I’ve made it no secret that I didn’t have a huge sweet tooth until recent years, it was just never my thing. But despite having the innate ability to turn down pretty much any sweet placed in front of me from an early age, there were three desserts I could never ever turn down – coconut cream pie, crème brulee and cheesecake.
Cheesecake was my first dessert love, and sadly, it’s become kind of lost on me since my recent adoption of all things sweet, I just kind of forgot how much I loved it. I decided to give it another go this week, and I’m happy to report that these adorable caramel apple cheesecake bites completely reignited my love of all things cheesecake – what was I thinking leaving such a wonderful dessert in the dust???
What I love most about these guys is they’re perfect for cheesecake lovers and non-lovers alike since there’s pretty much equal parts crust to apple filling to cheesecake (and caramel sauce!). In full disclosure, I want to make it known that these unassuming little guys are kind of high-maintenance for only 12 little bites, so just be prepared for that, or, double the recipe for double the reward.
The crust is a pretty straight-forward graham cracker crust, with a twist. Instead of drizzling melted butter in while the crackers are being pulverized in the food processor, I start by browning up the butter. Because apparently I can’t make anything lately without adding brown butter, it’s a cruel/wonderful side effect fall has on me – there must be brown butter in EVERYTHING.
Next, more brown butter. Because, see above. Finely diced apples of your choosing (I used honey crisp) are sautéed in a little bit of brown butter, brown sugar and just a touch of salt until they’re slightly soft and caramelized. Once the crust pre-bakes a bit, the apples are nestled into the bottom, and what I love, is that the excess caramel from the apples kind of seeps into the crust, making the brown butter graham cracker combination infinitely more delicious.
The cheesecake filling is simple, just cream cheese, sugar, egg and vanilla mixed together until smooth and gently spooned on top of the apples and crust. It’s all popped into a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes, just until the cake sets up, and then they’re cooled and popped into the fridge until chilled.
As I often do, I made things a little bit more high maintenance by making caramel sauce from scratch, but you could absolutely use this shortcut recipe, or, just buy store-bought – no judgment.
The only problem I have now?? Stopping myself from inhaling these one after the other. After the other. After the other…
- 4 tablespoons butter, divided
- 5 graham crackers
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- ¾ cup finely diced apples (about ½ a large apple)
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoons vanilla
- ½ egg (whisk egg and measure half out)
- ½ cup sugar
- 7 tablespoons heavy cream
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease a mini muffin pan.
- In a small sauté pan, add 3 tablespoons butter. Turn the heat on medium-high. Let the butter melt and once it starts to brown, use your hand to swirl the pan until the butter turns a deep brown and smells nutty. Pour into another small bowl and let cool slightly.
- In a food processor, add graham crackers and sugar. Pulse until crushed. Slowly drizzle in butter. Add a pinch of salt. Use a tablespoon to measure crust into muffin tins. Use the back of the spoon to push the crust together. Bake until golden brown, about 7-8 minutes. Cool.
- While the crust bakes, cook the apples. Add the remaining butter to the same pan you browned the butter in. urn the heat on medium-high. Let the butter melt and once it starts to brown, use your hand to swirl the pan until the butter turns a deep brown and smells nutty. Add apples and brown sugar. Cook until apples are slightly softened, about 2-3 minutes. Set aside.
- For the filling: In the food processor, add softened cream cheese, sugar, egg and vanilla. Turn on and mix until smooth, scrape down the sides and bottom as needed with a spatula.
- Fill the crust with the apple, followed with the cheesecake filling.
- Place back in the oven and bake just until the cheesecakes are set, about 10-12 minutes. Let cool, run a knife along the edge to loosed them up and then place in the fridge until completely chilled. Use a butter knife to pop the cheesecakes out.
- Serve with caramel and flaked sea salt.