Vanilla bean cheesecake made even more wonderful by adding nutty, toasty brown butter to both the crust and filling.
Do you ever feel like you’ll only scrape a vanilla bean for an occasion? For a really special dish? I won’t do it unless I know I’ll get to see those pretty specks in my final dish. A chocolate cake will never get a vanilla bean. A cheesecake? Will ONLY get a vanilla bean; they just show off so well, speckling that wonderfully creamy inside.
And this cheesecake? Oh this cheesecake… The idea was born after I saw a photo of a ‘butter pecan’ cheesecake (which is how pecans made it into the crust) but of course I had to take it a few steps further with a vanilla bean, brown butter and brown sugar. And these might be seen as your everyday baking ingredients but oh my do they come together to make something truly wonderful here.
How to make Vanilla Bean Brown Butter Cheesecake
Let’s be real. Cheesecakes are deceptively easy looking cakes that almost always turn out less-than-perfect. I’m going to give you a quick run-down of how to do this simply but, and I stress, but, follow the directions closely so you have a perfectly smooth and creamy cheesecake.
- Brown the butter
- Grind the cookies & pecans to crumbs
- Press in the crust, bake
- Beat together the filling
- Bake & cool, slowly
Ingredients for Vanilla Bean Brown Butter Cheesecake
Butter: Unsalted, in a delicate recipe such as this we really want to control how much salt is going in.
Cookie crumbs: You can use digestive cookies (my personal favorite), golden oreos (but remove the cream), or graham crackers. Any cookie that’s crispy and dry will do.
Cream cheese: Philadelphia is my go to brand, it’s thick and creamy and makes a really good cheesecake. Use the bricks, not the ones in the tubs. And most importantly, it should be full fat and at room temperature before you begin baking.
Sour cream: full fat sour cream. You can sub with labneh if you have that instead (I often do this).
Eggs: Large. They should be at room temperature, place them in a bowl of warm water if they are cold when you begin making the cheesecake.
Vanilla bean: you can sub this with pure vanilla extract, 2 teaspoons will do it. Or, if you have vanilla paste use 2 teaspoons of that (it’ll also give you the pretty specks).
Brown sugar: light or dark, but be sure it’s soft and fresh!
How to scrape a vanilla bean
A fresh vanilla bean should be quite soft. This won’t work as well if you bean hasn’t been kept in an airtight container and has gotten stiff.
Lay the vanilla bean on the counter with the seam side up. Use a paring knife (or any small, sharp knife you have) to slice through the first layer. Use your fingers to slightly open the top of the bean. Position the knife sharp side up (so the blunt side is on the bean) and scrape downwards, getting most of the flesh out of the bean. Scrape it onto the bowl where you’ll make the filling, or preferably, straight onto the cream cheese so none of the flesh is lost.
A secret but wonderful way to make Vanilla Bean Brown Butter Cheesecake
Once you have your vanilla bean scraped you may feel like you don’t want to waste the shell as there is still (inaccessible!) seedy goodness. You can add the shell to the brown butter to further extract the wonderful vanilla and infuse it into the brown butter. When you are done browning, simply remove it. A lot of the flavor will now be part of the browned butter.
Tips for a perfect cheesecake
- Room temperature ingredients
- Avoid overbeating the batter once the eggs are in
- Use a waterbath
- Bake long and low
- Cool slowly
Troubleshooting Vanilla Bean Brown Butter Cheesecake
- My cheesecake sank
The filling was over-beaten, the cheesecake baked too quickly or cooled too quickly. To avoid this, be sure to beat as little as possible once the eggs are in and bake low and slow, and cool slowly as well.
- My cheesecake has brown spots on the top
It might be overbaked. I had a couple in mine as well, but it’s fine if it’s just a few and they are small and scattered.
- My crust is too soft/too crumbly/underbaked
It might not have been pressed in an even layer on the bottom and up the sides.
- My cheesecake seems underdone in the center
It might not have baked enough. The cheesecake will be soft and creamy in the center but it should not be runny.
FAQ on Brown Butter Pecan Cheesecake
- Can I make this ahead of time?
You have to make it the day before but you can make it up to 2 days before serving day.
- I need to make this nut-free, what can I use instead of pecans?
I would just up the cookie crumbs to 2 ½ cups instead.
- I spy pecans on the bottom of yours, should I do that too?
Actually don’t! As soon as I put this in the oven I knew it was a bad idea but there you go. The nuts turned out kind of gummy as they had baked in a very wet filling. There’s enough pecan flavor in the crust for it to come through.
Want to see this made step by step? Here’s a an IG story tutorial. In the video I made bars and topped the cheesecake with pecan praline. Here’s the recipe:
Pecan Praline Recipe
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 cup heavy cream, warmed to touch
- 3 tablespoons butter (if you have leftover brown butter from making the cheesecake use that)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (if you scraped a vanilla bean for the cheesecake, use the bean)
- pinch fine sea salt
- 1/2 cup pecans, chopped
In a medium sized pot, stir together the sugar and lemon juice. Set it over medium heat and cook, stirring and pressing any lumps as the sugar caramelizes. Once it’s all liquid and turns brown (might smoke a bit), slowly add the heavy cream stirring as you pour. It will bubble up, use a long wooden spoon to stir. Add the butter and stir until melted. Turn the heat off and add the vanilla and salt. Once the caramel is cool, add the pecans. Spread it over the cheesecake once the cheesecake is cooled. You might need to rewarm the caramel slightly so it’s spreadable.
Vanilla Bean Brown Butter Cheesecake Recipe
Vanilla Bean Brown Butter Cheesecake
- 9 or 10" round cake pan
- 1 cup butter
- Brown Butter Pecan Cheesecake
- 2 cups graham digestive or golden oreo cookie crumbs, 240g (if oreo, cream should be removed)
- 1 cup pecans ground, 115g
- ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon browned butter 120g
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
Brown Butter Filling
- 2 packages cream cheese 452g (at room temperature, soft)
- ¼ cup brown butter 57g (try to get mostly the bottom brown bits, less of the yellow liquid)
- ½ cup labne or sour cream
- 1 cup brown sugar 210g
- 1 vanilla bean scraped
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- Two large eggs
Whipped Cream Topping
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- Pinch salt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract can use a vanilla bean scrapings too
- Brown the butter: Have a heatproof bowl ready and a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Set the butter in a saucepan and turn the heat on to medium. Once the butter is melted turn the heat to medium high and cook as it sputters and spits, then foams, then goes nearly quiet. You’ll see brown bits on the bottom and it will smell nutty. Immediately pour it into the bowl, scraping the pan to get all the little brown bits. Set aside to cool slightly.
- Make the crust: preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease and line a tall 8 or 9” cake pan with parchment paper. It’s okay if the paper crinkles on the sides, use metal clips to hold it in place as pictured.
- In a bowl, stir together the ground pecans, cookie crumbs, powdered sugar and browned butter. Press the mixture into the bottom of the pan and up the sides. Try to get an even layer of crumbs on the bottom and about halfway up the sides of the pan. Bake the crust for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 325 F.
- Make the filling: Beat together the softened cream cheese, sugar, salt, butter and vanilla bean scrapings until smooth and no lumps remain (you may have to scrape down the bowl a few times). Add the sour cream and beat until smooth, scraping down as needed. Add the eggs and beat to just combine. Pour the filling into the cooled crust through a fine mesh sieve to remove any bits.
- Bake the cheesecake: Fill a 13×9” cake pan halfway with warm water and set the cheesecake in the center. Place the cheesecake in its water bath in the oven and bake for at least an hour but probably closer to 1 hour 15 minutes. It’s done when it’s no longer jiggly in the center and the top looks a bit matte. Shut off the oven but leave the cheesecake inside, prop open the oven with a wooden spoon and let it cool for at least 30 minutes. When you take it out, it should be cool enough to do so without oven mitts. Leave it on the counter for another half hour then refrigerate. Cheesecake should chill for 8 hours minimum.
- For the whipped cream: in a food processor, process the heavy cream, vanilla, salt and sugar for a minute or two, until the cream is thick enough to scoop but not overwhipped. Top on the cheesecake and serve.
- Store the cheesecake in the fridge. It’ll keep for about a week.