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Chocolate Cream Cheese Brownies

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Chocolate is my favorite dessert. Take a look at that rich, dark color. These are delicious, knock-your-socks-off absolute chocolate decadence. I recently taught these at the cooking school at Rancho la Puerta, Cocina que Canta, and no one could believe that this indulgent recipe with TWO kinds of chocolate would work within the nutritional guidelines of the world’s top-rated destination health spa.

That’s right, these brownies are less than 200 calories a serving. You won’t believe how good they are. It’s healthy recipes like this that have helped me radically change my life. Read on for the recipe–and my goal to win Favorite Chef to help other people change their lives, too.

Chef Virginia Willis on top of a boulder

Favorite Chef Contest

Climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow, till you find your dreams. 

My dear friend Evan recently shared with me a link to a contest titled “Favorite Chef” suggesting that I enter. I checked it out and saw the grand prize was $25,000, a spread in Taste of Home magazine, and a chance to cook with Carla Hall. And, the contest raises tax-deductible donations for the James Beard Foundation. Sign me up! But then I took a closer look.

The previous winner of the Favorite Chef competition had only been a few years out of culinary school. Y’all. It’s been way more than a minute since I was in culinary school. Since then, I’ve worked and studied in France, edited the Joy of Cooking, been the kitchen director for Bobby Flay, and Martha Stewart, and had my own culinary consulting company for over 20 years. I’ve won awards, including the premier accolade in my industry, a James Beard award. I love my work and my career. I’ve worked hard and have had success.

I texted him, “I think Favorite Chef is for someone less accomplished.”But, let’s be real – $25K is still a lot of money to me.

I thought,  “What will people think?” What would people think about successful me competing for money? Wouldn’t that make it abundantly clear that I am far from rich, that I sometimes struggle with finances, and that while I know I am very, very fortunate, I am at the end of the day, a chef and food writer, not exactly a high-paying profession?

Well, there was my answer.  It was then I knew I had to enter.

Health and Wellness

Being the person I want to be means no hiding, no pretending, no protective facades, and not worrying about what other people think.

Nearly every single day I receive an email, text, DM, message, social media post, or sometimes even a handwritten note from a friend, follower, or fan thanking me for inspiring them with my health journey to start their own. I am living, breathing, walking proof that it can be done and I am so grateful that my story inspires others.

It’s not just about my weight loss, it’s about being the person I want to be inside and out – my mind, body, and spirit. I would have never believed that making these changes would make such an incredibly positive difference in my life.  As a result, I have been researching going back to school, and pursuing an education in nutrition so that I can really help people, and help them make these positive life changes, too.

Reality? I can’t afford the tuition and I can’t afford to take away time from my small business to do it.

Vote for Virginia

Favorite Chef

One of the many tools that I use to keep me on the right path with goals and guardrails is the Mel Robbins podcast.  She’s one of the most respected experts on change and motivation in the world. Recently she posted an episode titled, Giving Up is Not an Option.In this episode, she emphasizes that we have to pursue our dreams, we have to wake up every day and be for our dreams.

Announce them, write them down, take them seriously, and don’t give up.

So here goes...

My goal is to win the Favorite Chef competition. I will use the prize money to pursue an education in nutrition and launch Good and Good-for-You Living, my real-life health and wellness program that will help people change their lives through cooking, coaching, and counseling. (You can read all about it and vote for me on my Favorite Chef Page. )


Favorite Chef contestant Virginia Willis
Here’s a photo with one of my favorite chefs, Executive Chef Reyna Venegas.

Point it Out

These brownies may not change your life, but healthy recipes like this will absolutely change your life! These tasty treats come in at under 200 calories a brownie and are 10 smart points each. (Pretty darn good if you compare that to well over 300 and 20 points for most store-bought versions.)

Please let me know if you give them a try. Much gratitude to my dear friends  Claire Perez for helping me develop this fantastic recipe and Angie Mosier for the top photo.

Lastly, thanks in advance to YOU for voting for me as your Favorite Chef! You can make a donation to the Beard Foundation or vote for free. Check it out HERE. The first round of voting ends 22 June. I may not win Favorite Chef, but there’s one thing for certain — if I don’t try I am guaranteed to fail!

Bon Appetit, Y’all!

Virginia Willis

Cream Cheese Chocolate Brownies

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American, Southern
Keyword: brownies,, chocolate, healthy recipes
Servings: 16


  • 4 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 cup neutral oil such as grapeseed, avocado, or canola,
  • 6 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract


  • Preheat the oven to 325°F. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, the 2 tablespoons of sugar, and vanilla, stirring until creamy and smooth. Separate one of the eggs, reserving the white for later use, and add the yolk to the cream cheese mixture. Stir to combine, then set aside.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
  • In a medium saucepan, heat the oil and chocolate over medium heat, whisking until the chocolate is melted. Whisk in the remaining cup of sugar and stir until melted. Add the buttermilk, applesauce, and vanilla. Remove from the heat. Add the remaining whole egg and the reserved egg white, whisking constantly until incorporated to prevent the eggs from curdling. Add the reserved flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Transfer brownie batter to the prepared pan.
  • Using a tablespoon, drop 9 dollops of the cream cheese mixture on top of the brownie batter. Draw the tip of a sharp knife or skewer through the two batters in a criss-cross fashion to create a swirled effect.
  • Bake the brownies until the top is just firm to the touch, rotating halfway through baking, about 40 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.
  • Coat a serrated knife with nonstick cooking spray and cut into 16 squares. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 3 days.

Let’s cook something up! If you are interested in hosting me for a speaking engagement, event, cooking class, or a book signing, let me know! Send an email to and we’ll be back in touch as soon as possible.

I am not a doctor, RD, health professional, or WW representative. I am simply sharing what works for me. My blog is for informational or educational purposes only and does not substitute professional medical advice or consultations with healthcare professionals.

Note that this post may contain affiliate links and I may make a commission if you use my affiliate link to buy the product.

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication is prohibited. All photos and content are copyright protected. If you wish to republish this recipe, please link back to this recipe on Thanks so much!

Virginia Willis cookbooks


Please note that this post may contain affiliate links.

Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained Chef Virginia Willis’ biography includes making chocolate chip cookies with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, foraging for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvesting capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and hunting for truffles in France. She is talent and chef-instructor for the digital streaming platform Food Network Kitchen. Her segments feature authentic and innovative Southern cooking. She was the celebrity chef at the Mansion at Churchill Downs for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. Virginia has spoken at SXSW, cooked for the James Beard Foundation, and beguiled celebrities such as Bill Clinton, Morgan Freeman, and Jane Fonda with her cooking — but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Recently, her work has been inspired by her weight loss success story, Virginia has lost 65# and kept it off for over 2 1/2 years! “If a French-trained, Southern chef can do it, you can, too.” She is the author of Fresh Start; Secrets of the Southern Table; Lighten Up, Y’all; Bon Appétit, Y’all; Basic to Brilliant, Y’all; Okra; and Grits. Lighten Up, Y’all won a James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence in the Focus on Health Category. Lighten Up, Y’all as well as her first cookbook, Bon Appétit, Y’all, were finalists in the Best American Cookbook for the International Association of Cookbook Awards and were also named by the Georgia Center of the Book as “Books Georgians Should Read.” She is the former TV kitchen director for Martha Stewart Living, Bobby Flay, and Nathalie Dupree; has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants; and traveled the world producing food stories – from making cheese in California to escargot farming in France. She has appeared on Food Network’s Chopped, CBS This Morning, Fox Family and Friends, Martha Stewart Living, and as a judge on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. She’s been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, People Magazine, Eater, and Food52 and has contributed to Eating Well, GRLSQUASH, Culture, Garden & Gun, and Bon Appétit, and more. The Chicago Tribune praised her as one of “Seven Food Writers You Need to Know.” Her legion of fans loves her down-to-earth attitude, approachable spirit, and traveling exploits. Her culinary consulting company, Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc specializes in content creation, recipe development, culinary editorial and production services, cookbook writing, media training, spokesperson and brand representation, and public speaking. Virginia is on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Atlanta Community Food Bank Advisory Board, as well as the Community Farmers Market Advisory Board. She is a food and hunger advocate for No Kid Hungry and a premier member of the No Kid Hungry Atlanta Society. She a member of The James Beard Foundation, Chef’s Collaborative, Georgia Organics, and Southern Foodways Alliance.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Lori McLain

    Those brownies have to be amazing!!! I’m trying them❤️

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