Creamy, smooth, with a sour cream topping and the unmistakable caramel flavor that only brown sugar can achieve. It keeps well and can be frozen. If you're looking for a new idea for a holiday dessert, this brown sugar cheesecake is a sure hit.
This brown sugar cheesecake had been on my bucket list for years. Well, it's finally here, and let me tell you, it's a fantastic recipe!
Brown sugar in cheesecake adds a wonderfully delicious caramel-molasses flavor that is not invasive but different from traditional ones.
Being a huge fan of cheesecake recipes - mega huge - I can assure you this is not the usual type, but definitely worth making, especially during the holidays.
Origin of cheesecake
For those unfamiliar with cheesecake, it is a sweet, creamy dessert that features cream cheese as its main ingredient and usually has a graham cracker crumb base.
Its origins are said to go way back to Ancient Greece.
But modern-day cheesecake started in late 1800, and there are a million and one different recipes nowadays, from the traditional to no-bake cheesecake, for special diets, etc.
Why you'll love this recipe
- It keeps well: as with most cheesecakes, it can be made ahead and kept refrigerated for 4-5 days or frozen for a few weeks before serving.
- It's different: as much as we love a classic cheesecake filling, this is a welcome change with great flavors. This cheesecake filling is terrific, smooth and creamy, with a hint of burnt sweetness from the molasses. Fabulous.
- It's creamy: the texture is wonderfully soft and smooth.
For the crust:
This part involves the popular graham cracker crust with the addition of ground almonds. Pecans are another good option.
- Graham cracker crumbs: you need fine crumbs so using a food processor is the best choice. I use homemade graham crackers or regular graham crackers when I can get a hold of them, but honey maid graham crackers, cinnamon graham crackers, or vanilla wafers work well if you want to have a choice of cookie crusts.
- Almonds: are finely ground and meld with the cookie crumbs to make a firm crust.
- Unsalted butter.
For the filling:
- Brown sugar: is the star of this cheesecake recipe so use your favorite one. I go back and forth between light and dark brown sugar depending on what's available. You can use muscovado too, but it tends to sweeten less than regular brown sugar.
- Cream cheese: the regular type, full-fat cream cheese is needed for consistency and creaminess. I always use Philadelphia original cream cheese, but other premium brands work fine.
- Molasses: contributes to achieving a deep flavor, an almost burnt caramel undertone that is amazing. I wouldn't substitute it, but if you usually find it too overpowering, use half molasses and half runny honey.
- Bourbon: it's part of the topping flavoring. Use a teaspoon of vanilla if you don't want to use alcohol.
This is a brown cheesecake with an almond crust. Nuts give the crumb crust a wonderful crunchiness and toasted flavor.
It covers the bottom and goes halfway up the sides of the pan, so there's more crust than usual, which is a good thing.
Vintage Kitchen tip:start pressing the crumb mixture on the sides. When you start at the center and work outwards, you might run out of cookie mix before and not cover the sides completely.
Achieving a smooth filling
We all know that a smooth and creamy cheesecake is the end game.
This is achieved by following certain steps, very easy ones:
- Have all ingredients at room temperature: we need a smooth, completely lump-free cream cheese mixture, and the right temperature ensures the ingredients integrate well.
- Don't overbeat when adding the eggs: we don't want to add air to the filling as that can make it puff too much during baking.
- Oven temperature: start with a medium/high temperature and then lower it so the cheesecake bakes slowly and the filling doesn't puff and crack. Leave the cheesecake in the oven for an hour after turning it off. This greatly improves texture.
- Refrigeration: the cheesecake must be refrigerated in the pan for at least 8 hours after completely cooling down. Well covered in plastic wrap. I chill them for no less than 24hs.
Sour cream topping
In the old days, many cheesecake recipes called for a sour cream topping added during the last minutes of baking.
Many include it in the filling, like this baked cheesecake, and I think is great, as it adds texture and a slight tang.
But, for this brown sugar cream cheese dessert, the topping is applied the old-fashioned way when the cheesecake is almost fully baked. It contrasts with the deep-flavored brown sugar filling, and looks gorgeous.
How to add the sour cream layer
This topping comes together in a minute; simply mix all ingredients in a bowl. If you don't want to use bourbon, simply add some vanilla extract or paste.
This sour cream topping is applied when the oven is turned off.
You remove the cheesecake from the oven, spread the topping, and pop it back for an hour, so it settles and bakes with the residual heat.
The filling will still be crazy wobbly, so you might feel apprehensive doing it. Be careful when you apply it and remember that the heat will loosen it and it will spread further on its own.
It will solidify as it cools down.
When is the cheesecake done?
This is a loaded question because doneness depends on the recipe and the way it's baked.
My answer is that the filling will always be very wobbly, especially in the center, when the time comes to turn off the oven.
My steps are simple and they work:
- Turn off the oven while the cheesecake is still jiggly or wobbly, according to the instructions. The main concern is about not properly cooking the eggs, and that is not a problem, at least with the baking times instructed in the recipes in this blog.
- Leave the cheesecake in the oven for an hour and don't open the door. The residual heat will cook it a bit more.
- Take it out, and let cool completely on a wire rack.
- Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 8 hours. I recommend 24 to 48 hours for a creamier texture.
Can you freeze it?
Of course! Cheesecake freezes beautifully.
I have a theory that a few days in the freezer, after it has been refrigerated for at least 8 hours, actually helps improve the creamy consistency and texture. But that's me.
This brown sugar cheesecake can be made ahead and frozen. Let defrost at room temperature for about 45 minutes before serving.
So rest assured that this brown sugar cheesecake is worth every calorie.
It's the perfect dessert for the string of holidays that have already started and go into the next year. A wonderful alternative to traditional pies and cakes, or a different addition to recipes you wouldn't even dream of not making.
Related recipes you might like:
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For the crust:
- 1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
- ½ cup toasted ground almonds
- 6 tablespoons (90g) unsalted butter, melted
For the filling:
- 3 ½ cups (760g) cream cheese, room temperature
- 4 tablespoons (60g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup light brown sugar (firmly packed)
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup sour cream
- ¼ cup cream
- 4 large eggs
For the topping:
- 1 ½ cups sour cream, at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons bourbon
For the crust:
- Mix all ingredients in a bowl until it looks like wet sand.
- Line the bottom of a 9 inch (24cm) springform pan with aluminum foil and attach the sides.
- Press cookie mixture onto bottom and up sides of the pan (about 1 inch). Refrigerate while preparing the filling.
For the filling:
- Preheat oven to 350ºF /180ºC.
- In a large bowl beat cream cheese, butter and sugar until completely smooth.
- Add molasses, vanilla, sour cream and cream and beat just until incorporated.
- Add eggs, one at a time, barely waiting for one to incorporate before adding the next one.
- Pour mixture into prepared pan and bake for 40 minutes.
- Lower oven temperature to 300ºF/150ºC and bake for 40 minutes more. Keep oven on.
- Remove cake and carefully spread topping on. Cheesecake will be wobbly.
- Return to the oven, bake for another 5 minutes and turn the oven off. Leave cheesecake for one hour inside the oven without opening the door.
- Remove to a wire rack, let cool completely, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.
For the topping:
- Mix all ingredients in a bowl.
To serve cheesecake:
- Remove sides from springform pan and lift aluminum foil.
- Place cake on serving plate and decorate with nuts.
- Keep refrigerated.
- Use a different nut in the crust. Pecans work very well too.
- Change the bourbon for another liquor, or omit it if you prefer. Use vanilla extract with 2 tablespoons cream.
- I like to keep it in the refrigerator (well-wrapped) for at least 24 hours before eating it.
- Freeze it up to a month. Well wrapped in plastic and then aluminum.
- Prep Time: 30
- Cook Time: 120
- Category: Cheesecakes
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: American
- Serving Size: ⅛
- Calories: 789
- Sugar: 34.7 g
- Sodium: 386.7 mg
- Fat: 63.4 g
- Carbohydrates: 42.1 g
- Fiber: 1.1 g
- Protein: 15.2 g
- Cholesterol: 251.5 mg
Keywords: brown sugar cheesecake
Adapted from The best American Recipes 2005-2006 by Fran McCullough and Molly Stevens