There are few things I enjoy more in life than a caramel dessert. This is evidenced by the fact that... well most of my dessert recipes feature caramel. Am I a "caramel over-user?" Mmmmmmaybe. Hey, at least I'm willing to admit it. But in all honesty, sorry not sorry.
So knowing my adoration of caramel, it only makes sense that when I was approached by Mauna Loa Macadamia Nuts, I instantly had an image in my head of what I wanted to create for them. I envisioned gooey caramel filled with roasted macadamia nuts, all swirled into, you guessed it, a cheesecake! I'll lie to you and tell you that I "really saw this being a hit at your upcoming holiday parties", or that "I wanted to make this into a simple cheesecake bar instead of a full-fledged cheesecake so it would be more approachable for you!" No. Sorry. In this venture, I was extremely selfish. I wanted easy, gooey, nutty, goodness and I was blinded by my own cravings. It's merely a COINCIDENCE that this is, in fact, going to be a hit at your upcoming holiday parties, and that making it into a simple cheesecake bar instead of a full fledged cheesecake is more approachable to people like me.... I'm full of honesty today, guys (and also delicious cheesecake).
Now. Let's get to some more honesty. Yes, this is a post sponsored by Mauna Loa Macadamia Nuts. But is this just me trying to "sell" to you because someone wanted me to mention their product? Absolutely not. I will never EVER post about a product that I don't believe is the best possible ingredient in your dish. I can honestly say (man, should I rename this post "Honesty Cheesecake Bars??) that Mauna Loa is the only macadamia nut I ever have or ever will use in my cooking. The reason for that is, I believe that quality ingredients make for quality dishes. Knowing the quality of their product will make a huge difference in your cooking. That's my schpiel on that.
Tell me you love me, because these cheesecake bars are about to blow your mind. I tested and retested every ounce of this recipe because it was so important to me that it fit my initial vision for this glorious dessert. I wanted crunchy and buttery crust, with a smooth cheesecake, loaded with GOOEY, and I mean gooey, caramel ribbons filled with more nutty goodness. I tried store-bought caramels, and they didn't come out gooey enough. They got hard and chewy. I did not want any texture in this recipe to take away from the signature crunch of a Mauna Loa macadamia nut. It needed to be all about the crunch and the sticky caramel. And by the grace of the dessert gods, this recipe meets all my requirements, and I know you'll be pretty stoked about them, too.
Caramel Macadamia Nut Cheesecake Bars
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: About 2 hours
Servings: 16 bars
2 8 oz packages cream cheese
1 6 oz bag of Mauna Loa Chopped Macadamia Nuts
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
4 Tbsp butter, divided
1 cup and 1 Tbsp sugar, divided
1/4 heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 tsp vanilla, divided
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set out cream cheese to soften/bring to room temperature. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and pour Mauna Loa Chopped Macadamia Nuts onto pan. Roast in the oven for 4 minutes, until fragrant. Remove from oven, take parchment paper with nuts on top from pan, and place on counter to cool.
2. Line an 8x8 brownie pan with two sheets of parchment paper, in "cross" formation, so edges hang over sides (this helps for easy removal of the cheesecake bars from the pan). Set aside 3/4 cup of macadamia nuts in a separate bowl, and combine remaining nuts with graham cracker crumbs, 2 tablespoons melted butter, and 1 Tbsp sugar. Mix together, and pour into the pan. Pat into a crust on the bottom of the pan (don't go up the sides). Bake in oven for 8 minutes. When slightly crisp, remove from oven and let cool while you move to next steps. Reduce oven heat to 325 degrees.
3. Make the caramel, by heating 1/2 cup sugar in a medium sauce pan over high heat. Use a whisk, and continually move sugar. After about 5-6 minutes, it will all melt and turn a gorgeous caramel color (the deeper the caramel color the deeper the caramel flavor, so you can make it as dark or as light as you want). Reduce the heat to medium, then add 2 1/2 Tbsp butter to sugar (it will bubble, so be careful), and mix until fully combined. Add 1 tsp vanilla and heavy whipping cream and mix. Continue to heat for an additional 2 minutes, then set add the reserved 3/4 cup macadamia nuts. Set aside to cool NOTE: As it simmers then cools, it will continue to get thicker. If you find it is too thick when it comes time to use, you can add another Tbsp of heavy whipping cream and heat up again to thin out.
4. Next, make the cheesecake mixture. Take the 2 8 oz packages of cream cheese and put in stand mixer with 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 tsp vanilla. Beat until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, scraping the sides as needed to make sure that everything is incorporated.
5. Pour cheesecake mix onto cooled crust, and tap on the counter to bring air bubbles to the top. Pour caramel macadamia nut mix onto the cheesecake in swirls, not just in one place. Tap the pan again lightly to get the caramel to sink a little bit into the cheesecake. Swirl the caramel slightly with a knife through the top of the cheesecake.
6. Bake in oven for 35 minutes, or until top it firm yet springs back slightly when touched. Let cool COMPLETELY. Use parchment paper handles and pull from pan.
7. Cut and serve. Top with whipped cream and any extra caramel. May be refrigerated up to 4 days.
8. ENJOY and post with #perfectleehungry!