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Hi Bold Bakers!
WHY YOU’LL LOVE THIS RECIPE: This Turtle Cheesecake Bars Recipe is the superstar dessert that family and friends will beg you to bake again and again! Graham cracker crust hugs tangy cheesecake filling covered in buttery caramel, nuts, and decadent chocolate ganache. Cheesecake is beloved worldwide, and this recipe improves on the classic by giving you the classic creamy filling with a turtle-candy topping in a perfect, portable bar. Since the topping and crust can be made ahead, you can assemble this dessert over a few days to avoid a last-minute rush. Turtle Cheesecake Bars are ideal for a dessert buffet, holiday party, or an anytime indulgence!
I adore cheesecake, and I know you do too because classic recipes like Gemma’s Best-Ever New York Cheesecake and no-bake types such as No-Bake Strawberry Cheesecake and 5-Minute Microwave Cheesecake are Bold Bakers’ favorites! A cheesecake that can feed a crowd is exactly what we need for the holidays, and this Turtle Cheesecake Bars Recipe, with its wow-factor candy bar topping, is a winner.
Table of Contents
- What are Turtle Cheesecake Bars?
- Tools You Need
- Key Ingredients and Why
- How to Make Turtle Cheesecake Bars
- Can I Make Turtle Cheesecake Bars in Advance?
- How to Store Turtle Cheesecake Bars
- Gemma’s Pro Chef Tips
- More Chocolate Cheesecake Recipes
What are Turtle Cheesecake Bars?
- Turtle Cheesecake Bars give you all the best parts of a cheesecake in a bar form. Each slice has a generous ratio of graham cracker crust, piled-high cream cheese filling, and a thick caramel, chocolate, and pecan layer.
- An early form of cheesecake was made in Ancient Greece. But it wasn’t until a New York dairyman named William Lawrence accidentally invented cream cheese in 1872 that the dessert became the type of cheesecake we know and love now.
- Turtle candy, named because the cluster of pecans covered with caramel and chocolate resembles$ a cute little turtle, became popular in the U.S. in the early 20th century.
Tools You Need
- Mixing bowls
- Measuring cups and measuring spoons
- 9 x 13-inch baking sheet and parchment paper
- Food processor (optional)
- Stand mixer with a paddle attachment
Key Ingredients and Why
- Crushed graham crackers give the cheesecake a pleasantly crumbly crust that is still firm enough to yield bars that will hold together.
- Graham crackers are mildly sweet, with hints of honey, cinnamon, and a subtle touch of nuttiness from whole wheat flour.
- Make this recipe even bolder by using Homemade Graham Crackers.
- In the crust, butter binds the graham cracker crumbs together. It also adds a pleasant, savory, salty note.
- In the caramel sauce, butter adds rich dairy flavor. Just as importantly, butter gives the sauce thickness and a velvety, smooth consistency.
- Cream cheese provides tanginess and a smooth, luxurious mouthfeel.
- Use block-style cream cheese in this recipe. It’s thicker than tub or whipped cream cheese, and it will give your cheesecake the perfect consistency.
- Learn How to Make Your Own Cream Cheese. It’s easy!
- Granulated sugar sweetens the cheesecake filling and perfectly balances its tangy taste.
- Caramelized sugar is the base of the caramel sauce. As sugar caramelizes, its flavor changes from sharply sugary-sweet to a more profound, intense sweetness like butterscotch or toffee.
- As sugar caramelizes, it transforms from a white solid to an amber-colored syrup.
- Sugar and water are simmered to make caramel. Check out my troubleshooting guide, How to Make Caramel, for detailed pro tips to set you up for success.
Eggs bind the cheesecake ingredients together and give the dessert a consistent structure and texture.
Sour cream contributes to the plush texture of the cheesecake filling and adds to the dessert’s tanginess.
- Heavy whipping cream or heavy cream is just natural FRESH CREAM skimmed from milk, with a fat content of around 36% to be able to whip up well. Heavy cream’s high-fat content contributes to caramel’s velvety texture, enhances flavor complexity, and stabilizes caramel without curdling.
- Heavy cream enriches the sauce.
- Regular or light cream will not work in this recipe due to its low-fat content.
Pecans give texture and crunch to the creamy cheesecake, and their nutty flavor marries beautifully with the sweetness of the filling and the toppings.
How to Make Turtle Cheesecake Bars
- Preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C).
- Line the baking sheet with parchment paper.
Make the Crust
- Crush the graham crackers in a food processor or with a rolling pin.
- Mix graham cracker crumbs with melted butter and press into pan.
Make the Cheesecake Filling
- Beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Next, add eggs, sour cream, and vanilla, and stir until blended.
- Spread the mixture on the prepared crust.
- Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until firm. Cool to room temperature.
Make the Sauces
- Chocolate Ganache
- Put chopped chocolate in a bowl. Pour heated cream over the chocolate and let sit for five minutes. Stir until smooth and let the ganache cool.
- Caramel Sauce:
- Combine sugar and water in a saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved.
- Make sure to let sugar COMPLETELY dissolve first before bringing it to a simmer. Otherwise, the sugar tends to crystallize.
- Raise the heat to medium-high, and without stirring, let the mixture simmer for 8 to 10 minutes.
- Note: Once the sugar comes to a simmer, NO MORE STIRRING. Cook until it reaches a deep amber color.
- Add the butter and stir until melted.
- After the bubbling subsides, stir in heavy cream, vanilla, and salt. Let cool until thickened.
- Chocolate Ganache
Assemble and Serve
- Scatter nuts on top of the cooled cheesecake.
- Next, drizzle cheesecake with caramel sauce, and then drizzle with chocolate ganache.
- Finally, refrigerate for six hours until chilled and firm. Cut into squares and serve.
Can I Make Turtle Cheesecake Bars in Advance?
Yes, you can make Turtle Cheesecake Bars in advance. Prepare the crust, filling, and sauces separately:
- You can make the crust up to two days in advance. Cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
- When ready to bake, assemble and bake as directed in the recipe.
- Prepare the cheesecake filling and store it in an air-tight container. Refrigerate for up to two days.
- Bring the filling to room temperature (about 30 minutes) before spreading it over the crust and baking as the recipe directs.
Chocolate Ganache and Caramel Sauce
- Make ganache and cool to room temperature for about 15 minutes. Pour into a clean and dry airtight container and refrigerate for up to two weeks.
- Make caramel sauce, let it cool for 30 minutes, transfer it into a lidded jar, and store it in the fridge.
- When you’re ready to use it, warm the sauce up on the stove or in the microwave.
How to Store Turtle Cheesecake Bars
- Store Turtle Cheesecake Bars, uncovered, in the refrigerator for up to three days.
- Alternatively, you can wrap them well individually and freeze them for up to four weeks.
Can I make Turtle Cheesecake Bars without eggs?
- Yes, you can use an egg substitute. Try 2 tablespoons of cornstarch or arrowroot powder plus 3 tablespoons of water in place of one egg
- For more information about egg substitutes, see my guide, 12 Best Egg Substitutes for Baking and How to Use Them.
Can I make these Turtle Cheesecake Bars without nuts?
Yes, you can simply omit them or use toasted pumpkin seeds, broken-up pretzels, cacao nibs, toffee bits, or crushed crisp cookies like biscotti if you’re looking for some crunch.
How do I make sure that my cheesecake filling isn’t heavy and dense?
- Make sure the cream cheese is at room temperature, and whip it up with the sugar until it is light and fluffy.
- Doing this will incorporate air and build up a structure to hold the other ingredients.
When I’ve made cheesecake before, it turned out rubbery. How can I avoid this?
- If your cheesecake turned out eggy or rubbery, it was overcooked.
- Be sure to bake the cheesecake just until it looks nearly set and only a small circle in the center jiggles slightly. The center will firm up during the cooling time.
My caramel crystalized–what happened?
- Caramel crystallizes due to uneven heat from a thin-bottomed saucepan, dramatic temperature change, raising the heat too early, improper stirring, lack of stirring, and lack of cooking time.
- Be sure to read my troubleshooting guide, How To Make Caramel, to make perfect caramel sauce every time!
Gemma’s Pro Chef Tips
- Make this dessert even bolder by using homemade graham crackers.
- Check out my simple recipes to make your own sour cream, cream cheese, and vanilla extract to use in this recipe.
- For the smoothest, velvety cheesecake with no lumps, make sure to use brick-style cream cheese.
- Be sure to line the pan with parchment paper to prevent the cheesecake from sticking.
- It’s crucial to use a stainless steel saucepan and not an aluminum pan to make the caramel. Stainless steel is non-reactive, and therefore, it won’t adversely affect the caramelization process or the flavor or color of the caramel
- Don’t stir the caramel while it’s cooking, but you can use a pastry brush with water to brush down any sugar crystals that build up on the side of the saucepan.
Chocolate Cheesecake Recipes
Turtle Cheesecake Bars Recipe
For the Graham Cracker Crust
- 3 sleeves (13.5 oz/383 g) Graham crackers (digestives or any plain biscuit)
- ¾ cup (6 oz/170 g) butter, melted
For the Cheesecake Filling
Make the Chocolate Ganache
- 1 cup (6 oz/170 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1 cup (8 fl oz/240 ml) heavy cream
Make the Caramel Sauce
- 1 cup (8 oz/225 g) granulated sugar
- ¼ cup (2 fl oz/60 ml) water
- ½ cup (4 oz/115 g) butter, softened and diced
- ½ cup (4 fl oz/120 ml) heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 cups (10 oz/284 g) pecans, toasted and chopped
Make the Cheesecake
- Preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C) and line a 9x13-inch (23x33cm) baking pan with parchment paper
- Finely grind the Graham crackers with a food processor (you can also do this step by hand with a rolling pin and plastic bag).
- Stir in the melted butter until evenly mixed and then press evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan.
- Beat the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment on medium speed until smooth and lump free.
- Add the eggs, one at a time and scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition.
- Finally, beat in the sour cream and vanilla until fully combined. Spread over the Graham cracker crust.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until firm. Let cool completely at room temperature.
Make the Sauces
- Place the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl.
- In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer and pour over the chocolate. Let sit without stirring for 5 minutes. Stir the chocolate and cream together until a smooth ganache is formed. Set aside to let cool and thicken.
- In a high-sided saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and water.
- Let cook without stirring until the sugar melts and turns a deep amber color, roughly 10 minutes.
- Carefully add the butter (it will bubble and steam a lot) and gently stir until melted.
- Once the bubbling subsides, add the cream, vanilla and salt. Let sit at room temperature to cool and thicken.
Assemble the Cheesecake
- Sprinkle the cheesecake all over with the chopped pecans, then drizzle with a generous amount of caramel sauce, followed by the chocolate sauce. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours, until firm and thoroughly chilled.
- Serve nice big squares. Store leftovers, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If you have leftover sauces, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.