I admit it. I’ve been feeling a bit uninspired–deflated, if you will– in the kitchen lately. Believe it or not, we’ve eaten out one or two times each week for the past 3 weeks. [insert gasp here] Partly things have been busy at work; partly the time change has thrown off our body clocks and we suddenly feel like going to bed at 6pm; partly I’ve gotten lazy and haven’t felt like dirtying up dishes; and partly my fresh ideas tank is running on empty. (I’m slightly ashamed to admit that not watching cooking shows on TV has contributed to this lethargy).
But! Thanksgiving is fast approaching and I reckon you must be itching for ideas–something new to add to your feastly repertoire. So if Sweet Potato Chorizo Soup didn’t cut it for you (or even if it did), here’s an autumnal dessert you might try (adapted from Paula Deen’s recipe here). I like that they’re in a bar form so you don’t have to worry about water baths and springform pans–also makes it easy to cut and hold in your hands.
Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking pan with a double layer of aluminum foil.
– 2 cups all-purpose flour
– 1/2 cup brown sugar
– 1 cup butter, cubed
– generous dash of ground cinnamon
2. Combine flour and brown sugar. Cut in butter with pastry blender, potato masher, or two forks. (Note: If you like graham crackers in your cheesecake crust, I’d try swapping some of the flour for some crushed graham crackers and melting the butter to help it all come together; this is what I will do next time). Press mixture into bottom of prepared pan and bake at 350 for about 15-20 minutes, then remove from oven.
3. Prepare the cheese filling:
– 2 8-oz. packages of cream cheese, softened at room temperature
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 2 eggs
– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Mix cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add eggs one at a time and mix until combined. Add vanilla extract.
4. Pour the cream cheese filling over the par-baked crust. Prepare the apple topping:
– 3 apples (I used Pippins because that’s what I had; you could use any firm baking apple, really)
– a squeeze of lemon juice
– 2 tablespoons sugar
– 1/2 teaspoon sugar
– 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Peel and chop your apples and toss together with the lemon juice and spices. Gently layer the apples on top of the cream cheese mixture. Still not done yet…
5. Top with streusel:
– 1 cup brown sugar
– 1 cup all-purpose flour
– 1/2 cup oats
– 1/2 cup butter, softened
– another generous dash of cinnamon
Let’s face it. There are tons of ways to make streusel toppings. This one happens to be particularly…buttery. Don’t count how many sticks of butter went into this dish. DON’T DO IT! Seriously? I know you’re thinking about it now. Don’t. Just relax and enjoy (and make sure to share this dessert with your friends and family. It’s not the kind of thing you’d want to curl up with on a lazy movie day and eat right out of the pan. I won’t judge you if you do, but you may want to, you know, take a walk or twenty when you’re finished). So, well, you know, mash everything together and sprinkle on top of your apple layer.
6. Bake at 350F for about 30 minutes. Let cool and then refrigerate.
7. If you’re ambitious, make the caramel sauce yourself. They are caramel apple cheesecake bars, after all. I used Ina Garten’s recipe because I’d seen her make it on TV before. I’m not sure that I cooked the sugar quite long enough because my caramel sauce came out a bit pale, but it still tasted like caramel.
Just know that as soon as you add the cream, it’s pretty much going to stop cooking the sugar, so get it to the color you want it (without burning it) before adding the cream.
Now, this is the part of the post where I’d show you a photo of the finished product–in this case a nicely cut square of cheesecake, taken from the side so that you can see the layer of shortbread-like crust, the rich cream cheese, the cheery apple pieces, and the streusel topping, all settling comfortably into each other underneath decorative zigzags of warm caramel sauce…
… I’m so sorry. It’s all gone! I didn’t manage to get a single photo of the finished product! I debated taking a picture of our stomachs to show you where it all disappeared to over the course of a week and a half, but that’d be silly. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to make it again. I’m sure Alex will be happy.
This made for a great special-occasion treat. Little tip: once it’s chilled up a bit, I used a pizza wheel to cut it into slices; this seemed to work well. I encourage you to try it and see what adaptations you can make to it.
Oh, and while the return of my kitchen inspiration is still up for debate, I think it’s safe to say that deflation is no longer a risk after this cake.