Sunday, December 18, 2011

apple pie cheesecake bars [and holiday nights with old friends]

Cranberry-cinnamon tea. 

I arrived home yesterday evening to an empty house, parents both out and about and Yusra off with friends. I didn't expect anything different, really, and so took my suitcase and backpack upstairs to a room that's been vacant for weeks, freshly cleaned for my arrival. After gracelessly dropping my things haphazardly in the space next to my bedside table, I put my hands on my hips and looked around, letting the breeze wafting in through the half-open window chill my bare arms, still adjusting to the new house. A deep sigh, closing my eyes for just a moment to let everything sink in, breathing out the stresses from a semester of constant work, and then back downstairs for a glass of water and, perhaps, a piece of fruit.

And it was then that I noticed that almost every inch of counter space was covered in gift baskets and fruit bowls, obligatory gifts from drug reps and secretaries at my father's office. [It's Christmas season, after all.]

And then I grinned.

As mundane and predictable as most of them are, full to the brim with boxes of stale pretzels and commercially-cloned milk chocolate truffles, the odd basket or two is full of delightful surprises. A small bottle of olive oil, caramels wrapped in colorful foil [the ones that only seem to make an appearance this time of year and virtually disappear from existence for the remaining eleven months], a wheel of chevre, a tin of cranberry-cinnamon tea.

I horde all of these for myself, naturally, as the rest of my family is content with the chocolate and crackers [which, admittedly, I enjoy quite a lot as well] and have little interest in odd teas and cheeses. It's bizarre, but it's the little things from gift baskets that really solidify this time of year. The end of a semester. A break from academics. A time to spend the day away in pajamas and a sweatshirt, lounged upon the sofa with a book, iPod plugged into Aine Minogue and Dean Martin, perhaps a mug of cranberry-cinnamon tea at hand.

And occasionally, a Christmas party or two.

Matt's parents graciously invited me to their home this evening for a small party, which was in and of itself one of the most delicious events I have ever attended. There is never a shortage of incredible food whenever Matt's family is involved, particularly when smoked brisket, turkey and cranberry, and the most diverse selection of homemade cookies are at one's fingertips.

When I was first told of the party, I immediately jumped at the opportunity to bake something as a thank-you, to which Matt's parents happily accepted. And so, for days I pondered about what would be worthy enough for individuals which such impeccable taste, and eventually decided on these: apple pie cheesecake bars, which I dedicate utterly and unconditionally to Matt's incredible family.

Apple Pie Cheesecake Bars
Adapted from The Girl Who Ate Everything.
Makes 24-32 bars.

For the crust, you'll need:
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 sticks butter, softened and cut into cubes
For the cheesecake layer, you'll need:
  • 3 8-oz packages cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
For the apple layer, you'll need:
  • 3 large apples, peeled, cored, and cut into small cubes [Grannysmith, Gala, and Golden Delicious are ideal, or any combination of the three]
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg, or a few pinches of freshly grated nutmeg
For the streusel topping, you'll need:
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1 stick butter, softened
For the caramel, you'll need:
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

To prepare the bars:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line a 9x13-inch pan with aluminum foil. Grease the bottom and sides of the foil. In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour and brown sugar. Add in butter and pulse until dough has the consistency of bread crumbs. Pour dough onto bottom of the pan and press evenly. Bake for 15 minutes, until golden brown. Do not turn off the oven.

While the crust is baking, prepare the cheesecake layer by beating cream cheese and 1 cup sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add vanilla. Pour the cheesecake filling onto the baked crust, spreading evenly with a spatula.

Toss the apples, 2 tbsp sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a bowl. Spoon the apples evenly over top of the cheesecake filling.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, and oats and mix until well-blended. Using a pastry cutter or your hand, mix the butter into the flour mixture until crumbly. Sprinkle the streusel evenly on top of the apples. Bake the bars for 40-45 minutes, until cheesecake is set. Let bars cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

To prepare the caramel: 
In a medium saucepan over medium flame, whisk together sugar and water. Allow syrup to come to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer until the syrup reaches an amber color, 7-12 minutes. Watch the syrup closely as it will quickly burn after it has started to color. Once syrup reaches the correct color, slowly pour in the heavy cream, whisking constantly while doing so. The syrup will sizzle and foam up spectacularly, but will calm down soon after. Remove saucepan from the heat and continue whisking until mixture has reached the consistency of smooth caramel. Let caramel cool 15-20 minutes before using on the bars.

Once dessert has refrigerated for at least 2 hours, slice them into bars and arrange on a serving tray. Right before serving, drizzle a generous amount of caramel on top of the bars.

There's really nothing pie-like about these, save that I made them with apples and it's currently autumn, but the name has a rather nice ring to it. Plus, with his face muffled in my shoulder in an enormous, snuggly hug, Matt mumbled that they tasted like apple pie wrapped in a cheesecake. The contented grin on his face when he pulled away and dove into his second bite was inspiration enough for the title.

Matt's mother was thrilled, Matt's father thought they were delicious, the other guests loved them, and my heart soared. More than anything, I wanted to give back a small bit of the kindness Matt and his family have shown me for over a decade.

Hopefully this was a little victory, but above all, a big thank you.

"Dining with one’s friends and beloved family is certainly one of life’s primal and most innocent delights, one that is both soul-satisfying and eternal"
Julia Child


  1. You have a different amount of sugar in the ingredients list for the filling than in the instructions for it. Which one is correct?

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  3. In the oven now! But I'm also curious about the amount of sugar... I used 3/4 cup so hopefully it is sweet enough!

  4. This is one of the best desserts I have ever made, and I do quite a bit of baking! They were a HUGE hit and I'm about to make them for the second time-Love! Thanks for posting!


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Thanks so much for reading!
I'd love to hear your thoughts :)