bring the Tingle

Finally, the peppermint layer! I wanted it to be beautiful to look at and vibrant with minty flavor to boot, and I discovered that a cream cheese swirl, tinted pink, was the perfect vehicle with which to achieve all of my swirly dreams. The swirl is almost cheesecake like in texture and its subtle tang is a wonderful contrast to the fudgy brownie beneath it. Moreover, the extract in the swirl, plus in the brownies themselves, really gives you all the minty feels you could ask for.

But if that isn’t enough, I just had to gild the lily by throwing some crushed candy canes into the brownies themselves and also on top, about 5 minutes before pulling them from the oven. In the brownies they add flavor and on top, both flavor and wonderful crunchy texture. The brownies are quite soft and the sprinkling of candy on top is such a nice contrast.

Oh, and I like these cold, for the most refreshing of treats. Yes, they are perfect for the winter holidays, but they are also just perfect whenever the craving hits (which, if you’re like me, is often!).

“For a wintery Holiday-themed variant of the classic chocolate treat, try this peppermint filled delight. Careful while making the swirls so you can get the prettiest brownies you’ve ever seen.” —Noah Velush-Rogers

Peppermint Swirl Brownies/Tester Image A Note From Our Recipe Tester

Ingredients

For the Peppermint Swirl:

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

  • 1/3 cup confectioners' sugar

  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

  • 1 large egg

  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract

  • 2 to 3 drops liquid or gel red food coloring

For the Brownies:

  • 4 ounces (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted

  • 2/3 cup (53 grams) Dutch process cocoa powder

  • 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

  • 2 large eggs, room temperature

  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt

  • 2/3 cup (87 grams) all-purpose flour

  • 2/3 cup crushed peppermint candies, such as Star Brite mints or candy canes, divided

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    ingredients for peppermint swirl brownies gathered

    The Spruce Eats / Photographer Victor Protasio, Food Stylist Ana Kelly, Prop Stylist Christine Keely

  2. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 350 F. Grease an 8-inch square cake pan with softened butter. Line the bottom with a large sheet of parchment paper that extends up and over two opposite sides of the pan.

    square baking pan lined with parchment paper

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  3. To make the peppermint swirl, place the cream cheese, confectioners' sugar, salt, egg, extract, and food coloring in a medium bowl and beat with a hand mixer on medium to medium high speed until combined and fluffy. You can also use a stand mixer.

    blended cream cheese mixture for peppermint swirl

    The Spruce Eats / Photographer Victor Protasio, Food Stylist Ana Kelly, Prop Stylist Christine Keely

  4. To make the brownies, microwave the butter, cocoa powder, and sugar on high in a large microwave-safe bowl in a few 30-second bursts, whisking after each, until combined. The batter will be quite thick and fudgy-looking. If you do not have a microwave, you may place the ingredients in a heat-proof bowl over a pot of simmering water on the stovetop until combined.

    brownie batter ingredients in bowl with spatula

    The Spruce Eats / Photographer Victor Protasio, Food Stylist Ana Kelly, Prop Stylist Christine Keely

  5. Whisk in the extract. Gently whisk in the eggs one at a time.

    eggs whisked in to brownie batter with whisk

    The Spruce Eats / Photographer Victor Protasio, Food Stylist Ana Kelly, Prop Stylist Christine Keely

  6. Sprinkle the salt over the wet ingredients and whisk it in.

    salt added to brownie batter and whisked in

    The Spruce Eats / Photographer Victor Protasio, Food Stylist Ana Kelly, Prop Stylist Christine Keely

  7. Finally, fold in the flour and 1/3 cup of the crushed candy until the last streak of flour disappears. Don’t overmix.

    flour folded in to brownie batter with spatula

    The Spruce Eats / Photographer Victor Protasio, Food Stylist Ana Kelly, Prop Stylist Christine Keely

  8. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, reserving 3/4 cup of it.

    brownie batter in prepared baking pan with 3/4 cup reserved in bowl

    The Spruce Eats / Photographer Victor Protasio, Food Stylist Ana Kelly, Prop Stylist Christine Keely

  9. Dollop the swirl mixture over the brownie batter in the pan—about 9 dollops, using a 1 1/2 tablespoon portion scoop, if you have it.

    dollops of the peppermint swirl on top of brownie batter

    The Spruce Eats / Photographer Victor Protasio, Food Stylist Ana Kelly, Prop Stylist Christine Keely

  10. Dollop the reserved brownie batter in between the swirl dollops. Run a long wooden skewer through both the brownie batter and the pink cream cheese mixture, until the top is completely covered in decorative swirls. Don’t swirl too much: big swirls are what you want, as they are most dramatic. And don’t swirl too deep or the swirl can get lost in the batter.

    remaining brownie batter being swirled with peppermint cream using a wooden skewer

    The Spruce Eats / Photographer Victor Protasio, Food Stylist Ana Kelly, Prop Stylist Christine Keely

  11. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, rotating the pan at the halfway point. At the 25 minute mark, sprinkle the remaining 1/3 cup of candy over the top of the brownies. The brownies are ready when a cake tester inserted into the brownie—not the swirl—comes out with a few moist crumbs—do not over bake.

    cake tester coming out with a bit of crumb from the baked brownies in pan on cooling rack

    The Spruce Eats / Photographer Victor Protasio, Food Stylist Ana Kelly, Prop Stylist Christine Keely

  12. Let cool to room temperature. Lift the brownies out of the pan by the parchment handles. Run a butter knife around the edges not covered by the paper, if there’s resistance. Slice into 9 equal sized squares and serve room-temperature, or refrigerate for an hour and serve chilled (my preference).

    finished peppermint swirl brownie lifted from pan using parchment paper

    The Spruce Eats / Photographer Victor Protasio, Food Stylist Ana Kelly, Prop Stylist Christine Keely

Recipe Tips

  • You may combine the swirl ingredients by hand if you do not want to pull out your hand or stand mixer, but the extra fluffiness that the mixers offer makes dolloping and swirling a little easier. And results in more dramatic-looking swirls
  • To avoid overmixing the batter, stop folding in the flour when the last streak of it just disappears.
  • If you forget to leave your cream cheese on the counter in order to bring it to room temperature, remove it from its foil packaging, place it in a microwave-safe bowl, and microwave on high in 30 second bursts, stirring after each, until soft. 
  • When swirling the brownie batter and the pink, minty cream cheese mixture together, do not extend your wooden skewer down to the bottom of the pan: just stick it in deep enough so that you can swirl the brownie and cream cheese dollops together. And make large swirls with the skewer for the prettiest brownies. 
  • There is a lot of extract in these brownies, but I promise it is not overwhelming. But if you want a less minty flavor, dial it back.

Make Ahead

Make the swirl up to 24 hours beforehand, but bring to room temperature before using.

Recipe Variations

Omit the red food coloring for different, but equally gorgeous, swirls.

How to Store or Freeze

Keep the brownies tightly wrapped in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Freeze them in a zippered plastic bag for up to a month.

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