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Nothing beats a classic cheesecake, with its rich and tangy flavor perfectly balanced by the lightly sweetened graham cracker crust… but sometimes I want the flavor of cheesecake without all the fuss of making one, which is why these cheesecake bars are so great! They’re easier to make and easier to eat; talk about a serious win-win!
These particular bars are no ordinary cheesecake bars. Oh no… these are salted caramel swirl cheesecake bars. A simple cheesecake bar with some caramel drizzled on top just wasn’t enough. I wanted ALL the caramel flavor in my cheesecake; sweet, salty, buttery caramel swirled into the cheesecake filling as the main flavor, not simply the topping…
These salted caramel swirl cheesecake bars are made with a special ingredient – the new Domino® Golden Sugar. Golden sugar is essentially a less processed version of the sugar that we all know and love. It’s made from pure cane sugar and works cup-for-cup just like white sugar. It also imparts just a hint of molasses flavor and bakes into your desserts like golden perfection. I used Domino® Golden Sugar to make each component of these cheesecake bars, including the salted caramel! Grab some on Amazon here!
How to Make Salted Caramel Swirl Cheesecake Bars
There are three main components to these delicious salted caramel swirl cheesecake bars.
1. Salted Caramel
It’s important to make the salted caramel first in this recipe so it has time to cool down before you mix it with the cheesecake batter! The first ingredient for the caramel is the Domino® Golden Sugar, which gets melted down over medium heat. This requires 1 small pot and a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula to stir the sugar with. Once the sugar has melted, cubed butter is carefully added, then the heavy whipping cream. After you stir for a minute or two, you add the salt and then you’re done. The most amazing caramel sauce with such a smooth, buttery flavor; it’s basically liquid gold.
2. Graham Cracker Crust
To make the buttery graham cracker crust, start by grinding up your graham crackers using either a food processor or blender. You need 8 full sheets of graham crackers; 8 full sheets = about 1 and 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs. Don’t have graham crackers where you live? (I’m looking at you, UK readers!) Use 1 and 1/4 cups of crushed digestive biscuits instead.
Mix the crushed graham crackers with 1/3 cup Domino® Golden Sugar, 5 tablespoons of melted butter, and a pinch of salt. I like to use a good amount of butter (shocking) in my graham cracker crust because it provides flavor and is the key binding agent here. Once you mix it all up, the mixture will be thick, sandy, and coarse and you’re ready to press it into your prepared pan! Once firmly pressed in, you’ll freeze the crust for 10-15min. and then pre-bake at 375°F for 8-10 minutes; this ensures a stable bottom rather than a crust that is too crumbly and falls apart.
3. Cheesecake Filling
They wouldn’t be cheesecake bars without a delicious cream cheese filling! To make the cheesecake layer, beat together cream cheese, Domino® Golden Sugar, vanilla extract, and lemon juice until smooth. Beat in 3 large eggs, one at a time then add the sour cream and beat until smooth. Pour the batter on top of the slightly cooled crust, reserving about 1/2 cup of cheesecake filling. Mix the caramel sauce with 1/2 cup of the cheesecake filling to lighten it up and then dollop over the top of the cheesecake batter and swirl with a knife. If the salted caramel isn’t lightened up, it will cause deep cracks and craters in your cheesecake as it sinks during baking.
Quick Tips to Make the Perfect Salted Caramel Swirl Cheesecake Bars
Use room temperature cream cheese. Room temperature cream cheese becomes creamier when it’s mixed and it incorporates much better with the other ingredients in this recipe. If your cream cheese is too cold, it tends to stay lumpy in the batter and doesn’t fully mix. You’ll also likely be tempted to over-beat the batter (which is not good for cheesecake!) to get rid of the lumps. A quick tip to get room temperature cream cheese: remove the cream cheese from the packaging and microwave in bursts of 15-20 seconds until it is room temperature (not softened or melted at all). It’s also important that you use room temperature eggs and sour cream.
Don’t overmix the batter. It’s important to mix the cream cheese enough to remove the lumps and to combine the ingredients, but over-mixing the batter will incorporate too much air into the mixture. Too much air will cause the cheesecake to rise too quickly in the oven and then fall (how you get cracks in your cheesecake). You also want to mix the cheesecake at low and consistent speeds to again reduce the risk of beating in too much air.
Allow the cheesecake to cool completely at room temperature. It might not seem like a big deal to expedite the chilling process of the cheesecake by putting it in the fridge right out of the oven, but if you do this, the cheesecake tends to get an ugly appearance on top. This appearance comes from condensation that forms on top of the too-quickly-chilled cheesecake. The cheesecake will also contract and possibly form cracks when chilled too quickly.
Make the salted caramel: Heat granulated sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly with a high heat resistant rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Sugar will form clumps and eventually melt into a thick brown, amber-colored liquid as you continue to stir. Be careful not to burn.
Once sugar is completely melted, immediately add the butter and stir until melted, about two minutes. (Be careful with this step because the caramel will bubble rapidly when the butter is added.)
Very slowly drizzle in 1/4 cup of heavy cream while stirring. Allow the mixture to boil for 1 minute then remove from heat and stir in 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Allow to cool down before using it. (Caramel thickens as it cools.)
Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Line an 8×8 baking pan with aluminum foil with enough overhang on the sides. Set aside.
Make the graham cracker crust: Using a food processor or blender, pulverize the graham crackers into a fine crumb. Pour into a medium bowl and mix with the melted butter, Domino® Golden Sugar, and a pinch of salt. Press firmly into the lined pan and bake for 8-10 minutes. Allow to cool as you prepare the filling. And then reduce the oven to 325°F (165°C).
Make the cheesecake filling: Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and Domino® Golden Sugar together on medium speed in a large bowl until the mixture is smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the sour cream, lemon juice, and vanilla extract, then beat until fully combined. On low speed, add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition until just blended. After the final egg is incorporated into the batter, stop mixing.
Scoop out 1/2 cup of batter and place in a medium mixing bowl; stir in the salted caramel until combined. Pour the rest of the batter onto the slightly cooled crust. Drop large spoonfuls of the caramel mixture on top of the filling and swirl gently with a knife.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the cheesecake has set up and the edges are lightly browned. The bars will be very puffy but will sink slightly as they cool. Allow to cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes at room temperature and then chill in the refrigerator for at least three hours, but preferably overnight. Lift the foil out of the pan and cut into squares.
Store bars in a covered container for up to 5 days in the refrigerator.
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