Smooth and creamy, with the rich caramelized-molasses flavor of dark brown sugar, this brown sugar pecan pie cheesecake is an upgraded take on classic cheesecake. The sweet, gooey, caramel-like pecan topping is reminiscent of pecan pie, and I promise you’ll be looking for more ways to use it (over ice cream, brownies, pumpkin pie, everything!).
If you enjoy pecan pie and cheesecake, then you’ll definitely fall in love with this incredibly delicious two-for-one combo. 😉 From the thick graham cracker crust, to the smooth and creamy filling, to the gooey-yet-chunky pecan topping… every bite of this rich dessert will take your tastebuds on a texture journey. The flavors of sweet brown sugar, nutty toasted pecans, and tangy cream cheese complement one another beautifully.
This brown sugar pecan pie cheesecake is truly a showstopper and worthy of a holiday celebration!
3 Parts to This Brown Sugar Pecan Pie Cheesecake
- Graham Cracker Crust: This is my favorite graham cracker crust, only scaled up so the crust comes all the way up the sides. Unlike the other layers of this dessert, I do NOT recommend using brown sugar in the crust, because it creates a too-soft foundation. Use regular sugar.
- Filling: This smooth and creamy cheesecake is flavored with dark brown sugar and a touch of cinnamon, for an elevated caramel-like flavor.
- Caramel Pecan Pie Topping: The pecans get a quick turn in the oven, to get that roasty-toasty flavor. Make the brown sugar caramel sauce on the stove (it’s a lot quicker than salted caramel), mix in the toasted pecans, and then let it cool and thicken before spooning over the chilled cheesecake. Brown sugar whipped cream is optional (but delightful!)—see recipe Note.
Press the graham cracker crust mixture into your springform pan and pre-bake for 10 minutes.
Use These 7 Ingredients in the Filling
- Block Cream Cheese: Use four 8-ounce blocks (2 lbs. total) of full-fat cream cheese. Make sure you’re buying the blocks of cream cheese and not cream cheese spread, which has higher water content.
- Dark Brown Sugar: Light brown sugar is fine if you can’t find dark—it’s not going to ruin your cheesecake—but the flavor won’t be as pronounced. The difference between them is the molasses content: dark brown sugar has nearly twice the amount of molasses as light brown.
- Sour Cream: Makes for a smooth and velvety texture, and gives it that lightly tangy flavor. Without it, you’ll just be eating… baked cream cheese.
- Vanilla: Pure vanilla extract adds flavor, especially homemade vanilla extract!
- Lemon Juice: While it’s optional, the lemon juice serves to brighten up the cheesecake’s overall flavor. You can use orange juice instead of lemon—works so well in this pecan cheesecake.
- Cinnamon: Just a small amount, but it really helps bring out the brown sugar and pecan flavors.
- Eggs: 3 eggs are the final ingredient. You’ll beat the eggs in last, one at a time, until they are *just* incorporated. Do not overmix the batter after you add the eggs. This will whip air into the cheesecake batter, resulting in a cracked, deflated cheesecake.
Success Tip: Make sure all of the cheesecake batter ingredients are at room temperature so the batter remains smooth, even, and combines quickly. Beating cold ingredients together will result in a chunky over-beaten cheesecake batter. And that’s hardly the way we want to start!
Here’s an Easy Cheesecake Water Bath Method
I promise a water bath is nothing complicated. What’s the point, you ask?
Cheesecake loves a humid environment. The steam from hot water in the oven lifts the cheesecake up slowly and evenly, reducing the risk of cracks on the surface. Additionally, this slow and even baking method helps prevent the cheesecake from sinking back down as it cools. Taking a few extra minutes to prepare a water bath for this pecan pie cheesecake recipe is worth it.
You do not need to place the cheesecake IN water! I’ve been using an easier method in recent years—and one that doesn’t risk water leaking into your springform pan. Simply place a large baking pan/roasting pan filled with about an inch of hot water on the bottom rack of the oven with the cheesecake in the center of the oven, on the rack above, centered over the pan of water. The cheesecake is on the rack ABOVE the water, not inside the water. It works!
- Here’s what I do: I get a kettle of water boiling while I make the cheesecake filling. When I’m ready to bake the cheesecake, I place the cheesecake on the center rack. Then I slide the large pan onto the bottom rack and carefully (so carefully!) pour the entire kettle of boiled water into the pan. Then shut the oven door as quickly as possible to trap that steam inside.
How to Cool & Chill Your Pecan Pie Cheesecake
Careful not to over-bake the cheesecake. Over-baked cheesecake will crack and taste dry and mealy. The cheesecake is done when the edges are set and the center is still a little jiggly. Don’t worry, the cheesecake will set as it cools and then chills in the refrigerator.
Cool the cheesecake in the cooling oven. When the cheesecake is done, turn the oven off, crack open the oven door, and leave the cheesecake inside for at least 1 hour. A drastic and sudden change of temperature isn’t ideal for cheesecake—from hot oven to cool counter—so do your best to control the environment by leaving the cheesecake inside. After the cheesecake has cooled in the oven for at least 1 hour (or even longer), you can take it out and let it finish cooling at room temperature.
Chill your cheesecake for at least 4 hours or even overnight. There’s no greater test to your willpower than those several hours you’re forced to wait as the cheesecake cools down and then chills in the refrigerator. But every minute is completely worth it when you take that first unbelievable bite.
Caramel Pecan Pie Topping
Brown sugar cheesecake is, of course, delicious on its own, but the sweet pecan pie topping is the finishing touch that takes the whole dessert to the next level. You need pecan halves, butter, brown sugar (I recommend dark), heavy cream, salt, and a touch of corn syrup.
FAQ: Can I leave out the corn syrup? If you don’t want to use corn syrup, you can leave it out, but the texture of the topping may be a little grainy. The corn syrup serves to keep the sauce smooth and glossy. You can try using maple syrup, golden syrup, or honey in its place, but the texture may vary. This is basically the same delicious sauce we use on caramel turtle brownie pie.
Start by toasting the pecans on a baking sheet in the oven for about 10 minutes. You’ll cook the rest of the topping ingredients on the stovetop to make a caramel-like sauce. The sauce will seem pretty thin at first. (If you’ve made salted caramel sauce before, it won’t be as thick as that.) But after you stir in the toasted pecans and let it cool, it thickens significantly.
If you want a chunkier topping, you can use 2 cups (240g) of pecans, but if you want it a little more saucy, use 1 and 1/2 cups as listed in the recipe below.
The brown sugar caramel pecan topping is so easy… and you’ll be looking for excuses to make it! It’s *fabulous* spooned over a bowl of ice cream or even oatmeal or yogurt, for a special treat.
Here are even more ways you could use the topping:
- Spooned over Chai Spice Cinnamon Swirl Bundt Cake or Cream Cheese Pound Cake
- With Peach Bread, Apple Cinnamon Bread, or Banana Bread
- Topping for Brownies or Brownie Pie
- Make this easy Cheesecake Pie in half the time and spoon it over that instead!
- Serve on Pumpkin Pie, Pumpkin Pie Bars, Sweet Potato Pie, or Pumpkin Slab Pie
- Just eat it with a spoon (!!!)
Finally, if you want to ride this brown sugar train all the way to the station, make this homemade whipped cream, substituting brown sugar for the granulated sugar.
And… I’m done. 😉Print
Combine a thick graham cracker crust, creamy brown sugar cheesecake filling, and a caramel pecan topping to make one unbelievable layered dessert. Make sure all cold ingredients in the filling are room temperature before starting. Top with optional brown sugar whipped cream as the final garnish (see recipe Note).
- 2 cups (240g) graham cracker crumbs (about 16 full sheet graham crackers)*
- 6 Tablespoons (75g) granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup (115g or 8 Tbsp) unsalted butter, melted
- four 8-ounce blocks (904g) full-fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 1 cup (200g) packed light or dark brown sugar (I recommend dark)
- 1 cup (240g) full-fat sour cream, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice (optional, but recommended)
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
Brown Sugar Pecan Topping
- 1 and 1/2 cups (180g) pecan halves
- 1/4 cup (57g or 4 Tbsp) unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup (100g) packed light or dark brown sugar (I recommend dark)
- 6 Tablespoons (90ml) heavy cream
- pinch of salt (less than 1/8 tsp)
- 1 Tablespoon (15ml) light corn syrup*
- optional: homemade brown sugar whipped cream (see Note)*
- Adjust the oven rack to the center position, with a lower oven rack in place for the water bath described in step 5, and preheat oven to 350°F (177°C).
- Make the crust: If you’re starting out with full graham crackers, use a food processor or blender to grind them into fine crumbs. Pour into a medium bowl and stir in sugar until combined, and then stir in the melted butter. Mixture will be sandy. Try to smash/break up any large chunks. Pour into an ungreased 9-inch or 10-inch springform pan. With medium pressure using your hand, pat the crumbs down into the bottom and partly up the sides to make a compact crust. Do not pack down with heavy force because that makes the crust too hard. Simply pat down until the mixture is no longer crumby/crumbly and you can use the flat bottom of a small measuring cup to help smooth it all out if needed. Pre-bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to slightly cool as you prepare the filling.
- Make the filling: Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and brown sugar together on medium-high speed in a large bowl until the mixture is smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the sour cream, vanilla extract, lemon juice, and cinnamon, and then beat until fully combined. On medium 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. To help prevent the cheesecake from deflating and cracking, avoid over-mixing the batter as best you can. You will have close to 6 cups of batter.
- Pour cheesecake batter into warm pre-baked crust. Use a rubber spatula or spoon to smooth it into an even layer.
- Prepare the simple water bath (see recipe note for traditional water bath method): Boil a kettle or pot of water. You need 1 inch of water in your roasting pan for the water bath, so make sure you boil enough. Place the cheesecake on the center oven rack of the preheated oven. Place a large metal baking or roasting pan (I usually use a 9×13-inch baking pan—do not use glass) on the bottom rack. Pour boiling water into pan, about 1 inch deep. Immediately close oven to trap the steam inside. This unique water bath adds steam to the oven without having the cheesecake sit inside the water itself, which is the traditional water bath method explained in the recipe Notes.
- Bake cheesecake for 55–70 minutes or until the center is almost set. If you notice the cheesecake browning too quickly on top, tent it with aluminum foil halfway through baking. I usually bake it for 30 minutes, tent it with foil, and bake for another 35 minutes. When it’s done, the center of the cheesecake will slightly wobble if you gently shake the pan.
- Cool & chill the cheesecake: Turn the oven off and open the oven door slightly. Let the cheesecake sit in the oven as it cools down for 1 hour. Remove from the oven, then cool cheesecake completely at room temperature. Then refrigerate the cheesecake for at least 4 hours or overnight.
- Start the topping: Preheat oven to 300°F (150°C). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Spread the pecans on top and toast for 8–10 minutes or until fragrant and lightly browned. Set aside.
- Finish the topping: Heat the butter, brown sugar, heavy cream, salt, and corn syrup together in a medium saucepan over medium heat. With a spatula or whisk, stir occasionally until butter has melted and mixture is combined. Bring to a simmer. Once simmering, stop stirring and allow to simmer/boil for 1–2 minutes. Remove from heat, and then stir in the toasted pecans. Cool topping completely before using. The sauce will thicken considerably as it cools.
- Use a knife to loosen the chilled cheesecake from the rim of the springform pan, then remove the rim. Spoon cooled pecan pie topping on top of the cheesecake (or you can spoon it onto each individual slice). If desired, garnish with whipped cream. I used Wilton 8B piping tip for the pictured whipped cream. Using a clean sharp knife, cut into slices for serving. For neat slices, wipe the knife clean and dip into warm water between each slice.
- Cover and store leftover cheesecake in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- Make Ahead Instructions: This cheesecake can be made the day before. It has to chill for quite some time before serving. See step 7. Another way to make this cheesecake ahead of time is to freeze it (without the topping). Cheesecake can be frozen up to 3 months. If you need detailed freezing instructions, see my cheesecake post for a helpful How to Freeze Cheesecake guide.
- Traditional Water Bath: Boil a pot of water. You need 1 inch of water in your roasting pan for the water bath, so make sure you boil enough. As the water is heating up, wrap aluminum foil around the springform pan—you can do this before or after you pour in the cheesecake batter. Place the wrapped pan inside of a large roasting pan. Carefully pour the hot water inside of the pan and place in the oven. (Or you can place the roasting pan in the oven first, then pour the hot water in. Whichever is easier for you.) Bake as directed. When cooling the cheesecake in the oven in step 7, leave it sitting inside the water bath. Remove it from the water bath when letting it cool at room temperature.
- Toppings: You can substitute maple syrup, golden syrup, or honey for the corn syrup, but the texture may vary. If you don’t like pecans, you can substitute with coarsely chopped walnuts or you can skip the topping and instead top the baked and cooled brown sugar cheesecake with salted caramel or chocolate ganache.
- Brown Sugar Whipped Cream: If you’d like to make the optional brown sugar whipped cream, as pictured, follow the recipe for this homemade whipped cream, but use light or dark packed brown sugar instead of white granulated sugar. I used dark brown sugar, and Wilton 8B piping tip.
- Room Temperature Ingredients: Bring all cold ingredients to room temperature before beginning. Room temperature ingredients combine quickly and evenly, so you won’t risk over-mixing. Also, beating cold ingredients together will result in a chunky cheesecake batter.
- Non-US Readers: Don’t have graham crackers where you live? Use 240g ground digestive biscuit crumbs (about 2 cups; 16 biscuits), 1/3 cup (67g) granulated sugar, and 6 Tablespoons (85g) melted butter. Pre-bake the crust for a bit longer, about 12–14 minutes. You can also substitute golden syrup for the corn syrup. And from what I understand, spreadable cream cheese sold in a tub in countries outside of the US is a little different from the spreadable cream cheese in the US. It’s thicker, sturdier, and more solid and should be OK in this recipe. I have no experience with it, but this is what I’ve heard from other non-US readers. If you try it, let us know how it turns out!
Keywords: pecan pie cheesecake