Caramel Apple Cheesecake

With a perfectly smooth cheesecake and a caramel apple topping, this caramel apple cheesecake is the perfect make-ahead entertaining dessert! Plus all the tips for a perfectly creamy, crack-free cheesecake every time.

a slice of cheesecake covered in caramel apple topping on a decorative feather plate

Anyone who knows me knows how much I dislike cheesecake.  And yet I keep making them, because I married a cheesecake lover.  The running joke in our family is that my husband requests a cheesecake every year for his birthday, because he knows he’ll get to eat the entire thing himself since I won’t touch it. 

(Things are changing, however – our 3 year old seems to have inherited the cheesecake-enjoying gene.)

I never mind making cheesecakes, however, because they’re just so easy.  Combine all ingredients in a food processor or mixer.  Pour into springform pan.  Bake.  Done.

a plain cheesecake baked in a springform pan

Of course, the stressful part is often waiting to see if your cheesecake cracks, but don’t worry.  Keep on reading for my favorite tips to prevent that. 

And even if it does crack, who cares?  This caramel apple cheesecake has a whole pile of apples and salted caramel sauce poured on top so if it does crack, no one will ever know.

An easy, delicious, stress free cheesecake.  Does it get any easier?  No, no it does not.

side view of a cheesecake covered with whipped cream, cooked apples, and salted caramel

How Does Cheesecake Set?

First, let’s talk a little about my favorite subject: kitchen chemistry! Last week, I shared a recipe for chocolate cream pie, and my kitchen chemistry for the week focused on custard and the crosslinking of egg proteins. 

News alert: a cheesecake is a custard… except we use cream cheese instead of milk!  

Of course, unlike a custard, we really want a cheesecake to be solid.  We use a thicker dairy ingredient (cream cheese instead of milk) and bake the custard instead of heating it on the stove.

Kitchen Chemistry

When we (slowly!) heat a cheesecake, the proteins in the eggs begin to lose their shape (in science, we refer to protein structure — this is the three-dimensional shape of the protein), unfolding in a process called denaturation.  As the proteins expand, new bonds form with other nearby proteins.  These proteins begin to clump together, or coagulate.  When we bake a cheesecake, the egg proteins denature, exposing additional surface area.  Sugar molecules are able to interact with the denatured egg proteins, and these larger molecules begin to coagulate together to form a solid structure.  With enough time and heat, the liquid ingredients combine to form a solid cheesecake.

overhead view of two slices of caramel apple cheesecake on plates with leaf designs

How do you prevent a cheesecake from cracking?

The number one reasons cheesecakes crack is because they’re overcooked.  Applying heat too fast results in a cheesecake that goes right from coagulation to curdling — and the telltale sign is a big crack down the middle with a dry texture along the crack.

Cheesecakes continue to cook and set as they cool, so if you wait until the cheesecake is almost done jiggling, you’ve waited too long!  You want to pull it out when it still jiggles a lot — you’re looking for a 3 to 4 inch diameter circle in the center that really wobbles.

Or take all the guesswork out and bake the cheesecake by temperature.  Using an instant-read thermometer, turn off the oven when the cheesecake reaches 150 °F.  No need to hem and haw over whether that wobbly spot is too big or too small. 

Science: it works!

a hand holding a fork removing the end of a piece of caramel apple cheesecake

Tips for baking a perfect cheesecake

Want to know all my secrets for a silky-smooth cheesecake?  Here we go!

  1. Use room temperature ingredients.  Cold cream cheese and eggs are harder to mix smoothly.  To try to get a smooth batter, you’ll probably overbeat the ingredients, adding in excess air.  Make sure to set out all your ingredients ahead of time to bring them to room temperature first!
  2. Avoid excess overmixing. Even if your ingredients are room temperature, you can still mix too much!  Do you sometimes turn on your mixer and stop to wash some dishes or do something else and get distracted?  (Just me?)  Over-beating the batter adds too much air, which causes the cheesecake to puff up while baking and skin while cooling, leading to cracks.
  3. Grease the sides of the pan.  If the crust stops halfway up the sides of the pan, grease the sides above the crust.  A cheesecake shrinks a little as it cools; you want it to pull away from the edges and shrink inward, not stick to the sides.
  4. Cool the cheesecake slowly.  One easy way to do this is to turn off the oven, leave the door open partway, and let it cool.  Alternatively, take the cheesecake out of the oven and let it cool inside a closed microwave or invert a large bowl overtop the cheesecake.
  5. Chill overnight before serving. I know, I know.  You want that cheesecake and you want it now!  But by letting the cheesecake cool to room temperature and then refrigerating overnight, the cheesecake really has a chance to set.

overhead view of a piece of caramel apple cheesecake with one forkful removed and the fork sitting on the side of the plate

How to make Caramel Apple Cheesecake

Now that we have our generic cheesecake tips out of the way, let’s talk about this specific cheesecake: a caramel apple cheesecake!

Caramel and apple are (obviously) a perfect flavor combination, and work year round, although are especially great in fall and winter when most other fruits are not easily available.  I actually made this caramel apple cheesecake as a dessert for Thanksgiving, but it’s just as perfectly at home for other winter holidays. 

(And did I mention that it’s really easy? A perfect last minute dessert? And it can be made ahead of time?!)

We have five components for this caramel apple cheesecake: a graham cracker crust, a vanilla-based cheesecake, a homemade apple pie topping, whipped cream, and super easy homemade salted caramel sauce.  

We’ll start with the graham cracker crust.  Crushed graham crackers, sugar, cinnamon, and butter.  Press along the bottom and partway up the sides of a springform pan.  Par-bake the crust for a bit, then let it cool.  Easy peasy.

Next, the star of the show: the cheesecake layer.  I make mine in a food processor, since I already pull it out to crush the graham cracker crumbs, but you can use a stand or a hand mixer as well.  As long as your ingredients are room temperature, it will mix together easily.  Combine ingredients, mix, pour into the crust, and bake.  (See above for cheesecake baking tips!)

While the cheesecake bakes, made the apple pie topping.  You can really use any apple you like here; add a little sugar if it’s too tart.  Since we’re cooking this on the stovetop, you can stop when the apples get soft without risk of overcooking them.  For reference, I used gala apples for this, since it’s what we happened to have on hand.   Can you stir a few ingredients for 5 minutes?  Because that’s all this apple topping requires.

While the apple pie topping cools, break out your mixer (or my favorite trick: an immersion blender with a whisk) to make some whipped cream.  Or you know, cheat and use a can of Reddi-Whip.  I’m pretty sure no one will notice with everything else going into this!

Lastly, the homemade salted caramel. Sounds fancy and complicated, right?  Wrong!  It only requires 4 ingredients and 10 minutes.  The only trick is using it while it’s still warm and pourable.  Don’t worry if it solidifies or if you want to use the extra to drizzle on a cut slice; just pop it back on the stove and stir while it heats.  It will be back to a pourable consistency in no time at all!

When it’s time to assemble the caramel apple cheesecake, remove the sides from the springform pan.  Pipe the whipped cream around the outside and pile on the apple topping.  Drizzle the salted caramel all across the top.  And then… dig in!

four cut slices of caramel apple cheesecake on a cake stand

How to Make Caramel Apple Cheesecake Ahead of Time

Don’t let the number of steps or layers fool you; this caramel apple cheesecake actually comes together pretty quickly.  You can make the cheesecake ahead of time and refrigerate (or freeze!) it.  If frozen, thaw the night before you plan to serve it.

Make the apple filling a day or two before, too!  The only things I generally make day-of are the whipped cream and the caramel, and this only takes 15 minutes: 5 for the whipped cream, 10 for the salted caramel.  

Assemble, serve, and enjoy a big slice.

More Cheesecake Recipes:

Caramel Apple Cheesecake

Caramel Apple Cheesecake

Yield: Serves 14
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Chilling Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 4 hours 10 minutes
With a perfectly smooth cheesecake and a caramel apple topping, this caramel apple cheesecake is the perfect make-ahead entertaining dessert!

Ingredients

For the Crust:

  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (approximately 12 full size sheets)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

For the cheesecake filling:

  • 20 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup sour cream, room temperature
  • 2 eggs, room temperature

For the apple topping:

  • 4 medium apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup sugar

For the salted caramel:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • For the whipped cream!
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. To make the crust, combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Transfer the mixture to a 9-inch springform pan and, using a measuring cup, press crumbs firmly onto the bottom and 2" up the sides of the pan. Bake the crust at 350 °F for 12-15 minutes, until edges just start to brown. Remove springform pan from the oven and cool.
  2. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 °F. Using a food processor or a mixer, combine the cream cheese, sugar, and salt, beating just until smooth. Add in the vanilla extract and sour cream, continuing to mix just until smooth. Add in both eggs, mix to combine. Scrape the filling into the cooled crust and bake cheesecake until edges are set but center is still wobbly, around 35 minutes, or until cheesecake reaches an internal temperature of 150 °F. Turn off the oven and open the oven door; cool in oven for 30 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.
  3. To make the apple topping, combine all ingredients in a small saucepan set over medium heat. Stir together and cook for 5 minutes, or until apples are soft.
  4. To make the salted caramel, heat the sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring continuously, until sugar melts into a brown liquid. Add the butter and continue to stir until fully melted. Slowly pour in the heavy cream, continuing to stir, and bring caramel to a boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the salt. Cool while making the whipped cream.
  5. To make the whipped cream, whisk together the heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla extract using either a mixer or an immersion blender with a whisk attachment. Beat until medium peaks form.
  6. To assemble the cheesecake, remove the sides from the springform pan. Pipe whipped cream dollops along the outside of the cheesecake. Spoon the apple filling into the center. Drizzle the caramel sauce over the entire cheesecake (if caramel sauce has cooled and solidified, warm slightly on the stovetop while stirring).
  7. Refrigerate the entire cheesecake at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

Notes

Cheesecake components can be made ahead of time.

  • Cheesecake layer can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or wrapped in plastic wrap and aluminum foil and stored in the freezer for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in refrigerator.
  • Apple topping can be made up to 3 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.
  • Salted caramel can be made up to two weeks in advance; gently reheat on the stovetop to return to a pourable consistency.
  • Cheesecake should be assembled same day or the night before serving.

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 14 Serving Size: 1 slice
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 445 Total Fat: 27.8g Carbohydrates: 46.3g Protein: 4.62g
Caramel Apple Cheesecake: a rich and creamy cheesecake covered with whipped cream, homemade apple pie filling, and drizzled with homemade salted caramel.  #bunsenburnerbakery #cheesecake #caramelapple #holidaydesserts