Walnut Crusted Caramel-Bourbon Cheesecake

Our own Backstage Baker entered a cheesecake into the March 4 Cheesecake Bake-off too. His entry was a Walnut Crusted Caramel-Bourbon Cheesecake – an ode to George and Martha.

The bourbon flavoring was so appropriate to the characters of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”   And the presentation was as dramatic as they are!

James' Cheesecake

To decorate,  James made “ice cubes” by melting down something called Isomalt, a beet sugar concoction used for making hard candies.  That sounds impossibly complicated, but to hear him tell it, it seems almost feasible for the average baker:

“I had never used Isomalt before. You buy it in crystal form – it actually looks a lot like the ice melting pellets you use in the winter – at any cake decorating store. I got mine at the NY Cake Company. Take about a cup of the crystals and put them in a heavy bottomed stainless steel pan. ADD NOTHING TO THE PAN, no water, no oil. Heat it on low, stirring constantly. Eventually the Isomalt will begin to melt. Once melted let it boil for a few minutes,  STIRRING CONSTANTLY. Pour it into candy molds or silicone molds. Make sure you grease the insides of the mold but wipe out any excess oil otherwise it will burn (the melted Isomalt is VERY hot). I was warned that if I poured the heated mixture into a regular plastic ice cube tray it would melt the plastic. I did lay down some waxed paper on a cutting board, so after I filled the candy molds for the cubes, I poured some on the waxed paper to make the puddles to make the ice cubes look like they were melting. Last, I got a cup from the theatre, filled it with the caramel sauce and poured it over the cake, leaving the cup on one end.”

Pretty complicated, yes, but the result is smashing, no?

Walnut-Crusted Caramel-Bourbon Cheesecake


1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/3 cup butter, softened
2 tbsp. bourbon or amber colored rum
3 cups walnut pieces
1 cup granulated sugar, divided
3 tbsp. melted butter
3 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, softened
3 eggs
1/4 cup bourbon or amber rum
1 cup toasted walnut halves  


1.  In small saucepan, combine brown sugar, whipping cream and butter. Bring to boil over medium-high heat; boil for 3 minutes. Remove 1/3 cup of the sauce; refrigerate until chilled. To remaining sauce add 2 tbsp. bourbon (or rum, if using); set aside.

2.  Combine walnut pieces and 1/4 cup of the granulated sugar in food processor; pulse until it resembles coarse crumbs (do not overprocess). Transfer to medium bowl and stir in melted butter.

3.  Using back of spoon press nut mixture into bottom and half-way up sides of 9-inch (23 cm) springform pan. Bake in 325 degree F (160 C) oven for 15 minutes.

4.  Meanwhile, beat cream cheese with remaining 3/4 cup granulated sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating just until blended. Stir in 1/4 cup bourbon (or rum, if using). Pour cream cheese mixture into nut crust. Drizzle the 1/3 cup chilled sauce on top; gently swirl with knife.

5.  Return cake to 325 degree F (160 C) oven; bake for 1 hour. Turn oven off; leave cheesecake in oven without opening door for another hour (prevents cake from cracking in center). Cool on wire rack; cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

6.  Just before serving, gently warm bourbon sauce; when not entering the cake in a contest I stir in toasted walnut halves. To serve, spoon sauce over slices of cheesecake.

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