Desserts,  Recipes

Vanilla Bean Cheesecake with Chocolate Crust and Salted Caramel

Vanilla Bean Cheesecake with Chocolate Crust and Salted Caramel

I’m frugal, I’ll admit it. I don’t mind spending money when I feel there is good bang for the buck (for example, I’ll spend more on a hotel room with a great view), but if I can make it myself, better and cheaper, then I will. That’s just a bonus, isn’t it?

When I decided I wanted to make a cheesecake with chocolate crust for Thanksgiving (and then again for Christmas Eve) I discovered that one could not just go to the store and buy chocolate cookie crumbs. I knew that graham cracker crumbs were available, but chocolate cookie crumbs only seem to be sold to restaurants. I could have cheated and bought some from work, but that wouldn’t work for you, would it? The only other option was to buy the Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers, but at $4 a package (and I thought I’d need two or maybe three), $8-$12 seemed excessive for just the crust on the cake. And have you seen the cost of cream cheese lately? This was quickly turning into a very expensive cheesecake.

I decided to make my own crust and found a wonderful recipe for chocolate wafers on Smitten Kitchen. Instead of cutting individual cookies, I rolled the dough out onto Silpat sheets on two sheet pans and baked them that way. It was much easier and I simply broke the sheets of baked cookies into pieces to grind into crumbs for the crust. Oh, and the best part? I think the cost of the crust was about $1, with no processed unidentifiable ingredients, and it tasted great.

This cheesecake has something for everyone; great vanilla flavor from the beans (my latest obsession), chocolate for the chocoholics, and salted caramel for the added sweet-salty kick. It has two toppings; the traditional sweetened sour cream and the gooey caramel. This is a big, tall, cheesecake and will easily feed a large party. Or, make it for your sweetie for Valentine’s Day and savor the leftovers.

Recipe for Vanilla Bean Cheesecake with Chocolate Crust and Salted Caramel:

Vanilla Bean Cheesecake with Chocolate Crust and Salted Caramel Topping

A traditional Cheesecake made decadent with Chocolate Crust and Salted Caramel Topping
Prep Time45 mins
Cook Time1 hr
chill4 hrs
Total Time5 hrs 45 mins
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: caramel, cheesecake, chocolate
Servings: 12 Servings


For the Crust

  • 4 cups chocolate cookie crumbs See link to recipe in "notes"
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 4 oz melted butter

For the Filling

  • 2 lbs cream cheese softened
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1/4 cup milk

For the Sour Cream Topping

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 Tbsp white sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla

For the Salted Caramel

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 1 cup cream
  • 2 oz butter
  • 1 tsp fleur de sel plus 2 tsp more for optional garnish


For the Crust:

  • Bake the cookies following Smitten Kitchen's recipe (link in notes) or buy them. If you choose to bake them, make sure you roll out the dough as thin and evenly as possible before baking. I divided the batch in half and then rolled the dough out to 1/4 inch thick onto a silpat with plastic wrap on top (this keeps the dough from sticking to the rolling pin). The cookies can be baked the day before. Break them into pieces and store covered.
    Chocolate Crust
  • Put the cookies or cookie pieces into a food processor and pulse until they are fine crumbs. Remove the crumbs from the bowl, measure out 4 cups of crumbs, and put them back into the food processor. Add the flour and pulse to combine. Add the melted butter and pulse until the cookie crumbs have the consistency of wet sand.
  • Press about 2 cups the crust into the bottom of the 9'" springform pan and then the rest up the sides of the pan to the top edge. You should use all of  the crust mix.

For the Filling and Baking:

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees
  • Put the milk in a small pot. Split open the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds inside. Put both into the pot with the milk. Heat the milk until it's hot, but not boiling. Turn off the heat and let the vanilla and milk steep for 15 minutes. Remove the vanilla pod and if it's softened more by being in the milk, you may be able to scrape out more seeds. If so, whisk them into the milk.
    Milk with vanilla bean
  • For the filling, put the cream cheese into a mixing bowl (I use a KitchenAid stand mixer, but you can use a hand mixer if you have one). Add in the sugar and beat until combined with the cream cheese and very smooth. Crack the eggs into a separate bowl, and with the mixer on, slowly beat in the eggs one at a time. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides with a spatula. Turn it on again and add in the milk with the vanilla beans, beat until it's all combined and there are no lumps.
    Mixing the cheesecake filling
  • Pour the filling into the pan with the crust. Place the pan on a cookie sheet lined with foil (sometimes the butter in the crust melts and runs from the pan).
    Unbaked cheesecake
  • Bake for 55 min-1 hour at 325 degrees until set but still soft and jiggly in the center.

For the Sour Cream Topping:

  • While the cheesecake is cooking, mix together the sour cream, sugar and vanilla. When the cheesecake is done, remove from the oven for 10 minutes, but leave the oven on. After 10 minutes, spread the sour cream topping on the cheesecake and return to the oven for 10 more minutes. Remove, place on a cooling rack and allow to cool for 1 hour. Refrigerate before adding the caramel topping for at least 4 hours. The cheesecake can be made up to two days in advance.

For the Caramel Topping:

  • In a small, heavy bottomed pot, melt the sugar with water. Cook over high heat until deep amber in color. Remove from heat, and carefully whisk in the cream (it will bubble up). Whisk in the butter, and if the caramel has cooled too much to melt the butter, return to a low heat and whisk until it is all incorporated. Whisk in the 1 tsp fleur de sel.
  • Allow the caramel to cool and pour over the top of the baked and cooled cheesecake. Once the caramel is set, garnish the top with flakes of fleur de sel.
  • Note; If you are making the cheesecake in advance, I recommend you save the salt garnish until right before serving because if refrigerated, the moisture in the refrigerator will melt the salt.


This is the link to Smitten Kitchen's chocolate wafer cookie recipe that I used for the crust:
Here's an Amazon link to the type of Springform pan I use.


Vanilla Bean Cheesecake with Chocolate Crust and Salted Caramel


Vanilla Bean Cheesecake with Chocolate Crust and Salted Caramel
Not a beautiful photo, but the only one I got after it was cut. I never got a photo of a cut piece because there wasn’t any left!


  • Vivian

    Well done! I love cheesecake and generally can’t get myself to buy chocolate wafers either. I have been using JB Chang’s recipe from Flour for a while now. I will have to try it with the salted caramel.

  • Chung-Ah @ Damn Delicious

    So cheesecake is my ultimate, ULTIMATE weakness so you could imagine how I’m feeling as I’m drooling over that dripping caramel on that last photo.

    I’ve made cheesecake plenty of times, with and with water baths, and they’ve all cracked for some reason or another so I’m excited to make this caramel sauce to cover it up. Plus, caramel on top of anything is a plus in my book.

    I absolutely cannot wait to give this a try. I will let you know how this turns out!

      • Sherry

        I have found over the years that three things are helpful to combat cracking (cannot quite figure out if one is more important than the other so I will share all three things!) 1. All ingredients at room temperature. 2. Tap spring form pan on your counter top(with cheesecake ingredients just poured in) until all the bubble emerge. 3. When done baking, turn off oven door, let cool for at least 4 hours!

  • bestellalera

    This cheescake looks AMAZING! Cannot wait to try it. I have one question, I don’t need to bake the crust mix first before add the filling?

  • Whitney

    I love this recipe and plan to make it for a dinner party tomorrow but I do have a question. Using the Smitten Kitchen recipe for the chocolate base sounds perfect but why don’t you just press the unbaked mixture into the pan and bake it that way? The original recipe already has butter and flour in there for binding. I usually just press the SK base into the springform pan and the results are good except – I do find it difficult to press it evenly. Tried different ways to press down so not sure if it is my technique or ?? What is the reasoning for baking the cookies, crumbling and adding more flour and butter?

    • formerchef

      I did it that way because in other recipes I have used cookie crumbs and added the butter and flour so I followed the same logic. I think is has to do mostly with the texture of the crust. If you press the unbaked cookie dough into the pan and bake it that way, it seems possible to get a very hard crust (much like the cookie itself). If you grind up the baked cookie (and add the butter and flour) you get a softer, more tender crust. I would be afraid the baked cookie dough crust might break when I tried to cut it. But if you’ve done it with success, then great! No reason you can’t do it that way too. 🙂

      • Whitney

        Thanks for your information – I’ve got the cheesecake in the fridge and I did learn a few things along the way. I tried pressing the raw mixture up the sides of the springform [love that look on your finished cheesecake] and put it in the freezer to set before baking. Previously, I’ve used Thomas Keller’s recipe for his homemade Oreo cookies which is similar to SK and I’ve only pressed it into the bottom and up the sides a bit, baked and it’s always worked just fine. The crust tends to be a bit harder but with a cheesecake it works for me and I’ve perfected pressing down with a chef’s knife to get a clean snap. Anyway, even with chilling the pan the sides still dropped in spots. Thought about cleaning it up but decided to leave it and I baked some cookies with leftover dough and I’m going to crush those and press into the bare spots for presentation. I eat all sorts of rough dough batter and had to taste this batter – yummy – the finished cheesecake should be pretty tasty. Great blog found you through Gawker so will have to follow you.

        • Whitney

          The cheesecake was a big hit and the flavours were so good. I will definitely make this again and I am going to try your method for comparison as well as I think the finished product looks like perfection. The crust on my cheesecake was harder and I need to try your method now. Suspect this cheesecake will become a regular in my repertoire. Added fresh raspberries around edge and it looked pretty as well as complimented the caramel. Oh and I meant to say raw dough not rough ;o)

  • Karen Harris

    I’m very frugal like you and have thought about buying those chocolate wafers to use in recipes before, and never could bring myself to do it. Thanks so much for the link to make them myself. Your version of Abby’s recipe looks absolutely delicious.

  • Elise Walsh

    YOMYOMYOM. This looks amazingly delicious. This is perfection for my best friends upcoming birthday, and my poor college butt can probably afford the products. Thanks for digging that crust recipe up! Pure choco-heaven.

  • Jennifer

    I too prefer to bake my own cakes. It is amazing how cheap it is to make one. It can prove very satisfying once I mastered a recipe. This is an amazing and delicious recipe by the way. I hope I get it right the first try. Thank you for sharing.

  • Martha33

    These kind of recipe “Vanilla bean cheesecake with chocolate crust and salted caramel” is truly delicious kind to prepare these “Valentines Day”.

  • Jennifer Sarah

    Lately I’ve been buying tubs of Trader Joes (mini) Crispy, Crunchy Chocolate Chip Cookies, throwing them into a food processor with nuts (slivered almonds, walnuts, pecans, or macadamia nuts; whatever complements the flavor) and voila I have a perfect crust! It’s so convenient, but the farthest I will go in baking short cuts. That’s the only variation I used with this recipe. Mine is in the oven now so here’s hoping it’s as awesome as yours looks!

  • Joyce

    I made this yesterday for my husband’s birthday. The entire family loved it. Thank you so much. One comment, though, for the chocolate crumbs, I think 4 cups of crumbs was too much. Thanks again.

    • formerchef

      Thanks Joyce! I found I needed 4 cups to get the crust all the way up to the top edge of the springform pan, but if you didn’t, then next time you can save more of the cookies to eat later. 🙂

  • Jody Hulber

    I love cheesecake, I love chocolate, I love caramel (and I LOVE saving $$!) This is a gorgeous cheesecake! Thanks for sharing…I am going to make this for a special occasion! #baketogether

  • Felipe

    I have a question regarding the topping.
    I tried the recipe yesterday and i was confused about returning the cheesecake back into the oven for 10 minutes with the topping. The recipe says: 1 cup sour cream, 1 tbsp sugar, 1/2 tsp vanilla, but i´m not sure if the sour cream is the same available in my country. What we have here will turn into melted butter if heated, in fact, it happens right after pouring the topping on the cheesecake while it´s hot. I´ve been looking for a more accurate translation for sour cream and i´ve read that sour cream is available here in brazil as yogurt, but i´m not sure if that can be heated as well…
    So the actual question is… how does the topping taste like? Is it suposed to be sour such as yogurt, or bland like cream?

      • Felipe

        I found a recipe for creme fraiche, because it´s also not available for sale where i live, but thank you! The cheesecake (despite the substitutions i had to make) tastes amazing!

    • Hananh

      For future reference, I used Sour Cream the first time I made this and Greek Yogurt the 2nd time. They tasted the same and the Greek Yogurt had much less fat.

  • Julia

    Homemade is almost always cheaper and better. Props to making the chocolate wafers yourself!
    We’re our own toughest critic and I know you think the last picture isn’t great, but I think it’s AMAZING! It’s making me want to grab a spoon and scoop up the caramel dripping down the side! MMMM!

  • Nikki Burns

    Thanks for the recipe! Your cheesecake is absolutely gorgeous!

    I can’t do dairy or gluten (sigh), so I made this bad boy today using all dairy free and gluten free ingredients. It turned out beautifully, but was a lot “fluffier” than a normal cheesecake. Everyone that we had over for dinner raved about it and said it was much better than normal cheesecake. I added homemade raspberry preserves to the of mine instead of caramel (bc of dairy) and it was fantastic. Unfortunately, it ended up being really expensive to make a gf/df version (almost $40 with the cost of all the ingredients)- but it was definitely worth it.

    I’m going to post my version of your recipe onto my blog soon!

    Thanks SOOOO much for sharing 🙂

  • Haley

    I am making this and it is in the 55 minute 325 oven as I type. Thank you for this recipe. 🙂 Will let you know how it turns out.

  • Amy

    I have recently made this recipe, my first attempt at ever making cheesecake. EVERYONE loved this!!. I’ve also made your lemon tart with blueberries several times too, which turned out fantastic as well. Your recipes/instructions are so easy to follow, and it actually turns out just like your pictures. Please keep posting more recipes (especially desserts)! I will be trying many more in the future! Thank you!!

  • Marcy

    This looks delicious!!! I have made plenty of cheesecakes with chocolate crusts and have used chocolate Teddy Grahams. They’re more sturdy and hold up better than a Nabisco Chocolate Grahams. Just a suggestion.

      • Jodi

        If you put in a water bath, do you think it needs extra time baking? I put in a water bath and have already baked it an extra 10 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes. Put back in with sour cream topping for 10 minutes and it still was quite wobbly. Just put it back in for an additional 10 minutes.

    • formerchef

      Thanks for linking to my site. I hope you enjoyed the cheesecake! I would have left a comment on your site, but there’s no way to do so without logging in to some external account first (google, typepad, etc).

  • Christie

    Great recipe. Followed it to a tee. Didn’t need all of the cookie crumbs, but other than that it was so easy to make. Will be sharing it at work tomorrow!

  • Carlo

    I’m planning to make this cheesecake next week and I wanted to know what vanilla bean did you use?
    I was thinking of using Bourbon Vanilla Beans.
    I also come from the Philippines so I’m somewhat unfamiliar with fleur de sel. I wanted to know if Pangasinan salt would be an okay substitute. Anyway, I’ll post again once I start on gathering the right ingredients 🙂
    Your cheesecake looks delicious by the way and I’ve always wanted to make homemade caramel so thanks for the recipe!

    • formerchef

      Carlo- I think any kind of fresh vanilla bean will work just fine. I wasn’t familiar with Pangasinan salt so I googled it and it looks like it should work fine. You just don’t want to use regular iodized salt. It’s too fine and would make the caramel too salty.

  • SF

    This looks amazing! I’d like to cut down on the sugar though because I’m making it for a pre-diabetic friend. I’m skipping the toppings. Could I cut the sugar completely out of the chocolate wafer recipe?

    • formerchef

      Honestly, I don’t know if the consistency would be right if you cut all the sugar out of the chocolate wafer recipe. Maybe you could find some diabetic chocolate wafer cookies and use those instead?

  • Meredith

    I love the idea of using Smitten’s chocolate wafer recipe, and feel dumb for not thinking of that when she posted it. BUT, in place of the (crazy expensive!) Nabisco wafers, I’ve always used Chocolate Teddy Grahams, and find they’re way cheaper, just fine, and a box has enough for the kids each to have a few while I use the rest for the cake.


    After all these photos and recipe I am planning to try this cheesecake.
    It is look yummy , thank you for this recipe.
    I am from Turkey. With my best wishes, PIRIL.

  • tessa

    This is such a beautiful dessert! Today/tonight I made this. I was unable to find the wafer so I just made the graham craker crust. The only problem I had is the caramel…*this is the point you are going to start laughing* I wasn’t thinking and used granulated sugar ( I know!) it wasn’t going amber so I tried it again…and finally it came to me that I need to use BROWN SUGAR! (laugh now) after the 3rd time with the correct sugar it came out very runny…never getting thick?? SO for a fourth time I tried it again and it worked…only because I placed it back on the stove to cook…after all ingredients were mixed well. What did I do wrong…as you can tell I don’t make caramel very much. I hope it doesn’t harden like a rock once it goes in the fridge….*sighs* help…suggestions?

    • formerchef

      Tessa- Actually you are supposed to use white sugar. I’ve never tried to make caramel with brown sugar, so I have no idea what will happen. “Brown sugar” is basically white sugar mixed with molasses. With the white sugar, you need to be patient. It will melt first, go clear, and then, if you keep cooking it, it will start to color and then get darker (this may take 5 minutes or more). That part happens very fast and I’ve burned it more than once, so be careful!

      • Pat

        I made this cheesecake last night, and also had problems with the caramel sauce. I made it three times (burned the first one) and the second and third effort produced a very runny sauce. Any ideas what went wrong? The rest of it was delicious.

  • Dana

    This looks amazing! However, after a horrifyingly bad first experience making a cheesecake years ago that ended up burning, I always tend to use a water bath when I make mine now (which sucks, since it seems to take 3 times as long to cook). I noticed that you don’t opt to do that with this recipe. Is there any kind of secret to not turning your delicious cheesecake into a smoking, vaguely cheesecake-flavored brick?

    • formerchef

      Hi Dana-

      No, nothing in particular. If it only happened once, maybe it was just a fluke? I’ve had good results both ways, so if you’re more comfortable cooking it in a water bath, you can continue doing that too.

  • Jessica

    I am having trouble making the carmel topping :/ is it suppose to be brown sugar? or white sugar? because mine is not turning the amber color

  • Stella

    Hi, I found this recipe via Pinterest. I tried it today. Mine isn’t as pretty as yours but it’s absolutely delicious. I’ll be making it again for sure. Thanks.

  • Suzanne

    I have made this cheesecake several times over the last few months. It is a HUGE HIT!! I think people just invite me to their parties in the hopes that I’ll make this (because this is what they always request). I make the homemade crust and do everything exactly by the recipe and it always turns out phenomenal!!

  • Kelly

    So this is a dumb question but I just to make sure. When you say “cream” as one of the ingredients in the caramel sauce, do you mean heavy cream or whipping cream? I’m sorry, I haven’t been baking very long and what I do bake uses the same basic ingredients! lol not used to using creams. 🙂 Also do you think there is another kinda of salt I could use? The fleur de sel is so expensive! I’m planning on making this for Thanksgiving! Soo excited!

    • formerchef

      Heavy cream just has a little more fat than whipping cream. In this case, either one will work just fine. As for the salt, you absolutely cannot use table salt. Trust me on this. It won’t taste right. You might be able to get away with Kosher salt in the caramel, but for the the garnish, you really need the lighter, flakier sea salt.

  • Rhonda

    Just made this tonight. Outstanding! The two things I can add…
    You only need about 3 cups of crumbs for the crust and;
    When making the caramel sauce it can burn super fast. I had to toss the first batch. The second batch cooked a little weird and the moisture pretty much disappeared leaving dried looking sugar but eventually it melted and turned into caramel. Just be careful. Pull it off when the color is similar to the color in the picture….and if the sugar seems to “seize” when you add the cream, it will dissolve if you keep it over a medium heat. So awesome! I wish I could send a picture but I am not sure how?

  • sheri

    This looks so beautiful! I’m going to make this for Thanksgiving, I always make some kind of cheesecake so my family expects something wonderful every time! haha
    I’m wondering about putting the carmel sauce on, you do that after taking the cheesecake outta the form pan? or before?
    I’m worried about the chocolate crust staying put, do you have any tips on that or is it easier then it looks?
    I’ve always turned off the oven and left the cake in until the oven cools, is it ok to do that with the sour cream topping on it?
    sorry for so many questions..I want it to be as lovely as yours 😉

    • formerchef

      I put the caramel on before taking the cake out of the form. As for the crust, it’s really not that hard. I don’t know what to tell you about leaving the cheesecake in the oven to cool. I don’t do that, and I’d be concerned that the residual heat would cause it to become over baked.

  • Kelly

    Ok, I was panicking. I just tried to make the caramel and when I (very carefully) added the heavy whipping cream it turned into a ball of gooey sugar! So I just reheated it and it all melted together. I saw Rhonda’s post when i got on here so now I’m not too worried but just asking. My caramel is kinda runny now. Will it get thicker? Anyway, I’m sure I will figure it out, just panicking right now! lol Can’t wait to taste it!

  • sheri

    the cake came out perfect! looks wonderful, however I’m on my third try to make a batch of carmel sauce, mine won’t turns to crystals before it gets dark enough, no idea what I’m doing wrong but I’ll be out of cream after my last attempt..I watched a video on making the sauce but it said to use 1/4 cup of water…I tried that and it came out too runny so I’ll try your directions again and hope for the best

  • sandy

    I totally missed adding the sour cream part and returning to the oven. Now that the cake has set in the refridgerater all night, I think I should just skip it and move ahead to the caramel. Advice?

  • Kelly

    An update on my cheesecake! It all worked out fine! After panicking for a few minutes I decided to cook the caramel a little bit more, about 5-10 more minutes then let it cool and it turned out great!!! I did make my crust too thick on the sides, lol. Also I am wondering if I didn’t let my vanilla beans cook/steep long enough. I was so afraid it was going to be too much vanilla but it turned out just a tiny bit on the bland side. I used bourbon beans and they were a lot bigger than I thought they would be. Who knows. Other than that it was fantastic! LOVED the caramel!!!! Thanks!

  • dorothy

    What a beautiful cake. Made this for Thanksgiving and it was a hit! The only thing it took forever to make but worth it. Thanks for sharing

  • Rachel

    Am really thinking of making this salted caramel to add to a cheesecake topping. I’ve only made meringues on cheesecakes before, so my question is: do you put the caramel topping on before it goes in the fridge to cool or will it work if you put this caramel topping on a cooled cake the day after it baked? Thank you!

  • Cheryl

    I’m making this cake for my sister’s birthday I’ve never made a cheesecake “as I don’t like cheesecake”. I normally would never attempt to make this kind of cake as its quite a lot of work and I won’t be able to even enjoy it:) however this ment my sister was gonna make her own cake and that in my opinion was not acceptable. So a couple of quick questions. When should I release the spring on the pan after the 1 hour cooling period or right before I serve. I’m just a little nervous as I did not spray my pan as it did not mention it so again never baking this kind of cake I didn’t want to spray the pan as this can sometimes ruin your baking. The next question for the Carmel do I put this on after the cake is completely cooled or wait till just before serving. I’m a little nervous putting the Carmel on and then refrigerating the cake overnight as I’m not sure if that will make the caramel too hard. My sister is looking forward to this cake and to be honest the ingredients sound really good. I appreciate the feedback

    • formerchef

      Hi Cheryl-
      You can release it after the hour cooling period. It might come away a bit easier at that point when it’s not 100% cold.
      As for the caramel, you can put it on in advance, just not the sea salt garnish. The caramel should not get too hard.