Think apple crisp. Drizzled with caramel. Served over cheesecake with a brown sugar crust. With a little bit more caramel for good measure. And there you have Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars. Are you drooling? Well, you probably should be.
I made these bars for the first-ever Improv Cooking Challenge, orchestrated and hosted by the fabulous Sheryl at Lady Behind the Curtain. Our challenge? Bake up a dish using the two ingredients specified by our challenge hostess - this time around, apples and caramel.
Truth be told, I'm not a fan of apples and caramel together. Apple desserts? Love them! Caramel? Love it! Together? Not so much. Those ooey-gooey, oh-so-sticky, almost-pull-my-teeth-out caramel apples on a stick? Detest them. So, probably needless to say, I wasn't just absolutely over-the-moon thrilled about this ingredient pairing (sorry, Sheryl!).
But, I really wanted to participate in the Improv Cooking Challenge, with this group of bloggers. So off I went in search of a caramel-and-apple recipe that would pique my interest. Oh, how I do love a challenge!
I came across several possibilities in my searching travels, but none grabbed me quite like these cheesecake bars from The Girl Who Ate Everything. My mind and my eyes just kept on coming back to them. So, these little gems are what I went with! And I'm so glad I did.
I mean, basically apple crisp on top of cheesecake?? With caramel??? Come on! What's not to love?
You build these little beauties in layers - starting with a brown sugar-based crust. Then you pour on cheesecake batter, layer on cinnamon-coated apples, and top that with a buttery streusel layer.
Pop it in the oven until it's set and golden brown, and then drizzle on some caramel topping.
The only change I made to this recipe was to reduce the amount of butter in the crust and the streusel topping. I think it could be reduced even more, if you would like. It is, originally, a Paula Deen recipe, after all! ... and we all know how she loves her butter.
When the bars are cooled, cut into 'em and drizzle on a little more caramel topping ... ya know, just because you can. Then dig on in! I shared these with my team at school, and almost everyone asked for the recipe. Yes, this is one of those recipes.
And I have to say, this is one caramel and apple combination even a non-caramel apple lover can get behind! And biting into it won't pull your teeth out. I promise.
Caramel Apple Cheesecake Squares
Source: Adapted from The Girl Who Ate Everything (who adapted from Paula Deen)
2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 c. (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
3 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, softened
3/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 tart apples (such as Rome or Granny Smith), peeled, cored and finely chopped
2 T. sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. quick cooking oats
1/3 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. caramel topping
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a medium bowl, combine flour and brown sugar. Cut in butter with a pastry blender (or 2 forks) until mixture is crumbly.
3. Press evenly into a 9x13 baking pan lined with heavy-duty aluminum foil and sprayed with cooking spray. Bake 15 minutes or until lightly browned.
4. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese with the 3/4 cup sugar in an electric mixer at medium speed until smooth. Add eggs, 1 at a time, and then add vanilla. Stir to combine. Pour over warm crust.
5. In a small bowl, stir together chopped apples, 2 tablespoons sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Spoon evenly over cream cheese mixture.
6. In a small bowl, combine all streusel ingredients. Using your hands or a fork, mix until the ingredients come together and form small crumbs. Sprinkle apples evenly with Streusel topping.
7. Bake 40-45 minutes, or until filling is set.
8. Drizzle baked bars with caramel topping and let cool. Serve cold.