Cheesecake gets a fall makeover with this easy, make-ahead dessert. A rich graham cracker crust and creamy cheesecake filling are topped with tender, caramelized apples and a drizzle of store-bought caramel in this recipe for Easy Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars.
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Cheesecake is a remarkably versatile dessert, lending itself to a wide variety of flavors and variations. Think lemon cheesecake bars, wedges of berry-topped cheesecake, cheesecake-stuffed French Toast, or pumpkin cheesecake parfaits …. you get the picture.
In this recipe for Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars, a classic fall flavor pairing — caramel and apples — comes together as a decadent caramel apple topping for a classic creamy cheesecake with a crisp graham cracker crust.
Best of all, these easy cheesecake bars are a great make-ahead dessert, since they’ll need to set in the refrigerator to become firm. I like to make the bars and the caramel apple topping ahead of time, store them in the fridge, and then spoon the topping onto the bars just before serving.
Why You’ll Love These Cheesecake Bars
- Quick to Prepare. Making the crust, mixing the easy cheesecake filling, and sauteing the apple topping while the cheesecake bakes takes less than 40 minutes.
- Kid-Approved Flavors. Caramel apples are a popular treat at fall festivals and carnivals. This recipe uses brown sugar to caramelize the apples and a generous drizzle of caramel sauce to replicate the festival treat.
- Make Ahead. These cheesecake bars are a perfect dessert when you want to do all the work ahead of time. Prepare everything a day or two before you plan to serve them, and all you’ll need to do is cut the bars and spoon the topping over them.
- Graham crackers: Cheesecake purists say there’s no other crust option besides a graham-cracker crust. The store-brand graham crackers can be pricey, so the generic version is just fine to use in this recipe.
- Cream cheese: Cream cheese comes in full-fat or low-fat versions. Just like in my recipe for easy no-bake cheesecake, I recommend using the full-fat version for a richer flavor and creamier texture.
- Sugar: Two types of sugar are called for in this cheesecake recipe. Regular granulated sugar goes into the cheesecake, while light brown sugar is used in the caramel apple topping to boost the caramelized flavor of the apples.
- Lemon juice: Lemon juice enhances the tang of the cream cheese in the cheesecake filling, and also brightens the flavor of the caramelized apples. I like to use freshly squeezed lemon juice rather than bottled juice. You’ll only need one lemon for this recipe.
- Apples: I chose Granny Smith apples for this and other caramelized apples recipes. They are firm enough so they’ll retain their shape while cooking, and their tartness balances out the sweetness of the brown sugar and caramel.
- Caramel sauce: The final touch of this dessert is a drizzle of caramel sauce. With all the great options out there, you can choose your favorite store-bought jarred sauce. But if you have the time, making homemade salted caramel sauce is well worth the effort!
See the recipe card for full information on ingredients and quantities.
Trust me, this dessert may look impressive but these cheesecake bars are easy to make.
Prep your ingredients. Set the cream cheese out on the counter to soften, crush the graham crackers, melt the butter, juice the lemon and peel and chop the apples.
Preheat the oven. Heat the oven to 350˚F and line an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil. Spray it lightly with cooking spray so the bars will be easy to remove.
Prepare the crust. Put the graham cracker crumbs in a medium mixing bowl, drizzle the melted butter over the crumbs and mix well until the crumbs are evenly coated with the butter. Transfer the mixture to the baking pan and use clean hands to press it firmly into an even layer.
Make the filling. Use a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment to cream together the cream cheese, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla extract until the mixture is smooth. Add the eggs, beating after each. Pour the cheesecake mixture over the crust in an even layer. Use a spatula to scrape every last bit of filling from the bowl.
Bake. Bake the cheesecake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when the center is set and is no longer liquid in the center.
Chill. Let the cheesecake cool completely on the counter (setting it on a baking rack will help air circulate so it cools more quickly). Cover the top with plastic wrap and refrigerate the cheesecake for at least three hours.
Make the caramel apple topping. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the apples, lemon juice, cinnamon and brown sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples are slightly softened and the mixture is syrupy, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool for about 10 minutes before serving. The caramel apple topping can be made while the cheesecake is cooking, and refrigerated until needed, or prepared just before serving the cheesecake bars.
Cut the bars, serve and enjoy! When the cheesecake is completely set and chilled, slice it into 12 pieces. The easiest way to get a clean slice is to use a sharp chef’s knife, then clean the knife with warm water and wipe it dry after each slice. This technique works with all cheesecakes, and will guarantee a tidy, crumb-free slice every time!
- Finely grind the graham crackers. Be sure to finely grind the graham crackers so there are no large chunks. The finer the crumbs, the more tightly packed they will be, and the more likely your crust will hold together. The easiest way to do this is using a food processor, but you could also put the graham crackers into a large resealable bag and crush them with a meat mallet or a small saucepan.
- Choose the right apples. For this recipe, you’ll want to choose a firm, tart apple. My go-tos for this and other recipes, like my recipe for Apple Tarte Tatin, are Granny Smith. This type of apple will hold its shape without breaking down during cooking, and will also retain its tart flavor. Other good apple varieties to use in this recipe include Braeburn, Pink Lady, and Mutsu.
- Prevent lumps. Starting with softened cream cheese is the key to getting a smooth cheesecake batter. Let the packages sit out on the counter for at least 30 minutes. Beat the cream cheese and sugar together in the stand mixer until the mixture is smooth and lump-free before adding the other ingredients.
- Neatly cut the cheesecake. The easiest way to get a clean slice is to use a sharp chef’s knife, then clean the knife with warm water and wipe it dry after each slice. This technique works with all cheesecakes, and will guarantee a tidy, crumb-free slice every time!
Cheesecake stores beautifully in the refrigerator for three to four days, but it’s best to store the cheesecake and the caramel apple topping separately. Leave the leftover cheesecake in the pan and cover it tightly with plastic wrap. The caramel apple topping can be stored in a lidded glass or plastic container in the refrigerator. You can serve it straight from the refrigerator.
Frequently Asked Questions
Choose an apple that’s firm, crisp, and not too sweet. I think Granny Smith apples are the best, but Honeycrisp, Pink Lady or Mutu apples would also work great.
For a firm graham cracker crust that doesn’t fall apart, make sure you crush the graham cracker crumbs as finely as possible, and that you mix the butter in thoroughly. Also pack the crumb mixture firmly into the bottom of the pan.
Make sure the cheesecake bars ar completely set and chilled, and use a very sharp knife, such as a chef’s knife. After each cut, rinse the knife off with warm water and wipe it dry with a paper towel or a dishtowel before making the next cut.
Absolutely! Homemade caramel sauce would definitely take this recipe to the next level. Or try my Easy Homemade Butterscotch Sauce for a yummy variation.
- Easy No-Bake Cheesecake
- No-Bake Cheesecake Cookie Pops
- Strawberry Cheesecake Cookies
- Fresh Cherry Cheesecake Dip
- Cheesecake Brownie Bites
For the cheesecake bars:
- Cooking spray
- 1 1/2 cups finely crushed graham crackers (about 12 crackers)
- 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 2 (8-oz.) packages cream cheese, at room temp
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
For the caramel apple topping:
- 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 3 Tablespoons packed light brown sugar
- Homemade or store-bought caramel sauce, for serving
Make the cheesecake bars:
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil, then grease it with cooking spray.
- In a medium bowl, stir together the crushed graham crackers and melted butter. Transfer the mixture into the prepared pan and press it firmly into an even layer.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla extract until well combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating between each addition, then pour the cheesecake mixture atop the crust, spreading it into an even layer.
- Bake the cheesecake for 20 to 25 minutes until the center is almost set.
- Remove the cheesecake from the oven and let it cool completely before covering the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerating it for 3 hours.
Make the caramel apple topping:
- In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, add the butter and cook until melted.
- Stir in the apples, lemon juice, cinnamon and brown sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples have softened slightly, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the apples from the heat and let them cool for 10 minutes.
- When ready to serve. slice the cheesecake into 12 bars. Spoon the apple mixture on top and drizzle with caramel then serve.
- Be sure to finely grind the graham crackers. The finer the crumbs, the more tightly packed they will be, and the more likely your crust will hold together. The easiest way to do this is using a food processor, but you could also put the graham crackers into a large resealable bag and crush them with a meat mallet or a small saucepan.
- For this recipe, you’ll want to choose a firm, tart apple. My go-to for this recipe is Granny Smith. Other good apple varieties to use in this include Braeburn, Pink Lady and Mutsu.
- Starting with softened cream cheese is the key to getting a smooth cheesecake batter. Let the packages sit out on the counter for at least 30 minutes. Beat the cream cheese and sugar together in the stand mixer until the mixture is smooth and lump-free before adding the other ingredients.
- The easiest way to get a clean slice is to use a sharp chef’s knife, then clean the knife with warm water and wipe it dry after each slice. This technique works with all cheesecakes, and will guarantee a tidy, crumb-free slice every time!
- ★ Did you make this recipe? Don’t forget to give it a star rating below!