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