Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies

Rich and fudgy brownies with a tangy cream cheese swirl – these Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies are perfect for sharing! Plus, tips on how to properly store cream cheese desserts.

close up view of a brownie marbled with cream cheese

Brownies are one of those foods that are not remotely seasonal.  There’s no special ingredient that is only available one time of year.

It’s not like soup or a popsicle, which you only crave when temperatures reach certain highs or lows.  Brownies are, truly, an all-the-time option.

There’s just something about summer, however, that calls for brownies.  Picnics in the park, potluck BBQs, 4th of July parties.  Stoop sitting, although that might mostly be a Philly thing.

All perfect situations for sharing a big pan of brownies.  So now that the temperature has jumped to 90 (wah!) and summer is well on its way, let’s talk brownies.  Like these Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies.

brownie on a plate with more stacked in the background

Best Fudgy Brownies

These cream cheese swirl brownies are made using my favorite easy brownie base. Trust me, these are so easy to make – and taste even better than a boxed mix! No using a mixer, no creaming butter – just one bowl and a wooden spoon to make the brownies.

Some people think that using cocoa powder results in “cakey” brownies, but I’m here to assure you that it just plain isn’t true! Cakey brownies are the result of either adding (a) too much flour or (b) not adding enough fat.

These brownies have just the right ratio of flour to fat to prevent them from becoming dry and cakey!

Now onto these cream cheese swirl brownies! I’m calling them “cream cheese swirl” and not “cheesecake” brownies because it’s really just that — a light, cream cheese swirl.  The swirl adds just a little creamy cheesy tang, a perfect complement to rich, fudgy brownies.  Perfect for sharing at potlucks, picnics, or stoop-sitting sessions.  Or for hoarding and eating all yourself, because… brownies.

step by step photos of layering cream cheese and brownie batter to swirl

Do You Need To Refrigerate Cream Cheese Brownies?

One of the most common questions I receive about ANY recipe with cream cheese is asking if the final baked dessert has to be refrigerated. Do we have to refrigerate these brownies with a cream cheese swirl?

Buckle up, because it’s obviously time for my favorite subject… kitchen chemistry!

Kitchen Chemistry

Sugar acts as a preservative.  Sugar is hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs water.  It can draw the water out of dairy, thus reducing the amount of water available for the growth of bacteria.  Butter, cream, and cream cheese are stabilized by all the sugar, and thus safe to store at room temperature for up to three days if the sugar content is sufficient.

Take American-style buttercream frosting.  Butter is 80% fat, 20% water, so you need enough sugar to stabilize the 20% water from the butter (and a splash of heavy cream).  American buttercream is super sugary, so you don’t need to worry about it – there is plenty of sugar compared to the 20% water in the butter.

Cream cheese, however, is roughly 33% fat and up to 55% water — that’s a lot more water!  So you have to have more sugar present to act as a preservative. You need (roughly) a pound (4 cups) of sugar per half-pound (8 ounces) of cream cheese to stabilize the cream cheese component enough to sit out at room temperature.

Whew!  Are you still with me after our kitchen chemistry explanation?

How about these cream cheese swirl brownies?  Well, the sugar content in the swirl is definitely less than necessary for preservation… but the brownies are baked, which also helps to dry out the excess moisture.  

So for these, I’ll let them stay at room temperature for a day or two, but if we won’t eat them right away, store them in the refrigerator.

freshly baked brownies still in the pan
  • Mixing Bowls: My favorite set of mixing bowls – multiple sizes, and microwave and dishwasher-safe!
  • 9″ Square Baking Dish: Use a light-colored metal baking dish for the most effective transfer of heat.
  • Dutch Process Cocoa Powder: Higher quality cocoa powder with a higher fat content always results in the best flavor and texture!
  • Cooling Rack: My favorite stackable, collapsable cooling rack is strong enough to support a pan of brownies.
cream cheese swirl brownie with a bite taken out of the corner

Tips and Tricks for the Best Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies

  1. For the fudgiest brownies, bake them in a light-colored, metal pan!  Darker pans will transfer more heat into the brownies and cook the edges more quickly than the center, which results in dry and cakey edges.
  2. Using good-quality cocoa powder is the best way to ensure that your brownies have a wonderful flavor. Lower-quality cocoa powder will result in a less chocolatey brownie (and who wants that?!).
  3. If you want to bake these cream cheese swirl brownies in a 9×13 pan, just double the recipe and add about 5 minutes to the cooking time!
  4. Cool the brownies completely before slicing.  The brownies will set quite a bit as they cool.  For smooth, even cuts, refrigerate the brownies for an hour before cutting.

More Brownie Recipes:

Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies

Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies

Yield: 16 brownies
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes

Rich and fudgy brownies with a tangy cream cheese swirl – these cream cheese swirl brownies are perfect for sharing!


For the brownies:

  • 3/4 cup (170 grams) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups (270 grams) granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup (63 grams) Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (120 grams) all-purpose flour

For the cream cheese swirl:

  • 8 ounces (227 grams) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/3 cup (66 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


    1. Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Line a 9″ square baking dish with aluminum foil, extending the foil over the edges to form handles, and grease the foil.
    2. Make the brownie batter. Combine the butter and sugar in a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds, then stir with a wooden spoon. Repeat this process twice or until all the butter is melted and the mixture looks shiny (granulated particles of sugar will still remain). Allow the mixture to cool for 5 minutes.
    3. Stir in the eggs, one at a time, followed by the cocoa powder, salt, and vanilla extract. Stir by hand with a wooden spoon until well combined and shiny. Add in the flour, folding in gently until just combined and no dry streaks of flour remain.
    4. Make the cream cheese swirl. In a small bowl, stir together the cream cheese, sugar, egg, and vanilla extract until smooth.
    5. Swirl the brownie batter. Spread all but 1/2 cup of the brownie batter into the prepared pan, using a knife to spread the batter into the corners carefully. Spread the cream cheese swirl batter across the top of the brownie batter. Drop the remaining brownie batter on top of the cream cheese layer, in several large drops. Use a knife to gently swirl the brownie batter over the cream cheese layer.
    6. Bake the brownies. Bake for 28-34 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out almost clean. Leave at room temperature until cooled and then refrigerate.


  1. For the fudgiest brownies, bake them in a light-colored, metal pan.  Darker pans will transfer more heat into the brownies and cook the edges more quickly than the center.
  2. Using good-quality cocoa powder for the best brownie flavor.
  3. To bake the brownies in a 9x13-inch pan, double the recipe and add 5 minutes to the baking time.

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Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies: rich and fudgy brownies with a tangy cream cheese swirl. Plus, tips on how to properly store cream cheese-based desserts!