The countdown to Thanksgiving has officially begun and I could not be more excited because Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday. Surprise, surprise. I’ve been hosting since I was in college and have been fine-tuning my menu over the years. I even have a master spreadsheet with my grocery list, menu, recipes, and cooking schedule mapped out by the hour. Yeah, I’m that girl. But, this year I’ve decided to try something new and reinvent one of my favorite Thanksgiving desserts. And I figured I can’t go wrong by combining pecan pie and cheesecake to create this pecan pie cheesecake with dulce de leche swirls.
PECAN PIE CHEESECAKE WITH DULCE DE LECHE SWIRLS
If you’re also looking to change things up this year and try something other than the typical Thanksgiving classics, then look no further. This pecan pie cheesecake has got everything going for it.
✓ Toasted pecan graham cracker crust
✓ Dulce de leche swirl cheesecake
✓ Crunchy pecan pie topping
What more could you ask for? The toasty notes from the pecans. The caramel notes from the dulce de leche and pecan pie filling. And the crunchy top. It’s truly a symphony of flavors and texture and it is sure to impress.
Now, let me preface this by saying that this pecan pie cheesecake does require some advance planning and time. But, everything worth having is worth waiting for, right? And while the recipe does take some time, I can assure you that the recipe is quite easy to make.
I personally love making cheesecakes for Thanksgiving because they are best made in advance the day before. And I’m always looking for ways to free up my time on the big day. There’s no worry about the crust getting soggy. Or needing to reheat prior to serving. Just take it straight from the refrigerator, slice, and serve. You’re also welcome to add a dollop of whipped cream and some drizzles of warmed up dulce de leche for good measure.
WHAT IS DULCE DE LECHE AND CAN YOU MAKE IT AT HOME?
Did I mention that this cheesecake has dulce de leche swirls? I don’t know about you, but I love dulce de leche. If you aren’t familiar, dulce de leche is made by slowly heating sweetened condensed milk until it thickens and caramelizes. It’s very similar to a caramel. However, I can’t always seem to find the premade canned version at the store.
So, I make my own dulce de leche at home and it’s super easy to make. You just need to plan ahead because it takes 3 hours. But, the advantage to making it at home is that you can control the consistency by varying the cook time.
The longer you cook the sweetened condensed milk, the thicker it will become and the sugars will continue to caramelize and turn a deep, golden brown color. I personally like it on the thicker, spreadable side so I can re-use it for frostings or fillings like this cheesecake filling. If you want a thinner caramel for drizzling on top of desserts, then reduce the cook time.
HOW TO MAKE DULCE DE LECHE USING A CANNING JAR
To start, all you need is a can of Eagle Brand® Sweetened Condensed Milk and a glass canning jar or mason jar. I prefer Eagle Brand® Sweetened Condensed Milk because it’s what I grew up on and it contains only two ingredients: milk and sugar. No additives or words you can’t even pronounce.
Now, there’s many different ways to make homemade dulce de leche, but I personally like the boiling method. The traditional method calls for boiling the sweetened condensed milk in the unopened and sealed can with the label removed. However, I prefer to take the extra step and transfer the sweetened condensed milk into a glass canning jar so I don’t have to worry about any possible toxins. It also helps when you can see through the glass because then you can watch the consistency and stir it on occasion.
Both the sealed can and glass jar methods are effective. The only difference is that the glass jar method does not require you to have the jar fully submerged under water at all times. Simply stand the jar upright in a large, deep pot and fill it with water until it reaches the sweetened condensed milk line. You want to ensure the water covers the condensed milk at all times. Every 30 minutes or so, you will need to refill the pot with water to ensure the water line stays at the condensed milk line. You also do not need to seal the jar tight because you don’t want to trap in too much steam and create pressure. I just place the top lid with rubber seal on top and don’t even bother with the screw lid. To achieve the thick dulce de leche consistency, boil the sweetened condensed milk for 3 hours until it is a deep, golden brown color.
PECAN PIE TOPPING FOR DULCE DE LECHE SWIRL CHEESECAKE
I really thought long and hard about this topping. I debated between topping it with pecans and caramel or an actual pecan pie topping. After various tests, I ultimately ended up with a traditional pecan pie topping. It has the same ingredients you’d find in a pecan pie such as brown sugar, corn syrup, and eggs. And it makes the best textural contrast with the creamy cheesecake.
When baked, I found that the pecan pie topping created such a nice crunchy crust on top and I loved the way it melded and adhered to the cheesecake instead of just being an add-on. I also went back on forth on whether I should keep the pecan halves whole or chop the pecans. I decided to chop the pecans in order to make it easier to slice the cheesecake and ensure every bite has some pecans in it.
HOW TO MAKE THE PERFECT CHEESECAKE EVERY TIME
- Line a springform pan with parchment for an easy release
- Use room temperature ingredients (cream cheese, eggs, sour cream)
- Use full-fat cream cheese and sour cream for the perfect creamy texture
- Do not aerate the cheesecake filling by mixing on low
- Remove cream cheese lumps for a smooth consistency
- Create steam to regulate baking by placing a sheet pan full of water underneath
- Gradually cool the cheesecake to prevent any cracking
HOW TO AVOID A CRACKED CHEESECAKE
Have you ever made a cheesecake and let it cool for hours only to find it cracked? Well, fret no more! I’ve got an easy, foolproof method that doesn’t require you to make a bain marie aka water bath. Say goodbye to soggy crusts, water leaks, and aluminum foil.
I learned this method a few years ago and have been using it ever since with zero cracked cheesecakes. Simply place a sheet pan on the rack underneath the cheesecake and fill it with hot water to create a steam bath. This method takes the principles of a bain marie by creating steam and gently baking the cheesecake.
Another key to avoiding a cracked cheesecake is properly cooling the cheesecake. Once the cheesecake is baked, we want to gently cool it so there’s no major drop in temperature. To do so, turn off the oven, leave the cheesecake in the oven, and crack the oven door open about 2 inches and leave it ajar to slowly cool the oven down. Let it cool in the oven for 1 hour and then let it finish cooling on a wire cooling rack. Then transfer to the fridge and continue cooling for at least 4 hours. I find that overnight is best. Which is perfect if you’re making this ahead of time. I like to make this the day before Thanksgiving.
I hope you give this recipe a try! I have no doubt that it will be a showstopper on your Thanksgiving dessert table and perhaps a new Thanksgiving tradition.
Pecan Pie Cheesecake with Dulce de Leche SwirlsPrint Recipe
For the homemade dulce de leche
- 1 (14 ounce) can Eagle Brand® Sweetened Condensed Milk
For the graham cracker crust
- 1 ½ cups (185 grams) graham cracker crumbs (about 12-13 graham crackers)
- ¾ cup (85 grams) toasted pecans
- 6 tablespoons (84 grams) unsalted butter, melted
- ¼ cup (55 grams) light brown sugar, packed
For the cheesecake filling
- 32 oz (4 8 oz. packages) full-fat cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 cup (240 grams) full-fat sour cream, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup (10 oz.) homemade dulce de leche
For the pecan pie topping
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup (110 grams) light brown sugar
- ⅓ cup (113 grams) light corn syrup
- 3 tablespoons (42 grams) unsalted butter, cubed
- 1 ½ cups (180 grams) toasted pecans, chopped
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Prepare the dulce de leche
- Pour the can of Eagle Brand® sweetened condensed milk into a glass canning jar and top with the rubber-lined lid (you do not need seal tight with the seal lid). Transfer to a large pot and fill with water ensuring the water level is either at or about 1 cm above the sweetened condensed milk line at all times.
- Heat on medium-high heat until the water comes to a boil and then lower the temperature to medium and simmer for 3 hours. Be sure to keep an eye on the pot and check the water level every 30 minutes to ensure the water level stays at the same level as the sweetened condensed milk.
- After 3 hours, turn off heat, remove the jar from the water using tongs and let cool on a wire rack. The dulce de leche should be a golden brown color.
- *If you prefer the can method or don’t have a canning jar, see notes below for instructions on how to prepare the dulce de leche.
Prepare the graham cracker crust
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line a 9” springform pan with parchment paper. Cut a circle out of the bottom and then line the sides with a strip of parchment paper that has a 1” overhang to help keep the pecan pie topping from spilling over the sides. Position both oven racks in the lower part of the oven.
- Toast the pecans for both the graham cracker crust and pecan pie topping. Spread the pecans (2 ¼ cups/265 grams total) in an even layer on a sheet pan. Bake for 5-7 minutes while the oven preheats until fragrant. Let cool, divide the pecans for the crust (¾ cup/85 grams) and the pecan pie topping (1 ½ cups/180 grams). Set aside.
- In the bowl of a food processor, combine the graham crackers and ¾ cup (85 grams) of toasted pecans and pulse until finely ground into crumbs. Transfer graham cracker crumbs to a medium-sized bowl, add brown sugar, and mix to combine. Pour the melted butter into the mixture and mix until thoroughly combined.
- Press the crumbs into the bottom and sides of the springform pan using the bottom of a ¼ cup measuring spoon or a shot glass; ensuring the bottom is thicker than the sides. The graham cracker crust should come about ⅓ - ½ way up the sides of the pan.
- Bake the crust for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and let the crust cool slightly for 10-15 minutes.
Make the dulce de leche swirl cheesecake filling
- Before you make the filling, position the oven racks in the lower part of the oven. Place a sheet pan on the oven rack that will be positioned directly underneath the rack with cheesecake. This will eventually be used as a water bath and will create steam to prevent the cheesecake from cracking.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese on low speed for about 2-3 minutes until smooth. Add the sugar and beat for another 1-2 minutes until incorporated. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and the paddle to ensure the cream cheese is well mixed.
- Gradually add eggs one at a time ensuring each one is incorporated before adding the next. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and the paddle to ensure the eggs are incorporated.
- Add the sour cream, salt, and vanilla extract. Mix for another 5-7 minutes on low speed until the cheesecake filling is silky smooth and there are no more lumps.
- Remove 2 cups of filling and transfer to a large bowl. Add the dulce de leche and whisk to combine.
Assemble and bake the cheesecake
- Spoon the plain cheesecake in dollops over the cooled graham cracker crust leaving gaps and then fill in the gaps with scoops of the dulce de leche cheesecake filling. Continue alternating between the two with each layer. Gently swirl the cheesecake filling with a knife (or chopstick!) making “S” motions.
- Gently tap the pan onto the counter to remove any air bubbles.
- Open the oven and carefully pour hot water onto the sheet pan until full to help create steam while baking. Bake cheesecake for 30 minutes.
Make the pecan pie topping
- While the cheesecake bakes, make the pecan pie topping.
- In a large bowl, add the eggs and whisk. Set aside. Roughly chop the remaining 1 ½ cups (180 grams) of toasted pecans. Set aside.
- In a saucepan, combine the butter (cubed), brown sugar, and corn syrup. Heat on medium-low just until the butter and sugar has melted; about 3-5 minutes stirring occasionally until ingredients are well combined.
- Remove from heat and cool slightly (to 140°F) so you don’t cook the eggs. Pour the butter-sugar mixture into the eggs while whisking constantly. Then add the vanilla and salt, and the chopped pecans, and whisk until thoroughly combined. Set aside.
- After the cheesecake has partially baked for 30 minutes, remove cheesecake from the oven and carefully spoon the pecan pie mixture with the syrup all over the top of the cheesecake in an evenly dispersed layer. Do not press down on the pecans so you don’t pierce the cheesecake custard.
- Return the cheesecake back into the oven and bake for another 25-30 minutes or until set. The edges should be set and the center should still be slightly wobbly like Jello.
- Turn the oven off, leave the oven door slightly ajar about 2 inches, and let the cheesecake cool inside the oven for 1 hour. Remove cheesecake from oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Let cool completely at room temperature before refrigerating. Let cool in refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight before serving.Enjoy!
This post is sponsored by Eagle Brand® Sweetened Condensed Milk. All opinions expressed are my own.