Caramel Apple Cheesecake

published Nov 30, 2022
christmas
Caramel Apple Cheesecake Recipe

The creamiest cheesecake topped with soft apples and a simple, elegant caramel sauce inspired by English toffee.

Serves10 to 16

Prep45 minutes to 55 minutes

Cook1 hour 30 minutes

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Credit: Shilpa Uskokovic

As a pastry chef, I often get asked what dessert I am the proudest of, and my answer is always cheesecake. I have worked on this recipe for years, constantly tweaking the proportions of ingredients to create the creamiest slice.

Cream cheese was always a must. But cheesecake made entirely with cream cheese is often too firm and crumbly, so cutting it with another dairy was needed. I tested with heavy cream, mascarpone, and crème fraîche, but settled on sour cream, which adds creaminess and tang to balance the sweetness of the cheesecake.

In my opinion, plain cheesecake is too decadent on its own and requires the addition of fruit. At Gramercy Tavern, we often caramelize sugar on top of the cheesecake, just like you would do with crème brûlée, and serve it with seasonal fruit like raspberries, figs, or concord grapes. But while it’s easy to brûlée individual miniature cheesecakes, it is harder to do so with one large cheesecake. The solution? Making a quick caramel sauce. Cooking apples in it creates a complex and flavorful topping that looks equally delicious and dramatic. 

Credit: Shilpa Uskokovic

Can I Bake Caramel Apple Cheesecake Without a Water Bath?

Essentially you can, and it would be fine, but I prefer to bake cheesecake in a water bath for even cooking and a creamier product. It will also help with preventing the cheesecake from cracking on top. I devised this recipe so you only add enough water to come a quarter of the way up the springform pan. This is enough to create steam for the baking duration; by the end, most will evaporate, making for easier removal without worrying that it will spill and splatter on you. 

How to Perfectly Slice Caramel Apple Cheesecake

You must adequately chill the cheesecake in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours. This will allow the cake to firm up and make for easier slicing. When ready to slice, top with caramel apples, and use the hot knife for a clean slice. You can warm the knife under the hot running water and wipe it dry before slicing. 

Credit: Shilpa Uskokovic

Do I Need to Make Caramel for Caramel Apple Cheesecake?

I know making caramel can be an intimidating, even dangerous, task. I devised a simple and easy caramel based on English toffee. Instead of caramelizing sugar, we use Muscovado sugar, a minimally refined brown sugar with an intensely fruity and caramel flavor reminiscent of dates and cherries. If you cannot source Muscovado sugar, regular brown sugar will do. I suggest you use organic brown sugar with a more robust flavor than a conventional variety. And, if you want to skip this step and buy a caramel sauce, I strongly suggest you get a Traditional Goat’s Milk Caramel from Fat Toad Farm

Caramel Apple Cheesecake Recipe

The creamiest cheesecake topped with soft apples and a simple, elegant caramel sauce inspired by English toffee.

Prep time 45 minutes to 55 minutes

Cook time 1 hour 30 minutes

Serves 10 to 16

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the apples:

  • 1 1/2 pounds

    sweet apples, such as like Honeycrisp, Gala, or Fiji

  • 1 1/2 pounds

    tart apples, such as Granny Smith

  • 2 tablespoons

    unsalted butter

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    ground cinnamon

For the crust:

  • Cooking spray

  • 5 1/2 ounces

    gingersnap cookies or graham crackers (10 whole graham crackers)

  • 4 tablespoons

    (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

For the cheesecake:

  • 1

    large or 2 small lemons

  • 16 ounces

    full-fat cream cheese, preferably Philadelphia

  • 2/3 cup

    granulated sugar

  • 2 tablespoons

    cornstarch

  • 1 teaspoon

    ground cinnamon

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1

    large egg

  • 2

    large egg yolks

  • 1 cup

    plus 2 tablespoons full-fat sour cream

For the sour cream layer:

  • 2 cups

    full-fat sour cream

  • 1/4 cup

    granulated sugar

  • 1 tablespoon

    lemon juice (from lemons in the cheesecake layer)

For the caramel apple topping:

  • 2 tablespoons

    unsalted butter

  • 1/2 cup

    muscovado or packed dark brown sugar

  • 1/2 cup

    heavy cream

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1 tablespoon

    lemon juice (from lemons in the cheesecake layer)

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    vanilla extract

Instructions

Make the apples:

  1. Peel, halve, and core 1 1/2 pounds sweet apples and 1 1/2 pounds tart apples. Cut each apple half into 6 wedges.

  2. Melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the apples and 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Gently toss with a flexible spatula to coat the apples with the butter and cinnamon.

  3. Cover and cook, stirring every minute, until the apples are al dente (still slightly firm in the middle), 10 to 12 minutes total. Remove the pan from the heat, uncover, and let cool until room temperature, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, make the crust.

Make the crust:

  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Coat a 9-inch round springform pan with cooking spray. Wrap the outside of the pan with a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil.

  2. Break 5 1/2 ounces gingersnap cookies or graham crackers into half and place in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Process until finely ground, about 10 seconds. Add 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (no need to melt first) and process until combined, 35 to 40 seconds.

  3. Transfer the mixture to the pan. Press into the bottom in an even layer. Bake until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Make the cheesecake:

  1. Keep the oven temperature to 350°F. Bring a kettle or large saucepan of water to a boil. Meanwhile, make the batter.

  2. Juice 1 large or 2 small lemons until you have 1/4 cup.

  3. Place 16 ounces cream cheese, 2/3 cup granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt in a bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Process until smooth and creamy, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

  4. Add 1 large egg and 2 large egg yolks and process until smooth, about 1 minute. Add 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sour cream and 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice. Process for 30 seconds. Scape down the sides of the bowl and process until a smooth and creamy mass forms, about 30 seconds more.

  5. Arrange 1/3 of the apples (use the softest ones) in an even layer in the crust. Reserve and refrigerate the remaining apples for the caramel apple topping.

  6. Pour the cheesecake batter into the crust over the apples. Place the springform pan in a roasting pan. Carefully pour enough boiling water into the roasting pan to come a quarter of the way up the sides of the springform pan, being careful not to splash any water into the springform pan.

  7. Place the roasting pan in the oven. Immediately reduce the oven temperature to 300°F. Bake until the center of the cheesecake is almost set and jiggles just slightly, 50 to 60 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the sour cream layer.

Make the sour cream layer:

  1. Place 2 cups sour cream, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, and 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice in a medium bowl and whisk to combine.

  2. When the cheesecake is baked, carefully remove the roasting pan from the oven. Gently dollop the sour cream topping over the top. Spread it into an even layer with a small offset spatula or back of a spoon. Return the roasting pan to the oven and bake for 15 minutes more.

  3. Remove the roasting pan from the oven. Let the cheesecake cool in the water bath for 1 hour. Remove from the roasting pan and discard the foil. Refrigerate uncovered until completely cool and firm, at least 8 or up to 24 hours.

Make the caramel apple topping:

  1. Place 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, 1/2 cup muscovado or packed dark brown sugar, 1/2 cup heavy cream, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt in a large skillet and bring to boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.

  2. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook until thickened slightly, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the reserved apples and cook, stirring gently to keep the apples intact, until the apples are glazed in a creamy caramel sauce, about 2 minutes.

  3. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and stir to combine. Let cool until room temperature, about 25 minutes.

  4. When ready to serve, run the small offset spatula around the cheesecake. Remove the sides of the pan. Transfer the cheesecake to a serving plate. Top with the caramel apples just before slicing and serving.

Recipe Notes

Substitutions: Garam masala, apple pie spice, or pumpkin pie spice can be used in place of the ground cinnamon.

Gluten-free: Gluten-free gingersnaps can be used for the crust to make the cheesecake gluten free.

Storage: This cheesecake can be refrigerated well wrapped or covered, for up to 5 days.