The story behind this bar is long, but I made it to use up some graham crumbs. Adding in the toasted hazelnuts I found, and using up more of my crystallized honey made perfect sense when I decided to use 3 of the apples...my apple pie cheesecake idea turned into salted caramel apple cheesecake.
I was making this for a coffee break treat, but it can be served as dessert as well. The sweetness of the honey is understated because of the tartness of the cream cheese and apples. The salt enhances the caramel, and there were just enough hazelnuts to add interest to the crust without overpowering everything else.
To make the salted caramel apples, combine in a heavy bottomed pan:
2 ounces butter
1/2 cup honey
Heat on a low heat until the butter has melted.
Turn the heat up to medium high, and stir until the caramel starts to bubble. Then leave it to cook until it is a deep golden colour, stirring occasionally.
Add the apples:
3 peeled, cored and sliced apples (1/4" thick)
Turn the heat to low. The caramel will seize up from the cold apples, and then start to melt again.
When the apples are tender, but still hold their shape, use a slotted spoon to remove them from the caramel. Reserve the caramel.
Add the salt and cinnamon to the apples and stir gently to coat each slice:
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Set the apples aside until needed. Heat the oven to 350F and line an 8" X 8" pan with parchment paper.
To make the crust, combine the following in a food processor:
265g graham crumbs
20g toasted hazelnuts
Process until the hazelnuts are finely ground.
Place the graham crumbs and hazelnuts into a bowl. Add:
70g melted butter
Mix until well combined, and moist crumbs form.
Press the crust onto the bottom of the prepared pan and bake until set and slightly golden, about 8 - 10 minutes.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool while you make the cream cheese filling.
In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, mix until smooth and creamy, with no lumps remaining:
1 pound brick cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
Add, one at a time, scraping the bowl down in between:
1 teaspoon vanilla
5 tablespoons whipping cream
Remove 1/4 cup of the cream cheese filling, and combine it with:
2 tablespoons of the cooled caramel from cooking the apples
Set aside until needed.
Place the cooled apples on top of the crust.
Scrape the cream cheese filling into the pan, spreading it gently over the apples.
Use a spoon to drizzle the caramel cream cheese over the vanilla cream cheese filling, to create a swirled pattern.
Put the 8" X 8" pan into a larger pan and adding about 1/2" of hot water to the large pan.
Put into the oven and bake until the centre of the filling is set, but still moves slightly when the pan is tapped.
This takes about 45 - 50 minutes.
Turn the oven off, leave the door ajar and the cheesecake inside for 5 minutes.
Take the cheesecake out of the oven, and out of the hot water bath. Run the tip of a sharp knife around the edges between the cheesecake and the parchment paper.
Allow to cool completely and then refrigerate overnight before cutting.
To serve, carefully lift the parchment paper out of the pan. I cut the cheesecake into 9 squares, as I was serving men who eat a lot! This can be served with coffee, or as dessert...add whipped cream and some fresh berries.
- The apples can be sliced or chopped, just make sure to remove them from the caramel before they turn to applesauce.
- Pears, nectarines or plums can be used instead of apples.
- Brown sugar can be used instead of honey: increase the amount to 3/4 cup of brown sugar, and cook over low heat until the butter melts, the sugar dissolves and it starts to bubble.
- Maple syrup could also be used instead of honey.
- The salt can be omitted; it can also be increased. Taste your apples after the salt has been incorporated. I felt that 1/2 teaspoon was enough.
- Save the caramel for the swirl in the filling; any extra can be heated to use as a sauce for serving the cheesecake, or drizzling over ice cream.
- No hazelnuts? Use another nut such as pecans or almonds, or substitute graham crumbs for the nuts.
- The apples and crust can be cooked and baked a day ahead to save time. The cream cheese filling can also be made ahead and kept refrigerated until you are ready to bake the bars.
- I find that brick cream cheese is better for cheesecake than the soft spreadable type as it remains firm after baking. Allowing it to come to room temperature before mixing it with the sugar helps to eliminate any lumps.
- The caramel from cooking the apples can be used instead of, or as part of, the whipping cream.
- To make this into an apple pie cheesecake, sprinkle streusel or crumble over the top of the batter before baking.
- The cheesecake cuts better when completely cold; making it a day ahead is the best way to do this if you can.