YIELD: one 8×8 pan, 9 to 12 squares PREP TIME: 15 minutes COOK TIME: 45 minutes TOTAL TIME: 1 hour, plus cooling time
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon cornstarch
pinch salt, optional and to taste
1 large egg
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature and very soft (light is okay, micro for 10-15 seconds if you forgot to set it out to soften)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon molasses (light, mild, or medium molasses; not blackstrap)
1 tablesoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup small diced apple pieces (I used 1 medium-large, unpeeled Fuji apple; use your favorite)
about 1/2 cup salted caramel sauce, divided (I use Trader Joe’s or make homemade salted caramel. Don’t use ice cream sauce that’s made with corn syrup as the first ingredient because it’s too thin; thicker is better)
Preheat over to 350F. Line an 8×8-inch pan with aluminum foil, spray with cooking spray; set aside.
Crust – In a medium microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter, about 1 minute on high power.
Add all remaining crust ingredients and mix with a fork to combine.
Turn loose crumbs out into prepared pan and using a spatula, pack mixture firmly into pan in an even, smooth, flat layer; set pan aside.
Cheesecake – In the same mixing bowl (no need to wash it), combine egg, cream cheese, sugar, molasses, vanilla, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, and whisk until very smooth and combined, or beat with an electric mixer until smooth and satiny. The softer the cream cheese is, the easier the mixture comes together.
Add the cornstarch and mix to just incorporate.
Fold in the apples.
Pour mixture over crust, smoothing lightly with spatula and dispersing apple pieces evenly.
Drizzle about 1/4 cup caramel sauce over batter to create swirls. To create the marbled pattern shown, drizzle caramel over batter in 5 wide, evenly spaced, parallel lines, each spanning the length of the pan. Like 5 rows of long train tracks. Rotate pan 90-degrees. With a toothpick, starting at the top of the pan, “draw” 5 evenly spaced lines through the caramel. You’re dragging the toothpick perpendicularly through the first set of lines to create the marbling.
Bake for about 45 to 48 minutes, or until center is set with very little jiggle; some looseness and a very slight jiggle is okay, but there should not be sloshing in the center. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out mostly clean, or with a few moist crumbs, but no batter. Allow bars to cool in pan for about 1 hour before lifting out with foil overhang and slicing. I prefer to serve these bars chilled. Cover pan with foil to prevent fridge smells, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight, or until chilled before slicing
Before slicing, drizzle about 1/4 cup caramel sauce over top; or add extra caramel to each piece individually prior to serving. Bars will keep airtight in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.