Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars with Streusel Topping

I started Insanity earlier this week after hearing good things about it from friends over the past few months. In case you were wondering, it’s hard. Like really hard. The people in the videos all look like fitness models and even they can’t keep up 100% of the time, which definitely makes me feel a little better about my struggles. Sunday is my one off day every week, and my sore calves are so looking forward to it :)

I haven’t really changed my eating habits for now – no crazy diets or anything here. I still firmly believe everything in moderation. Moderation is tough though when these seriously addictive caramel apple cheesecake bars are taunting you every time you open the fridge. I tucked away one for myself and sent the remainder to work with Shane the day after I made them. Given how much baking I do, it’s a lifesaver that our family, friends and coworkers are always so receptive to taking desserts off our hands.

Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars with Streusel Topping

The thing I love most about these bars is that they combine so many flavors into one treat. For someone as indecisive as me when it comes to choosing a recipe, it’s the perfect solution. In each little bar you get a layer of buttery crust, creamy cheesecake, cinnamon-sugar coated apples, streusel topping and a drizzle of rich caramel sauce. It’s pretty much the definition of decadence, but this combination of flavors really can’t be beat. As duos go, caramel and apples are starting to rival chocolate and peanut butter for me, and something tells me this probably won’t be the last time I pair them in a dessert this fall!

Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars with Streusel Topping
adapted from Paula Deen via FoodNetwork.com

{Note: I know, it looks like a lot of work with the various components, but each of them is really simple. If you want, go ahead and double the recipe and bake in a 13×9 pan.}

Streusel Topping
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup quick cooking oats
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Crust
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
pinch salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Filling
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, at room temperature (low fat is fine)
1/4 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon, divided
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch salt
2 small Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Caramel Sauce
I used this recipe but use your favorite (or even store-bought)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on opposite sides to lift the bars out afterward. Spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray.

To make the streusel: In a small bowl, combine all of the ingredients. Use a fork (or a pastry cutter) to combine until the mixture becomes crumbly. Refrigerate while you finish making the bars.

To make the crust: Stir the flour, brown sugar and salt together in a medium bowl. Add the butter, and use a pastry cutter to work the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Press into an even layer in the bottom of the prepared pan (if the mixture is sticky, pop it in the fridge for a few minutes – it’s easier to press into the pan when cold). Bake for 15 minutes, or until light brown and set. Remove the pan to a wire rack.

To make the filling: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese with 1/4 cup of the sugar until well combined and smooth. Add the egg, vanilla and salt, and beat just until the mixture is uniform. Pour over the crust (it’s fine if the crust is warm, no need to cool it completely).

Combine the apples with the remaining tablespoon of sugar, the cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium bowl. Stir until evenly coated. Distribute the apples evenly over the cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle the streusel topping over the apples.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the filling is set. Remove the pan to a wire rack and let the bars cool completely, then refrigerate for at least a few hours. Use the foil handles to lift the bars out. (You can drizzle them with the caramel now or wait and do it over the individual bars after you slice them – your call.) Cut into squares for serving (I did this with a sharp knife sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. As long as you chill the bars first, they should cut neatly.)

Makes about 16 bars (depending on how large you cut them)