Salted Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars

How was your weekend?

Ours was really nice. Saturday we visited our friends and their brand new baby boy. I forgot what it felt like to hold a baby who weighs practically nothing and it was glorious. We both fell asleep pretty early on Saturday night, but were up early Sunday morning for music class and my brother-in-law's birthday celebration. Sunday ended later than I wanted, as always. I made these bars for Steve's birthday party. It felt really good to get creative and baking in the kitchen again. 

I always love apple desserts. Is it me, or is there just no better smell than apples mingling with cinnamon and sugar? I need to bottle that and carry it around with me. Our whole apartment smelled unbelievable on Saturday evening. While Shaun watched college football, and Penelope snoozed, I worked on finishing these bars with a glass of wine in hand. It felt like old times. Windows cracked with a cool breeze, candles burning, decadent smells permeating the house and everyone feeling sleepy on a Saturday night. It's one of my favorite feelings...all of us home, cozy and taken care of.

I used a bunch of recipes that finally led to my inspiration for these bars. I love bars so much. They are perfect for sampling and snacks, and really perfect for taking to a birthday celebration. They require no cutting once at the party. Instead, they can just be grabbed and eaten, with sticky fingers and cake crumbles tumbling down. I added kosher salt to the tops of these. It melted right into the caramel topping, but make no mistake, the saltiness was the perfect balance to these super sweet bars.

As for the caramel topping? Though you can use caramel from a jar, I really recommend this topping. The key here is that it sets, so you don't have to worry about the caramel running once you cut into them. It's an easy topping and I really think it's worth it. I could just eat it all with a spoon.

 

Salted Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars

For the crust:

1 box yellow cake mix, minus 1 cup

3 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 egg

For the apple cheesecake filling:

2 8oz pkg cream cheese, softened

2 eggs

1/2 C + 1 Tbsp granulated sugar, divided

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 baking apples, peeled, cored & chopped

1 tsp cinnamon

For the salted caramel topping:

1/2 C butter

1/2 C brown sugar

3 Tbsp evaporated milk

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 C confectioners sugar

1/4 tsp coarse salt

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13" pan and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, mix together the cake mix (removing 1 C of the plain cake mix; set it aside, pack it away. we won't be needing that 1 C here), oil and egg with a wooden spoon. Once incorporated, press into the bottom of the pan. 

Peel, core and chop up the apples. I used Granny Smith. In a bowl, mix them with 1 Tbsp sugar and the cinnamon. Set aside.

In another mixing bowl, mix the cream cheese, 1/2 C sugar, vanilla and eggs with a hand mixer until combined and smooth, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Fold in the apple mixture.

Pour apple cream cheese mixture over the crust. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out mostly clean. Mine had a few crumbs on it and I took it out to continue cooking in the hot pan while it cooled.

Once cool, make the caramel.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add brown sugar and evaporated milk and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla and confectioners sugar until smooth. Pour over the tray of bars and let set. Sprinkle immediately with salt.

Once cool and before cutting them, refrigerate the tray for 30 min to 1 hour, or overnight. Use a sharp knife and cut carefully. Since the bars are now cold, they should cut nicely and cleanly. 

Sprinkle extra salt before serving if needed.

I hope you like these bars. I had a lot of fun creating and baking them! I think they were a hit at the party. Too bad I'm starting back hardcore on Dukan today, or I'd be having one of these babies tonight. Instead, I'll live vicariously through my weekend self, when I devoured many!

How was your weekend? 

What is your favorite apple dessert?

 

Also: chocolate caramel apple bars, apple upside down cake, apple cupcakes + cinnamon frosting, apple cranberry strudel, caramel apple cider shake