Salted Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars
Caramel, apples, and the fall are made for each other.
And while these bars bake, you house will smell like a fall-scented bakery. No candles required.
Usually layered bars, or actual cheesecakes, mean lots of dishes and work, but these are fast, easy, made in one bowl, and a mixer is optional. They provide all the glory of real cheesecake, minus the work or water bath.
The buttery, brown sugar-graham cracker crust is good enough to eat on it’s own and I never say that about crust. Normally it’s soft and gooey desserts that make me swoon, but this crust is so good that I adapted the Salted Caramel Swirled-Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars, just so I could have this crust again.
Make it by melting butter, and stirring in brown sugar and graham cracker crumbs. While it bakes, the butter and brown sugar caramelize and you’re left with caramel undertones, which play off the salted caramel sauce used on the top layer.
The cheesecake layer is a mixture of cream cheese, cinnamon and sugar, molasses, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, molasses with apples folded in.
One tablespoon of molasses really rounds out the flavor profile and adds depth you just can’t get without it. It’s one of the quintessential flavors of fall for me.
I used one medium diced, unpeeled Fuji apple. Use your favorite type of apple, peeled or unpeeled.
If you’re trying to save calories and fat where you can, you can use light cream cheese. Often in baking you cannot use light products because the item won’t turn out or set up, but I’ve tested it here and it’s fine.
The spice level is on the robust side, but not overpowering, and starts off with 1 tablespoon of cinnamon. In order to lend enough flavor to this dessert with the dense crust, thick layer of cream cheese, and apple (all are bland on their own) seasoning liberally is necessary or the dessert won’t pop and will taste bland. Of course, add spices to taste.
Before baking, I swirled salted caramel sauce over the top layer. You can either make your own or use storebought. I’m a big fan of TJ’s Fleur de Sel sauce but use your favorite thick caramel sauce. Don’t use ice cream sundae topping, with corn syrup being one of the first ingredients. It’s too thin and will get lost in the bars. Thicker is the only way to go.
While baking, the bars rise up fairly considerably in the pan, more than you’d think they would if you’re an oven-door watcher. They shrink back down as they cool.
The crust is crunchy, buttery, with plenty of snap. If you’ve ever had an oatmeal-cookie-crusted pie, that’s what it reminds me of, with graham cracker crumbs in place of the oats.
The cheesecake layer is thick, dense, soft, yet firm, with warm, comforting flavors. Biting into the apple pieces, which retain some texture while baking, is a great contrast to the soft, smooth cream cheese.
Upon cooling and prior to serving, I drizzled on extra caramel sauce.
The more, the merrier.
Salted Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars
These bars are full of the flavors of fall. Caramel, apples, and they’re well-spiced with warm, comforting fall spices. The soft yet dense apple cheesecake layer tops a crisp, brown sugar-graham cracker crust, while gooey, salted caramel drenches the top. The apples retain some texture while baking, and are a great contrast to the soft, smooth cream cheese. The buttery, brown sugar crust caramelizes while baking, and complements the caramel sauce that’s swirled in. The bars are fast and easy to make, can be made in one bowl. Much faster and simpler than making a whole cheesecake, and taste just as impressive.
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon cornstarch
pinch salt, optional and to taste
1 large egg
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature and very soft (light is okay, micro for 10-15 seconds if you forgot to set it out to soften)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon molasses (light, mild, or medium molasses; not blackstrap)
1 tablesoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup small diced apple pieces (I used 1 medium-large, unpeeled Fuji apple; use your favorite)
about 1/2 cup salted caramel sauce, divided (I use Trader Joe’s or make homemade salted caramel. Don’t use ice cream sauce that’s made with corn syrup as the first ingredient because it’s too thin; thicker is better)
- Preheat over to 350F. Line an 8×8-inch pan with aluminum foil, spray with cooking spray; set aside.
- Crust – In a medium microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter, about 1 minute on high power.
- Add all remaining crust ingredients and mix with a fork to combine.
- Turn loose crumbs out into prepared pan and using a spatula, pack mixture firmly into pan in an even, smooth, flat layer; set pan aside.
- Cheesecake – In the same mixing bowl (no need to wash it), combine egg, cream cheese, sugar, molasses, vanilla, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, and whisk until very smooth and combined, or beat with an electric mixer until smooth and satiny. The softer the cream cheese is, the easier the mixture comes together.
- Add the cornstarch and mix to just incorporate.
- Fold in the apples.
- Pour mixture over crust, smoothing lightly with spatula and dispersing apple pieces evenly.
- Drizzle about 1/4 cup caramel sauce over batter to create swirls. To create the marbled pattern shown, drizzle caramel over batter in 5 wide, evenly spaced, parallel lines, each spanning the length of the pan. Like 5 rows of long train tracks. Rotate pan 90-degrees. With a toothpick, starting at the top of the pan, “draw” 5 evenly spaced lines through the caramel. You’re dragging the toothpick perpendicularly through the first set of lines to create the marbling.
- Bake for about 45 to 48 minutes, or until center is set with very little jiggle; some looseness and a very slight jiggle is okay, but there should not be sloshing in the center. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out mostly clean, or with a few moist crumbs, but no batter. Allow bars to cool in pan for about 1 hour before lifting out with foil overhang and slicing. I prefer to serve these bars chilled. Cover pan with foil to prevent fridge smells, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight, or until chilled before slicing and serving.
- Before slicing, drizzle about 1/4 cup caramel sauce over top; or add extra caramel to each piece individually prior to serving. Bars will keep airtight in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
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Favorite apple + caramel recipe?