I'm renaming these brownies from "cream bars" to "cheesecake brownies" as the appendage to the dulce de leche part. Because anything with this much cream cheese in the topping deserves the cheesecake moniker. Now you may notice I've broken one of my cardinal rules and made this from a (gads, it's hard for me to say it, much less type it)....brownie mix. Yes, that's right - a mix. At first I was going to substitute in a from-scratch brownie recipe for the base but since the recipe book is actually called Brownie MIX Bliss and the basis is that you can make delicious brownies even from a mix, I felt honor-bound to go through with the recipe using the mix. And in case anyone wonders why, when I'm so opposed to brownie mixes, that I have an entire baking book that uses one in every recipe....I dunno. I did mention I have a problem resisting buying baking books, right? I must've bought this awhile ago before my baking snobbiness really kicked in.
Anyway, it turns out Betty Crocker brownie mixes are on sale at Walgreens this week for 89 cents a box so at least, if I had to compromise my baking principles, I did it on the cheap. When using a brownie mix or a cake mix, always run it through a sieve first to get rid of the lumps. It's usually a pain to do but worth it in your end product to have it be lump free. I made two alterations to this recipe. First, I used actual dulce de leche instead of caramel topping. Uh, if you're going to call something dulce de leche, you should use dulce de leche in it. Caramel and dulce de leche are not the same thing even though, in many cases, they can probably be used interchangeably, depending on the recipe. The second modification I made was rather than reserving the rest of the dulce de leche to drizzle on top of the bars, I actually swirled it into the brownie base itself. But that's just a personal preference on my part as I anticipated I would prefer the sweetness of the dulce de leche more with the chocolate brownie than atop the cheesecake layer.
The brownie batter, because it had relatively little liquid in it, was more of a brownie dough so you have to pat it even in the pan. It was too stiff for me to literally swirl in the dulce de leche so I dropped it in dollops on a thin layer of the dough and (mostly) covered it with the remaining brownie dough. After 18 minutes in the oven, the edges looked baked but the middle was definitely soft. The cheesecake topping is pretty liquid-y, like most cheesecake toppings. Pour it carefully over the hot brownie base in a slight, steady stream all over the pan. You don't want a waterfall of cheesecake topping denting your brownie in spots.
Overall, I think this came out well. I'm not a big cream cheese or cheesecake fan so this will still only rate an "okay" in my book, even if other people love it. The brownie base was nicely chewy and made for a good contrast to the softer texture of the cheesecake topping. It's not as tangy as other cheesecakes, perhaps because of the addition of the dulce de leche. Surprisingly, it also wasn't that sweet which could've been the offset from the sour cream. I still think this would taste better if you use a from-scratch brownie recipe but I have to admit, it did "work" with the brownie mix version being more of a dough rather than a brownie. It became more of a crust for the dulce de leche cheesecake rather than a brownie base.
1 19.5 to 19.8-ounce brownie mix
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
4 large eggs
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
1 17-ounce jar premium caramel ice cream topping
1. Preheat oven to 350⁰F. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Spray a 9 x 13” baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and/or line with foil then spray.
2. In a medium mixing bowl, mix the brownie mix, melted butter and 1 egg with a wooden spoon until just blended and all dry ingredients are moistened. Spread mixture into prepared pan.
3. Bake 18 minutes. Remove from oven (leave oven on).
4. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, brown sugar, flour and vanilla with electric mixer set on high until well blended. Add sour cream; mix until blended. Add remaining 3 eggs, one at a time, mixing on low after each addition until just blended. Add half of the caramel topping; mix on low until blended. Pour over hot crust.
5. Bake 32-35 minutes or until center is just barely set. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.