I’m a full-on fall flavor enthusiast, so to say that I’m excited that PSL and apple cider are finally returning would be a massive understatement. Classic “fall” spices like cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg stay in my regular spice rotation all year-round, but it’s no question that these baking heavy-hitters shine the most when paired with fresh, crisp, seasonal fruit. Since making my first cheesecake earlier this year, I’ve been on the hunt for ways to revamp the classic, creamy dessert. The result? A perfect-for-fall, mouthwateringly good caramel apple cheesecake.
This caramel apple cheesecake combines rich and decadent cream cheese with fresh, spiced apples, gooey caramel, and warm cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. Topped with finely chopped pecans that offer texture and balance to the cake’s overall sweetness, the dessert is then finished with luscious caramel and apple cider glaze. And as is the case with all of my favorite recipes, they are way easier to make than they look.
I’ve added a few shortcuts to this recipe that let you make a gourmet, ultra-luxe cheesecake with half the work (and half the dishes to clean). This recipe calls for a pre-made graham cracker crust and caramel dessert sauce. If you’d prefer to make the whole thing from scratch, keep reading after the recipe for some additional links.
The one “tricky” aspect of this recipe we’re keeping (it’s worth it, I promise) is the water bath. Cheesecakes love a humid environment. The steam from the hot water helps the cheesecake to rise slowly and evenly, reducing the risk of surface cracks. The slow and even steam baking process also helps to prevent the cake from sinking back down as it cools. Finally, the egg-heavy filling needs moisture and humidity to rise properly and to avoid drying out and/or burning. In simple terms? Water baths keep your cheesecakes fluffy, light, and beautifully intact. It’s worth the extra effort (and really, it’s hardly any extra effort at all).
I use an old aluminum roasting pan as my water bath. Since it’s aluminum and has seen its fair share of cheesecakes, the bottom is somewhat warped. I use a metal cooling rack in the bottom of the pan for extra stability. Any pot or pan wide and deep enough to securely hold your cheesecake (and enough water to halfway submerge the cake’s tin) will do.
Preheat your oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Fill a large saucepan or pot with water and place over high heat to boil. This will be the water used in your cheesecake’s water bath, so it will need time to heat up as you prepare your filling.
Finely chop one small apple (I used a Gala, any sweet variety will do) and place in a small bowl. Toss with cinnamon and ginger and set aside.
In a stand mixer bowl, combine softened cream cheese, brown sugar, and 2 tbsp. flour, beating on low until fully combined. (Beating any faster can create air bubbles in the filling, which will lead to bubbles, cracks, and sunken middles - so take it slow!)
Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl. Add the sour cream, applesauce, vanilla extract, cinnamon, cloves, and spiced apples to the bowl and continue mixing until just combined. Add remaining tbsp. of flour and mix. Scrape sides of the bowl as necessary.
Add three large eggs, one at a time, making sure the egg is thoroughly mixed before adding another.
Pour cheesecake filling into prepared pie crust. Set the cake inside the empty water bath. You can use a cooling rack for extra stability or place the cheesecake directly in the large pan or pot.
Use a ladle to slowly add hot water (it’s okay if it doesn’t make it to a full boil) to the water bath. Fill the water bath until the bottom half of your cheesecake pan or tin is submerged. Carefully place in the oven on the middle rack.
Bake at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for 1.5 hours. The edges of the cheesecake should be set, but it’s okay if the center has a little jiggle. It will continue to bake after the hour and a half is up.
After 1.5 hours, turn the oven off. Leave the cheesecake in the oven with the door closed for thirty minutes.
After a half-hour, crack the oven door slightly. Leave the cheesecake in the oven for an additional thirty minutes.
Remove the cheesecake and water bath from the oven, then remove the cheesecake from the water bath. Wrap in cling wrap and refrigerate for at least 5-6 hours or overnight.
Bring apple cider to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for ten minutes or until the cider is reduced to about half a cup.
Add ½ C powdered sugar, butter, cinnamon, caramel, and salt. Mix until thoroughly combined. Add an extra ¼ C powdered sugar to further thicken the glaze.
Remove from heat and let cool for approximately 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Spoon a thin layer of glaze over the cheesecake, using the back of the spoon to evenly coat the entire cake without spilling the glaze over the sides.
Evenly cover the cheesecake with pecan pieces, gently pressing the nuts into the glazed cake to keep them in place.
Carefully pour another, more liberal layer of glaze over the pecans, allowing the glaze to settle into the ridges of the pecans. If your cake is in a pie dish or pre-made crust tin, pour just enough glaze to cover the pecans without spilling over the sides. If your cake is not in a tin, feel free to let the caramel apple cider glaze drip down the sides for a delicious (and beautiful) extra touch.
Save leftover caramel apple cider glaze for drizzling onto individual slices of cake or as a delicious dipping sauce for fresh apple slices.
Serve cold with a few apple slices, a drizzle of leftover caramel apple cider glaze, and a hot cup of coffee (or cider). Bon appetit!
Cheesecakes are finicky! As tempting as it might be, try to refrain as much as possible from opening the oven door while the cake is baking. Drastic changes in temperature and/or humidity can cause cracks to form or centers to sink -- and if that happens, what was the hassle of the water bath for?!?! Good things come to those who wait, and this caramel apple cheesecake is no exception. Be patient and let all the rich, warm, and spicy fall flavors do their magic.
I use pre-made caramel sauce to save time and a few dishes, but it’s incredibly easy to make. If you have the extra time, try this insanely luscious salted caramel sauce.
Premade crusts are typically a little shallow, so if you prefer a thick crust around the edge, I suggest splitting your filling into two 9” pre-made crusts or opting for a deeper, wider springform pan or ceramic pie dish.
We know opting for store-bought crusts might raise a few eyebrows -- but hey, it’s one less dish to clean, they come with convenient plastic lids, and frankly, cheesecakes have enough going on as is. Of course, if you want to go homemade, I salute you; here is a great graham cracker crust recipe you can use for this and any other cheesecakes you plan on making, no-bake or otherwise.