Where do I even begin? Cinnamon dusted apples parked on top of brown sugar and vanilla bean cheesecake, sitting pretty on my favorite brown sugar shortbread, all covered in a blanket of crisp topping. You know this is going to be good! I feel like Apple Crisp Cheesecake Bars are one of those desserts that really aren't going to take much convincing. Like you should probably just stop whatever you're doing and go make them. After you finish reading this post, of course!
So as soon as I start thinking about Fall desserts, I go straight for apple, and I wanted a serious apple dessert. My beloved apple crisp bars are always the first thing that come to mind, with that buttery shortbread crust and vanilla bean apple compote that I usually have to make twice because I always end up eating it with a spoon...
Anyway, I was thinking it would be pretty fantastic to get cheesecake involved in this situation. I think cheesecake is always a good idea, like it should totally be its own food group, right?
That's when I decided to give my makeover a makeover. Sorry, sometimes I even make my own head spin! I zhushed up my favorite apple bars and it's like heaven in bar form.
I started out with the brown sugar shortbread crust that you just mix, pop in the pan and bake. While that's off baking, whip up the crisp topping. I made this is the food processor because it makes life easy, but you can make it by hand. You just want to make sure the butter is very cold when making it so you get those nice chunks of topping. Once you've made it, pop it in the freezer so it's super cold when you assemble the bars.
Quick tip: I always keep a batch of crisp topping prepped and in the freezer so I'm ready to roll. Whether you're making these, my apple crisp bars, or just a fruit crisp, you'll be set.
Okay, back to business: The cheesecake layer. I used light brown sugar to really warm it up and vanilla beans for even more flavor. And have we ever talked about how even the sight of vanilla beans floating around in dessert makes me so happy?
Last, but certainly not least are the apples. I used granny smith apples because I love how the tartness works beautifully with all the sweet and warm spices here. Plus, they hold up really well when baked. I posted a photo on instagram while I was making the bars so you can get a visual of what the assembly looks like.
I know it's torture, but you need to let these bars chill before you dig into them. Once you cut into them though, you'll quickly realize it was worth the wait.
The brown sugar shortbread is the perfect canvas for the smooth cheesecake. And the apples kind of bake into the cheesecake so you get all the cinnamon and nutmeg swirled in with the vanilla bean. And then you get the crisp topping, which just completely puts it over the top!
I told you these don't need much convincing! Have a great weekend and happy baking!
Brown Sugar Shortbread
- 8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
- 3/4 cup light brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
- 2 cups AP flour
- 1/2 cup AP flour
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 3 ounces unsalted butter, cold and cubed
- 1/2 cup rolled oats
Brown Sugar Vanilla Bean Cheesecake
- 16 ounces cream cheese, room temp
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup light brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp. vanilla bean paste
- 1 Tbsp. whiskey
- 3 medium sized granny smith apples
- 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
- 3/4 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. fresh ground nutmeg
Brown Sugar Shortbread
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
- Spray 9x13" pan with nonstick spray, line with parchment paper, and spray with nonstick again.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Mix in vanilla bean paste.
- Mix in flour and salt, mixing just until combined.
- Press dough into the prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes, rotating once halfway through.
- Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Raise oven temperature up to 350 degrees.
- Add flour, brown sugar, salt and cinnamon to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse once or twice just to mix everything together.
- Add very cold, cubed butter to the mixture and pulse a few times, just until the butter is the size of small peas.
- Transfer mixture to a bowl and stir in oats. Pop it in the freezer till ready to use.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, mix cream cheese and sugars on medium speed until smooth.
- Add eggs one at a time followed by vanilla bean paste and whiskey, scraping down the bowl as needed to ensure everything is combined.
- Set aside until ready to assemble.
- Peel, core and chop apples. You just want to make sure you cut them all about the same size so they bake evenly.
- Toss apples with sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.
- Pour cheesecake batter on top of baked shortbread crust.
- Top with apples.
- Cover apples with crisp topping.
- Bake at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes, rotating once halfway through.
- Allow bars to come to room temperature and then refrigerate.
- To cut bars, lift cooled bars out of the pan by lifting up the parchment paper. Using a clean, sharp knife, cut bars into squares. Bars should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge.
- It is very important to use cold butter when making the crisp topping and make sure to pop it in the freezer after you make it. You want it to be as cold as possible when you top the apples and bake it.
- I find granny smith apples work best in this recipe because the slight tartness works well with the cheesecake and they hold up very well when baked.
- You can make the shortbread a few days ahead of time. Just wrap well in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
- You can make the crisp topping ahead of time. I always like to keep a batch of crisp topping prepped and in the freezer ready to go. This way, whether you're making these, my apple crisp bars or just an apple crisp, you're ready to roll!