My turtle cheesecake is a decadent, smooth New York-style cheesecake loaded with chocolate turtle ingredients – chocolate, pecans, and caramel. This recipe is a rich and creamy turtle cheesecake made with a brown sugar pecan shortbread crust that people adore.
What is Turtle Cheesecake?
Turtle cheesecake is the cheesecake version of chocolate turtles. Chocolate turtles were created in 1918 by Johnson’s Candy Company (which later became DeMet’s Candy Company) and to this day inspire a number of turtle desserts.
While they can be made a number of different ways, all turtle cheesecake recipes contain those same three ingredients that you’ll find in chocolate turtles: pecans, caramel, and chocolate.
How to Make Turtle Cheesecake
My cheesecake is made with the following layers:
- a brown sugar pecan crust (It’s almost the same one that I use for my carrot pie.)
- a layer of caramel and pecans
- a layer of chocolate cheesecake (made by melting chocolate chips and mixing them into part of the batter)
- a layer of vanilla cheesecake
- more caramel sauce and pecans
- even more caramel sauce and a chocolate drizzle
Tips for Making The Perfect Cheesecake
I’ve never really met a bad a cheesecake. But, getting the perfect cheesecake consistency with a smooth top that has no cracks can be tricky. These tips will not only help with turtle cheesecake, but they will work with chocolate orange cheesecake or help you make any of your favorite cheesecake recipes turn out perfectly.
- Make sure that all ingredients are at room temperature. This is especially important for the cream cheese. If the cream cheese is at all cold, it won’t mix properly and the cheesecake batter will be lumpy. If your house is chilly, even room temperature may not be warm enough and you’ll need to microwave the cream cheese for twenty seconds or so to warm it further.
- Grease the side of the spring form pan. One of the reasons that cheesecakes crack is that the cake sticks to the side of the spring form pan as it cools and contracts.
- Bake the cheesecake in a water bath. Tightly wrap the spring form pan with aluminum foil at the bottom and partially up the side to keep water from seeping in. Place the spring form pan in a deep baking dish. Pour boiling water into the baking dish so that it goes halfway up the side of the spring form pan. (I use a tea kettle for this). The steam from the hot water will lift the cheesecake up slowly and evenly, reducing the risk of cracks.
- Turn the heat off and leave the cheesecake in the oven for several hours after it is done. Cheesecakes that cool slowly are much less likely to crack.
Turtle Cheesecake Shortcuts
There are lots of steps to making a turtle cheesecake. You can speed up the process by taking a few shortcuts:
- Buy pecan pieces instead of pecan halves. This will save you time chopping the pecans or food processing them.
- Use store-bought caramel sauce instead of making your own. Yes, you could make homemade caramel sauce, and it would be delicious. But, you are already making a layered cheesecake, so you totally get a pass if you just buy the sauce. I like to splurge for an all-natural caramel sauce since it uses the same ingredients that I would use if I made it from scratch.
- Use store-bought chocolate sauce. Making ganache doesn’t take much time at all. But, sometimes there is only so much you feel like doing. It’s totally OK to use store-bought chocolate sauce on this cheesecake. You can find it near the ice cream in most grocery stores.
- For the ultimate cheat, make cheesecake cookies instead and decorate them turtle-style. They aren’t nearly as decadent, but they are still delicious!
To get the smoothest cheesecake possible, it is important that there are no lumps at all in the batter. Remember that if your ingredients are not at room temperature, you may end up with lumps. If you do, you can remove lumps by pressing the the batter through a fine sieve. You can microwave any of the lumpy parts that didn’t fit through the sieve for about thirty seconds and then they should be able to fit through.
If your turtle cheesecake cracks, don’t worry about it. Be sure to cover those cracked spots with lots of pecans, caramel, and chocolate!
- 9" spring form pan
- Large baking dish
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup pecan pieces
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter melted
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Caramel Pecan Layer Ingredients
- 1/2 cup caramel sauce store-bought or homemade
- 1/4 cup chopped pecans
- 32 ounces cream cheese room temperature (four packages)
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup whole milk room temperature
- 4 large eggs room temperature
- 2 cups full-fat sour cream room temperature
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup caramel sauce plus a little extra for drizzling
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans
- 1/4 cup chocolate sauce store-bought or homemade, optionally use chocolate ganache
- Preheat oven to 325 F.
- Grease a 9" spring form pan on the bottom and up the side.
- Mix all ingredients until fully combined.
- Evenly press into the bottom of the pan.
- Bake for ten minutes.
- Set aside to cool to room temperature.
- Tightly wrap the pan in aluminum foil around the bottom and up the side.
Caramel Pecan Layer Instructions
- Mix caramel sauce and pecans and spread evenly on cooled crust.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix cream cheese and sugar until smooth.
- Mix in milk until fully combined.
- In a separate mixing bowl, mix eggs, sour cream, vanilla, and flour until fully combined..
- Add egg mixture to the stand mixer bowl and mix until smooth.
- Remove three cups of batter and place them in a mixing bowl (you can use the one you just used for the eggs).
- Melt chocolate chips using a double boiler or in twenty second increments in the microwave.
- Mix the melted chocolate into the batter you removed until the whole batter looks chocolate.
- Pour the chocolate batter onto the caramel layer in the pan.
- Gently pour the rest of the batter over the chocolate batter.
- Set the filled spring form pan into a large deep baking dish and fill the dish with boiling water halfway up the side of the spring form pan.
- Bake for one hour. The edge of the cheesecake should be set but the middle will be very jiggly.
- Turn the oven off and leave the cheesecake in the oven for several hours until it cools.
- Refrigerate overnight.
- The next day, remove the spring form pan side.
- Spread caramel sauce over the top of the cooled cake.
- Top with chopped pecans.
- Drizzle with more caramel sauce and chocolate sauce, letting the sauces drip down the sides of the cake.