This caramel turtle cheesecake takes the tasty trio that makes up turtle candies—caramel, pecans, and chocolate—and combines it with rich, creamy cheesecake. From the thick chocolate cookie crumb crust to the smooth cheesecake layered with caramel sauce, this pecan-studded beauty is an indulgent dessert that elicits plenty of oohs and aahs from all who are lucky enough to try a slice!
You know those adorable little confections made up of pecans, caramel, and chocolate, clustered together to look like a little turtle? I have a recipe for them in my book Sally’s Candy Addiction.
Today we’re reimagining those cute candies as a decadent cheesecake, and it’s everything you love about both those treats, all in one dessert. Consider it the cheesecake version of my caramel turtle brownie pie, or my salted caramel turtle brownies. (Both are very popular desserts with my team!)
Many Layers to Love in This Caramel Turtle Cheesecake
Every bite of this layered delight will take your tastebuds on a flavorful ride to Texturetown:
- Oreo Pecan Crust: You’re starting with a simple 2-ingredient Oreo cookie crumb crust as the base of our dessert, just like we use for caramel turtle brownie pie. I slightly reduce the butter, because I found the caramel in the cheesecake filling seeped a bit into the crust, and there was simply too much liquid. After pre-baking the crust for 10 minutes, sprinkle some roughly chopped pecans over the crust. So much texture and flavor already!
- Caramel Cheesecake Filling: The star of the show is the velvety-smooth cheesecake filling. You’re sweetening it with flavorful brown sugar, and swirling a layer of caramel sauce right in the middle. But I promise it’s not overly sweet! This cheesecake filling hits just the right balance of tangy cream cheese and sweet caramel. Even better if you use homemade salted caramel here, which I do.
- Turtle Topping: More pecans + more caramel + melted chocolate = more to love!
Here’s everything you need to make this masterpiece:
- Oreos: You need 22 chocolate sandwich cookies—the regular kind, not Double-Stuf.
- Butter: A little melted butter serves to bind the Oreo crumbs together to make the crust.
- Pecans: Half the pecans nestle between the crust and the cheesecake filling, and the other half will get piled on top before serving.
- Brick Cream Cheese: Use 32 ounces of full-fat brick-style cream cheese. Make sure you’re buying the bricks of cream cheese (you’ll need 4 of them), not cream cheese spread.
- Brown Sugar: The molasses content in brown sugar makes for a more flavorful, caramel-like flavor than white sugar. You can use light or dark (or a mix of both!) brown sugar here, just like this beloved pecan pie cheesecake.
- Sour Cream: Makes for a smooth and velvety texture, and gives it that lightly tangy flavor. Without it, you’ll be eating baked cream cheese.
- Vanilla: Pure vanilla extract adds flavor, especially homemade vanilla extract!
- Lemon Juice: Lemon juice brightens up the cheesecake’s overall flavor and keeps it from tasting flat. Just a teaspoon won’t make it taste like a lemon cheesecake.
- Eggs: The final ingredient; you need 3.
- Caramel Sauce: You can use store-bought caramel sauce, but I especially love using homemade salted caramel sauce in and on this turtle cheesecake. You can halve the amount of salt to make it regular caramel sauce.
- Chocolate: You can use semi-sweet or milk chocolate for topping, whatever your chocolate-loving heart desires. Melt the chocolate and drizzle on top of the cold cheesecake before serving.
Let’s Start With the Crust
Is there really anything better than an Oreo crust? This is the same 2-ingredient crust we use for cookies & cream pie and white chocolate raspberry cheesecake bars, only with 4 Tablespoons of butter instead of 5. (Again, because of that buttery caramel.) All you have to do is pulse Oreos into a fine crumb (the entire sandwich cookie, cream filling and all), mix the crumbs with melted butter, and press into your 9-inch springform pan.
You’ll pre-bake the crust for about 10 minutes, then sprinkle pecans over the warm crust. You could use chocolate chips instead, if you’d like!
Toasting the pecans is an optional step you can take if you want to add a little roasty-toasty flavor to the buttery nuts. See the Notes section of the recipe card below for details on how to toast pecans.
Caramel-Swirled Cheesecake Batter
Once your crust is ready to go, prepare the cheesecake batter with a mixer.
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!
Another Success Tip: Beat the eggs in last, one at a time, until they are *just* incorporated. Do not over-mix the batter after you add the eggs. This will whip air into the cheesecake batter, resulting in a cracked, deflated cheesecake. No thank you!
Notice the aluminum foil wrapped around the pan? That’s because we’ll bake this cheesecake in a water bath, and those instructions are included below. I actually have an entire post and video tutorial for How to Make a Cheesecake Water Bath.
You’ll have about 6 cups of cheesecake batter. Pour about half of the batter (I just eyeball it) into the crust, and spread it into a smooth, even layer. Drizzle about 1/4 cup of caramel sauce over the top, and gently swirl it with a knife. The caramel layer kind of disappears when the cheesecake bakes, so you won’t see this ribbon of liquid gold running through a slice, but you’ll still taste it!
Pour the remaining cheesecake batter over the top, and smooth it out—an offset icing spatula works really well for this.
Let’s Cool & Chill
It’s hard to wait for the hours to pass before you can slice into this beauty. But if there’s anything we’ve learned from turtles, it’s that slow and steady wins the race! And slow and steady is definitely the way to go when it comes to cooling a cheesecake.
Cool the cheesecake in the cooling oven. When the cheesecake is done (edges are set but the center is still a bit jiggly), 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. The cheesecake will finish setting in the refrigerator, and then you can top it.
Caramel Turtle Cheesecake Topping
AKA the best part! Melt 4 ounces of chocolate, and drizzle over the chilled cheesecake. The chocolate sets quickly, because the cheesecake is cold. And honestly, biting into soft and creamy cheesecake with slightly hardened, crisp chocolate on top is just… textural bliss.
Pile some pecans in the center, or all over, and drizzle everything with more of your caramel sauce. Feel free to finish it all off with flaky sea salt. If you’re shopping for sea salt and need a recommendation, I use and love Maldon sea salt.
Crisp, crunchy, creamy, tangy, drippy, sweet, salted euphoria. This is caramel turtle cheesecake!
The flavors you love in caramel turtle candies come together in cheesecake form, with layers of chocolate cookie crust, buttery pecans, and creamy caramel cheesecake. Top with more pecans, caramel sauce, and melted chocolate for a truly show-stopping dessert. You can make the cheesecake recipe a day in advance, so the cheesecake has time to set in the refrigerator.
- Lower oven rack to the lower third position and preheat to 350°F (177°C). Wrap aluminum foil around the bottom and tightly around the outside walls of an ungreased 9-inch springform pan.
- Make the crust: In a food processor or blender, pulse the whole Oreos into a fine crumb. You should have about 2 cups (packed) crumbs, or 250g. Combine the Oreo crumbs and melted butter together in a medium bowl. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. With medium pressure using your hand, pat the crumbs down into the bottom and partway up the sides of the pan; you can use the flat bottom of a small measuring cup to help smooth it all out if needed. Pre-bake the crust for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and place the wrapped springform pan inside a large roasting pan. Sprinkle 1/2 cup pecans or chocolate chips in a single layer on top of the warm crust, and set aside while you make 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, and lemon juice, 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. At this point, get a kettle or pot of water heating up for the water bath. You need 1 inch of hot water in your roasting pan for the water bath, so make sure you boil enough.
- Pour/spoon about half (just eyeball it) of the cheesecake batter into the crust, using a spoon or offset spatula to smooth it into an even layer. If using homemade caramel, make sure it’s pourable consistency by warming it in the microwave, as it thickens considerably when made ahead and refrigerated. Drizzle about 1/4 cup (75g) caramel sauce over the top, then use a knife to gently swirl it with the batter. Add the remaining batter, again smoothing the surface into an even layer. The caramel swirl bakes into the cheesecake, so you won’t really see it when you cut into the dessert.
- Prepare the simple water bath (see note): If needed for extra visuals, see my How to Make a Cheesecake Water Bath; the visual guide will assist you in this step. 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. I use an entire kettle of hot water. Place the 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 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 tap 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. Once completely cooled, refrigerate the cheesecake for at least 4 hours or overnight.
- Use a knife to loosen the chilled cheesecake from the rim of the springform pan, then remove the rim.
- For the topping: Melt the chopped chocolate, either in a double boiler or the microwave. Microwave in 20-second increments, stirring after each until completely melted. Drizzle chocolate on top of the chilled cheesecake. The chocolate will set almost immediately, because the cheesecake is cold. Top with pecans. Again, if using homemade caramel or any caramel sauce that’s been refrigerated, make sure it’s pourable consistency by warming it in the microwave. Drizzle the caramel on top. The caramel helps keep the pecans in place. Finally, lightly sprinkle flaky sea salt on top, if desired.
- 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 and Freezing 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 toppings). Cheesecake can be frozen for up to 3 months. If you need detailed freezing instructions, see my cheesecake post for a helpful How to Freeze Cheesecake guide.
- Special Tools (affiliate links): Food Processor | Glass Mixing Bowl | 9-inch Springform Pan | Electric Mixer (Handheld or Stand) | Silicone Spatula | Large Roasting Pan | Offset Icing Spatula
- Alternate Water Bath Method: This method works as well, and you don’t have to bake the cheesecake IN water. Boil a kettle or pot of water. You need 1 inch of hot 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 (do not use glass—I usually use a 9×13-inch baking pan or an extra-large cast iron skillet) on the bottom rack. Pour boiling water into the empty 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. No need to wrap the springform pan in foil. See How to Make a Cheesecake Water Bath for more information.
- Pecans: I use unsalted pecans. Toasting the pecans is an optional step, which adds an extra delicious roasty-toasty flavor. 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. Allow to slightly or fully cool before using.
- Homemade Caramel: If you prefer regular caramel and not salted, reduce salt in the caramel recipe down to 1/2 teaspoon.
- Chocolate: The best chocolate for melting and drizzling is the “baking chocolate” bars found in the baking aisle of the grocery store. I typically use Baker’s or Ghirardelli brands, either semi-sweet or dark. They are usually sold as 4-ounce bars, which is the amount you need here. Do not use chocolate chips because they contain stabilizers, which prevent them from melting into the correct consistency.
Keywords: caramel turtle cheesecake