If you’re starting to think about Thanksgiving, and searching for a dessert idea that’ll really wow your friends and family, look no further. This is the mother of all desserts; you probably already guessed that from the title didn’t you? Let me break it down for you – the base is a graham cracker crust, which is topped with a layer of sweet caramel and pecans. On top of that you’ll find lots of caramelized apple slices and then a thin layer of cheesecake. Finally, the finishing touches are added – whipped cream swirled with more caramel and a few pecans for garnish. It’s about as decadent as dessert gets, but that’s what the holidays are for, right?
I bookmarked this recipe quite a while ago, and am so glad I finally found time to make it this year. I won’t lie – you will need to set aside a decent chunk of time for this one. I think I started it on Sunday afternoon one weekend and didn’t put the finishing touches on it until very late that night. But the good news is, the recipe is broken down into individual components, and each of them is relatively simple. You could even make the entire dessert (with the exception of the whipped cream topping, which tends to weep) a day ahead of time. Not only do the layers cut more neatly when well chilled, but the flavors will have time to meld.
I knew this cheesecake would be too difficult to resist if I left it in my house for any length of time, so I asked my mom to take it to work with her the very next morning after I finished it. I didn’t even cut a slice before shipping it off with her. I did, however, sample just about every component as I was making it – quality control and all. I knew the flavors were good, I just wondered how difficult it would be to slice the dessert. Would the layers cut neatly? I had to share this information with you guys, so I did that really annoying thing where not only do you ask the person you share the dessert with to provide feedback, but you also beg them to send you a picture after it’s cut. My mom was a good sport and used her iPad to send me the picture below. Apparently the first slice was tricky to get out (I find that to be the case with almost every pie I make) but it was smooth sailing from there.
Her coworkers sent positive reviews, and when my mom finally tried a slice she declared it her new favorite dessert! It’s a definite repeat this holiday season for me. The only thing I might do differently next time is to be more careful when choosing which type of apples to use. The recipe specifies Granny Smith, but I used a mixture of unidentified red apples from our trip to the orchard since I’m still trying to use them up. They were delicious, but some of them didn’t hold up to the cooking very well.
Caramel Apple Cheesecake Pie
adapted from Mimi Hodges, the winner of Good Morning, America’s “Pie of Emeril’s Eye” Contest, 2000 (via Annie’s Eats)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 12 full graham crackers)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
5 1/3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 – 3/4 cup caramel
1 cup chopped pecans
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
5-6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1/4-1/2 cup caramel
To make the caramel sauce: Add the butter, brown sugar and heavy cream to a medium saucepan. Set over medium-high heat and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Lower the heat to medium and continue boiling until the mixture thickens slightly, about 7-8 minutes. Turn off the heat under the pot and let it cool slightly.
To make the crust: preheat the oven to 375 F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with a circle of parchment paper. Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, cinnamon and melted butter in a medium bowl. Use a fork to stir until the crumbs are evenly moistened. Transfer the mixture to the prepared springform pan and press into an even layer over the bottom and about two-thirds of the way up the sides of the pan. Bake for 6-8 minutes, or until golden in color. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for about 10 minutes. Pour a layer of caramel into the bottom of the crust and sprinkle evenly with the chopped pecans. Refrigerate the crust while you make the filling. Turn the oven down to 350 F.
To make the apple filling: Melt the butter in a large skillet set over medium heat. Add the brown sugar, salt and cinnamon, stirring to combine, and cook until gently bubbling, about 1 minute. Add the apples and toss to coat. Cook until the slices are tender, and most of the liquid in the pan has been reduced, about 15-20 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes then add the apples to the crust on top of the caramel and pecans.
To make the cheesecake layer: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and sugar on medium speed until smooth. Add the vanilla, egg and lemon juice and beat until incorporated and smooth, about 1-2 minutes. Pour the cheesecake batter over the apples in the crust and spread into an even layer. Bake until the cheesecake is set, about 30 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool to room temperature then refrigerate for at least 4 hours before adding the topping.
To make the topping: Add the heavy cream to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium high speed until stiff peaks form. Remove the sides of the springform pan, then gently spread the whipped cream over the cheesecake. Dollop spoonfuls of the caramel sauce on top of the whipped cream – swirl with a knife to create a marbled effect. Garnish with chopped pecan, if desired. Store, covered, in the refrigerator.