PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE BARS ARE LUXURIOUSLY CREAMY, MAKE AHEAD AND THE HIT OF EVERY PARTY!
These Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars will be the hero of every gathering and are easier to make than you think (just watch the video)! They begin with an easy cinnamon graham cracker crust, topped with plain cheesecake, pumpkin cheesecake then cinnamon pecan streusel to create dynamic decadent bites of rich and creamy AND satisfyingly crunchy. These intoxicatingly delicious Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars are also a winner because they are make ahead friendly which eliminates all of that last minute stress/hassle, don’t require any special baking pans or a water bath. I’ve included detailed instructions on how to make these Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars so even if you’ve never made cheesecake before, they will be the runaway hit of the season!
Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars Recipe Video
Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars Recipe
These Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars are adapted from my award-winning Double Layer Pumpkin Cheesecake and every bit as delicious! They are luxuriously creamy, bursting with warm pumpkin goodness complimented by tangy cheesecake and the crunchy streusel elevates them to the best Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars, in my humble opinion. There are simply no words to describe the explosion of YUM in each and every bite! Once you sink your teeth into these pumpkin bars, you will never go back to traditional pumpkin pie again!
These Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars are made with pantry friendly ingredients with a few simple additions that make all the difference:
- The crust: cinnamon graham crackers instead of traditional honey graham crackers infuses the crust with flavor.
- The cheesecake: the addition of sour cream and an extra egg yolk make the cheesecake extra creamy and the additional lemon juice brightens the flavor.
- The pumpkin cheesecake: generous shakes of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger combined with the pumpkin puree translate into warm pumpkin pie flavor that cuts through the rich cheesecake.
- The streusel: crunchy pecans, oats, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg elevate your traditional streusel into a festive favorite.
You will also love that these Pumpkin Cheesecake Bar look impressively complicated, but are actually easy to make! You beat the plain cheesecake ingredients together, layer half onto the crust, then add your pure pumpkin and spices to the rest to create two layers of YUM with minimal effort.
The Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars recipe also doesn’t require any fancy equipment or techniques like a water bath or spring form pan traditionally required for cheesecake and you can make the streusel with just a few pulses in your food processor.
So, if you’re looking for a make ahead, stress free, show stopping dessert that everyone LOVES, look no further than these Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars!
Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars Ingredients and Substitutions
- graham crackers: I HIGHLY suggest you use cinnamon graham crackers as opposed to traditional honey graham crackers for a more festive appeal. You you will need 14 graham cracker sheets.
- butter: use unsalted butter so we can control the salt in the recipe.
- sugar: brown sugar as opposed to granulated sugar adds richer, slight molasses flavor. I use light brown sugar but you can use medium or dark if that’s what you have on hand.
I love cinnamon graham crackers for the Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars crust, but you may also substitute with your favorite cookie to create:
- shortbread crust
- gingerbread cookie crust
- Oreo crust
If using shortbread cookies or gingersnap cookies, combine them with the sugar and butter per recipe instructions. If using Oreos, combine them with sugar but omit the butter as the filling creates the same binding effect.
GLUTEN FREE CRUST
To make a gluten free crust, simply use your favorite gluten free cookie such as gluten-free graham crackers.
- cream cheese: I used full fat cream cheese but it will also work with less fat. Please do NOT use nonfat cream cheese.
- sour cream: full fat please!
- sugar: granulated sugar will do the trick.
- egg: use 4 large eggs and one large egg yolk (so you will need a total of 5 eggs). The eggs bind the cheesecake together and the extra yolk make it extra creamy. Take care your eggs are at room temperature.
- lemon juice: bottled or fresh is fine.
- vanilla extract: use quality extract for best results.
- pumpkin puree: Use pure pumpkin NOT Pumpkin Pie Filling. Pumpkin Puree is 100% pure pumpkin that has been cooked and pureed. Pumpkin Pie Filling, however, is sweetened and seasoned with spices and will not work in this recipe.
- seasonings: ground cinnamon, ground cloves, nutmeg, ginger infuse the pumpkin cheesecake layer with that warm fall goodness.
Can I use FRESH PUMPKIN?
You are welcome to use your own fresh pumpkin instead of canned pumpkin puree. My only caution is that you cannot use a carving pumpkin (like the pumpkin you carve for Halloween), but need to use a sugar pumpkin. Carving pumpkins are raised for their durability and not their taste and have much more moisture than sugar pumpkins and less flavor.
HOW TO MAKE PUMPKIN PUREE
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
- Cut the pumpkin in half from the stem to base.
- Remove all the seeds and pulp.
- Cover the cut side of each pumpkin half with foil.
- Bake, foil side up for 1 hour OR until tender.
- Scrape out pumpkin flesh and add to a blender
- Strain puree through a fine mesh sieve to remove any stringy pieces
- Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
The streusel is a quick pulsing of pantry friendly ingredients in your food processor. If you don’t have a food processor, it can all be made by hand, with just a little more time and elbow grease. You will need:
- pecans: use plain, unsalted, raw pecans. If someone has a nut allergy, you may omit the pecans replace with equal amounts flour and oats.
- flour: helps bind the streusel ingredients together and give it a crumbly texture. I use all-purpose flour but any flour will work great, including gluten free flour.
- brown sugar: adds sweetness and a hint of molasses. It also adds moisture to the topping. Use light brown sugar for best results so the molasses flavor isn’t overpowering.
- granulated sugar: adds sweetness while also helping the streusel to crisp up. Combining granulated sugar and brown sugar gives you the bests of both sugars.
- quick-cooking oats: make sure you use quick cooking oats otherwise the streusel will be too chewy. If you only have old fashioned oats, you can create quick-cooking oats by pulsing them a few times in your food processor.
- butter: helps bind the ingredients together and helps give it the crumbly texture. Cube your butter then chill it so it’s nice and cold. Use unsalted butter so we can control the salt.
- vanilla extract: adds an extra oomph of flavor.
- spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger so our streusel is delectably seasoned as well.
- Salt: enhances the flavors and balances out the sweetness.
HOW TO MAKE PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE BARS
Now onto the main event – How to make Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars. There are a few steps, but each one is very simple and you can make them at different stages/parts of the day if you wish:
STEP 1: CRUST
- Melt butter in a large microwave safe bowl. I use a large bowl so I can add the Graham crackers and sugar directly to it and don’t have to dirty one more dish.
- Add finely ground Graham crackers and sugar and stir until well combined. You can grind the crackers in your food processor in a sealable bag with a rolling pin. You’ll want very finely ground crumbs because they stick together better.
- Transfer crumb mixture to 9×13 lined baking pan.
- Firmly press the crumbs down on the bottom of the pan until you have an even layer.
- Bake at 350 degrees F for 8 minutes. Baking the crust before adding the cheesecake allows it to seal together.
- Remove crust from the oven and allow to cool COMPLETELY. Cooling the crust before adding the cheesecake prevents it from becoming soggy.
STEP 2: PLAIN CHEESECAKE LAYER
- Beat cream cheese and sugar for 5 minutes until light and fluffy – don’t be tempted to beat less time!
- Add the eggs one at a time, then the egg yolk, mixing just until the yellow disappears after each egg, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
- Add the sour cream, lemon juice and vanilla and mix until well incorporated.
- Pour only 4 1/2 cups of this plain cheesecake on top of the COOLED crust and evenly spread to the edges. Place in the freezer while you prepare the pumpkin layer (to create more defined layers).
STEP 3: PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE LAYER
- Add pumpkin, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger to the remaining plain cheesecake batter still in the mixer.
- Mix until well blended – I just whisk it together by hand.
- Pour this pumpkin cheesecake onto the plain cheesecake and carefully spread over the plain cheesecake layer. How easy was that to create a second layer of cheesecake?!
STEP 4: BAKE CHEESECAKE WITHOUT STREUSEL
- Bake cheesecake uncovered for 30 minutes at 350 degrees F before adding streusel. This allows the cheesecake to set before adding the streusel otherwise the streusel could sink to the bottom.
STEP 5: MAKE STREUSEL
- While the cheesecake is baking, make the streusel.
- Add pecans and vanilla extract to food processor.
- Pulse 3 times to slightly chop up pecans.
- Add flour, oats, grown sugar and spices and pulse until it resembles coarse pebbles.
- If you don’t have a food processor, then add all the ingredients except pecans to a large bowl. Cut in the butter using a pastry cutter or two knives until it resembles coarse pebbles then stir in the chopped pecans.
STEP 6: BAKE WITH STREUSEL
- After cheesecake has baked 30 minutes, remove it from the oven.
- Evenly spread streusel over cheesecake.
- Return to oven and bake uncovered at 350 degrees F for an additional 40-50 minutes or until the cheesecake is firm around the edges but jiggles when shaken (it will finish cooking as sit cools). See notes below.
STEP 7: COOL CHEESECAKE
- It is important to gently cool the cheesecake or else it will crack and won’t finish baking evenly.
- To cool, crack the oven door open and allow cheesecake to cool in the oven for one hour. Remove cheesecake and allow to completely cool on the counter (1-2 hours).
STEP 8: CHILL CHEESECAKE
- Cover cooled cheesecake tightly with foil.
- Refrigerate at least 6 hours before serving (best if 24).
STEP 9: HOW TO CUT CHEESECAKE BARS
- Fill a large glass with hot water.
- Dip a sharp knife in the hot water, wipe dry, then make a clean cut, repeat for reach cut.
STEP 10: HOW TO SERVE PUMPKIN BARS
- These Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars are very rich so they are best served with something cool and refreshing like whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
HOW TO KNOW WHEN CHEESECAKE BARS ARE DONE
You don’t want to bake your Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars until they are completely firm or they will be overcooked by the time they cool resulting in dry, heavy, far less creamy bars.
Instead, you’ll want to bake the bars until the outer few inches are firm and slightly puffed and the center of the cheesecake is still jiggly, but not runny.
The baking time can vary due to the differences in ovens, baking pans, beating times, etc., so make sure to check the cheesecake 40 minutes after baking with the streusel and continue to bake if needed.
TIPS FOR PUMPKIN BARS
- Line pan. Lining the 9×13 pan in parchment then spraying with nonstick cooking spray ensures the cheesecake bars won’t stick – works like a charm every time.
- Use food processor. The easiest way to make graham cracker crumbs is in your food processor – it literally takes seconds! If you don’t have a food processor, you can crush the crackers in a plastic bag with a rolling pin or side of a can.
- Use fine crumbs. The finer the crumbs, the more cohesive the crust and less crumbly it will be when baked.
- Press crumbs firmly into pan. Use the back of a measuring cup to get the layer nice and compact so it doesn’t crumble later.
- Use soft cream cheese. The cream cheese should be soft enough that it can easily beat into a creamy consistency. If it is not soft enough, then it will yield lumpy cheesecake and will leave white specks in the pumpkin puree (see three methods to soften cream cheese below).
- Beat cream cheese until fluffy. The most important part of making your Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars is to beat the cream cheese and sugar until light and fully with your paddle attachment – about 5 minutes. Five minutes can seem like a long time, so set your timer and don’t stop early! Beating the cream cheese creates lusciously smooth and creamy cheesecake.
- Don’t overbeat eggs. Once you add the eggs, beat as LITTLE as possible, beating just until combined after each egg addition. Overbeating eggs can lead to the cheesecake cracking and not as creamy cheesecake.
- Use room temperature ingredients. Use room temperature eggs, egg yolks, and sour cream. This allows you to beat as little as possible when adding the eggs.
- To quickly bring eggs to room temperature: Fill a bowl with warm water (not hot) and add eggs and let sit 10-20 minutes.
- Don’t skip the lemon or sour cream! The both add just the right tanginess to offset the sweetness and cut through the richness.
- Refrigerate streusel. The butter should be very cold before going into the oven, so if you finish making the streusel before your cheesecake comes out of the oven, refrigerate it until ready to use.
- Use all the streusel. It will seem like a lot of streusel, but use all of it as it helps balance all the creamy cheesecake and will bake down.
- Don’t peak! It is paramount that you don’t open the oven while your cheesecake is cooking. Opening the door dramatically lowers the temperature and causes your cheesecake to sink and crack.
- Don’t overbake cheesecake. Over baking the cheesecake causes the filling to shrink and crack. You want the edges to be firm but the center to wobble slightly when shaken.
- Cool cheesecake gradually. cool the Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars gradually, first with the oven door propped open and then on the counter to allow it to adjust to each temperature gradually. If you remove the cheesecake from the oven immediately, the sudden change in temperature will cause the cheesecake to crack and not bake evenly.
- Chill cheesecake. Don’t rush the chilling process as it allows the flavors to build, and marry. You may serve the pumpkin bars 6 hours after chilling, but I suggest allowing them to chill the full 24 hours for the best flavor.
HOW TO SOFTEN CREAM CHEESE FOR CHEESECAKE BARS
Cream cheese is a key ingredient in these Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars so it’s important that it is softened correctly in order to produce lump free cheesecake. To soften cream cheese, you have three options:
- Water bath: This is my preferred method to soften cream cheese because it softens it evenly throughout without the risk of scorching it. To create a water bath, fill a medium bowl with hot water. Place the sealed, packaged cream cheese in the bowl for 10 minutes to soften. If it isn’t soft enough after 10 minutes, then dump out the hot water, refill and repeat.
- Counter + Microwave: This is my second preferred method as it is super quick and easy and allows the cream cheese to come to room temperature evenly. Cube cream cheese and transfer to a microwave safe plate. Microwave for a few 30 seconds intervals then allow cream cheese to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. This gives it a head start to soften at room temperature. I don’t recommend just allowing the cream cheese to sit at room temperature without microwaving or it won’t become soft enough within 60 minutes. By both microwaving and sitting, we get the best of both worlds.
- Microwave: This method is if you need cream cheese NOW but it is a little riskier because the cream cheese can overcook/scorch – so proceed with care and caution. Cube cream cheese and transfer to a microwave safe plate. Microwave for 15-20 seconds, stir and microwave another 15 seconds. Repeat until cream cheese is softened.
HOW TO STORE Pumpkin CHEESECAKE BARS
These Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars should be tightly covered and stored in the refrigerator. They are good for about 3-5 days, but the best texture after 24 hours as the streusel will continue to soften. Let them sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes before serving.
CAN I MAKE Pumpkin BARS AHEAD OF TIME?
Absolutely! You can completely assemble, bake and chill the Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars 24 hours in advance, or prep different elements of the recipe ahead of time, here’s how:
- Crust: bake, cool then cover with foil 24 hours ahead of filling. No need to refrigerate.
- Cheesecake: beat the cheesecake ingredients together (just the plain or the plain and pumpkin). Cover and chill for up to 48 hours. Give them a whisk before layering on the cooled crust.
- Streusel: can be completely prepared 3 days ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- Cheesecake: can be made 24 hours ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
CAN I FREEZE PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE BARS?
Yes and no. I do not recommend freezing Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars with the streusel as the streusel will become soft and mushy when defrosted. You may, however, bake the cheesecake bars WITHOUT the streusel and freeze them. Don’t attempt to add the streusel later – your frozen Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars will have to be served without the crunchy topping.
To freeze whole pan of Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars:
- Bake cheesecake bars without streusel.
- Cool cheesecake bars completely and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.
- Wrap pan twice tightly in plastic wrap followed by heavy duty aluminum foil.
- Freeze for 2-3 months.
- To thaw, remove Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars from freezer to the refrigerator. Let thaw overnight.
To freeze individual Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars:
- Bake cheesecake bars without streusel.
- Line cut bars on a parchment/nonstick mat lined baking sheet without touching.
- Place the baking sheet in the freezer and freeze until solid (about 1 hour); this prevents the bars from freezing together later when stored. Alternatively, you can skip this step and freeze bars individually in their own plastic bags.
- Transfer bars to a freezer safe airtight container, and place parchment paper in between each row.
- Freeze for 2-3 months.
- When ready to eat, defrost individual cheesecake bars in the microwave at 20 second intervals or place in the refrigerator to defrost overnight.
LOOKING FOR MORE CHEESECAKE RECIPES?
- Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars
- Cookie Dough Cheesecake Bars
- Key Lime Cheesecake Sugar Cookie Cups
- Raspberry Chocolate Cheesecake
- Eggnog Cranberry Cheesecake
- German Chocolate Cheesecake
- Cherry Cheesecake Dip
- Blueberry Cheesecake
- Strawberry Cheesecake
LOOKING FOR MORE PUMPKIN RECIPES?
- Pumpkin Bars
- Pumpkin Cookies
- Pumpkin Cheesecake
- Pumpkin Pound Cake
- Pumpkin Muffins
- Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread
- Pumpkin Ice Cream Pie
- Pumpkin Cupcakes
- Pumpkin Bread Pudding
- Praline Pumpkin Pie
- Pumpkin Dip
- Pumpkin Angel Food Cake French Toast
- Pumpkin Nutella Crepes
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