No Bake Caramel Cheesecake Mousse with Candied Walnuts


No Bake Caramel Cheesecake Mousse

No Bake Caramel Cheesecake Mousse

One reason I love when my mom visits (besides the dishes, of course:), is that she helps me brainstorm recipe ideas. And the holidays are her specialty. When I told her my idea for these no bake caramel cheesecake mousse cups, she added “and you can top them with grandma’s candied walnuts.” Then she went on and on about how my late great grandma made THE BEST candied walnuts every Christmas that she’d put in jars as holiday gifts.

Candied Walnuts

This is the same grandma who had hand-cured olives on every holiday table from the olive trees lining their property and an unlimited supply of fresh eggs in the henhouse. Also the same grandma who, I discovered as I was sorting through her recipes on a recent trip home, kept among her cherished passed-on belongings a recipe card for Spinach Gelatin Salad that included: 4 packages lime jello, 1 cup mayonnaise, 1 carton cottage cheese, 1 cup diced celery, 3 tablespoons minced onion, and 1 package thawed frozen spinach. So I was simultaneously intrigued and skeptical about the nuts.

As soon as she got home on Friday, my mom texted me a picture of my great grandma’s tattered and well-loved candied “glazed” walnuts recipe. Along with a card I wrote to them when I still didn’t have a grasp on the use of capital letters or punctuation:

“To GranDma and GranDPa I like you a lot I live in a Two Story house I like your chickens Love Sarah”

Grandma's Glazed Nuts

All relevant facts, obviously. I think I should include that in my compliments from here on out:

“Dear Annie, I like the way you toss your hair. I live in a one story house. I like your record collection. Love, Sarah” (With punctuation because I’m out of breath from reading the last card).

Candied Glaze WalnutsCaramel Cheesecake Mousse

ANYWAY, these are not my grandma’s candied walnuts you see here. Sorry, Grandma. I messed those up.


Caramel Cheesecake Mousse Cups

For my first go at it, I cut the recipe in half, set the sugar to boil with a 5-minute timer, and carelessly went about washing dishes. I’m sure you can see where this is going. I should know better too – I’ve made (and burned) caramel many times before. That batch scorched the bottom of the pan.

No Bake Caramel Cheesecake

The second time, I let it go for a couple of minutes after it boiled, watching it like a hawk. When I went to “pour syrup over nuts, stirring constantly” the whole thing turned into a giant blob. Perhaps the chopped versus whole walnuts left more surface area to be coated?

Fortunately I rescued the blob by putting it in the oven, letting the sugar melt , and stirring it around. They still weren’t the prettiest though. Plus, I can’t very well send you into the world with a recipe that says “It’ll turn into a giant blob. Don’t worry. You’ll fix that.”

Instead, I kept Grandma’s ratios (eliminating the butter/margarine) and skipped straight to the oven. This third batch turned out crispy, beautifully caramelized, and sweetened into walnut candy crack without putting up a fight. Plus, no boiling = less dishes. Win.

Caramel Cheesecake Mousse

All the nut drama aside, these no bake caramel cheesecake mousse cups come together quickly without any fuss. I made my own caramel sauce and candied walnuts, but if you’re in a time crunch, subbing in some good-quality store-bought caramel sauce and candied walnuts will do the trick. And if you’re opting for one simplification over the other, I urge you to make these quick candied walnuts as the finishing touch.

No Bake Cheesecake Mousse Cups

Eat this with me: a bed of crunchy ginger snaps, a few heavenly spoonfuls of light velvety caramel cheesecake mousse, and crispy candied walnuts to leave a lasting impression. If you’re looking for a quick last-minute Thanksgiving dessert that will still be the star of the party, this is it.

No Bake Cheesecake Cups

They’re small enough that you’ll have room for multiple desserts, a T-day necessity. Plus, you can twist the mason jar lids on and easily transport them to wherever you’re going for Thanksgiving…or a holiday party…or your favorite neighbors who haven’t yet complained of a sugar coma.

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No Bake Caramel Cheesecake Mousse with Candied Walnuts
Yields: 6 small cups
  • ½ cup + 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 3 tablespoons caramel sauce (recipe below, but in a pinch, good-quality store-bought will work too)
  • ½ cup candied walnuts (recipe below, but again, store-bought candied nuts will work too)
  • 1 cup crumbled ginger snaps (I use Trader Joe's gluten-free ginger snaps because they're extra crispy and crumbly. I crush it until there are still a few pieces just smaller than a dime)
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the whipped cream on high speed until it begins to froth, a couple of minutes.
  2. Add powdered sugar and vanilla and continue beating until soft peaks form. Transfer the whipped cream to a bowl and set aside.
  3. In the bowl of the stand mixer (no need to clean it), add the cream cheese and beat on medium-high speed until smooth.
  4. Add the caramel sauce and beat until well combined, scraping down the sides as necessary.
  5. Fold in the whipped cream and mix on low-speed until completely smooth.
  6. Divide the ginger snaps among the 6 small dessert cups or mason jars (If you use mason jars, you can put the lid on and take it to go!), creating about a ½-inch layer of ginger snaps in the bottom.
  7. Using a piping bag fitted with a large tip*, pipe the mousse into the jars over the top of the ginger snaps.
  8. Top with a sprinkling of candied walnuts.
  9. Chill for at least 30 minutes before serving. Keep any leftovers covered and chilled for up to two days.
*If you don't have a piping bag and pastry tips, you can also cut the corner off of a gallon-sized Ziploc bag or just scoop the cheesecake mousse into the dessert cups.

Candied Walnuts
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yields: ½ cup
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • 4 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons light corn syrup
  • ¼ teaspoons salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat mat.
  2. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, and salt in a medium bowl until completely mixed. Add the walnuts and stir to coat completely.
  3. Spread the walnuts out on the lined baking sheet, trying to separate them as best as you can, but it's okay if some of them clump.
  4. Bake at 325 for 4 minutes, then use a rubber spatula to mix up the nuts, trying to break up any clumps. Bake for 4 minutes longer. Stir once more, and cook for 1 minute longer, or until the nuts turn a deep golden caramel color (but are not burned!).
  5. Remove from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet. You can also break apart clumps when you pull them out to cool. They'll get crispy as they cool.
  6. Once they're cool, sprinkle them on top of the caramel cheesecake cups. Store any extras in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Salted Caramel Sauce
Yields: 1½ cups
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 200 ml (5/6 cup) heavy whipping cream
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I use Rodelle organic vanilla extract)
  • 1½ tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ½ teaspoon fleur de sel
  1. Prepare the butter and salt in a small bowl so you're ready when you need to add it.
  2. In a small saucepan, heat the heavy whipping cream and vanilla over medium heat until it just begins to simmer. Reduce the heat to low to keep it warm while you prepare the rest.
  3. Heat the sugar and water in a separate small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon until the sugar dissolves and it starts to boil, about 4 minutes. (I recommend between a 1.5-quart and 2.5-quart saucepan; any larger and you’ll have a hard time using the candy thermometer as it won’t full submerge in the caramel).
  4. Stop stirring and clip a candy thermometer to the edge of the pot. Let the sugar boil without stirring at all, until it reaches 305°F, about 3-5 minutes. While it boils, grab a clean wooden spoon or rinse and dry the one you were stirring with before. (If you don't have a candy thermometer, for caramel sauce, it's okay - just boil until the sugar begins to turn amber, making sure to keep a close eye on it so the sugar doesn't burn. As soon as it turns amber, it will quickly darken, so immediately add the butter to cool it down).
  5. Add the butter and fleur de sel, and slowly stir in the warm whipping cream. Be careful, as it will react and sizzle quite a bit when you start adding the cream. The temperature will also drop when you add the cream.
  6. When the sizzling calms down, return to medium low heat and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes.
  7. Immediately transfer to a heat-proof bowl. If the caramel solidifies at all while you wait to serve, don't worry, you can just pop it in the microwave for 15-20 seconds and it'll soften up again.
  8. Store any leftovers in an air-tight container in the fridge for about a month.
This recipe makes more than you'll need, but you won't be able to completely submerge the thermometer if you reduce the recipe, so keep any leftovers in a air-tight container in the fridge to serve over ice cream or these apple pie puffs. Just remove from the fridge and microwave for 15-20 seconds to soften up before drizzling.


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  1. Girl, I have been WAITING to see these! No, scratch that… DYING to see these!! You had me so excited, and they’re even better than I imagined! Especially the story about your grandma’s jello salad recipe (oh my gosh, don’t even get me started on how many different molds my grandma had and then passed on to me) and your punctuation. Too cute! And yes, I totally would’ve laughed and followed your directions for, “It’ll turn into a giant blob. Don’t worry.” Because I totally know you wouldn’t lead me astray. :) Wish we could’ve had a Friendsgiving this year so I could’ve tried one! Oh well, maybe next year?? Pinned!

  2. No bake desserts just got 10 times better! These look fantastic! I want to eat at least 3!

  3. Moms have the BEST recipe brainstorming ideas! This dessert looks amazing!

  4. Baby June says:

    Those look amazing! I’m sure the candied nuts were worth it–they sound fabulous :)

  5. All that recipe testing definitely sounds like it was worth it! Because well, these nuts look kinda perfect and this cheesecake is absolutely drool-worthy! Just love the personal-sized portions! I want THESE instead of pie on Thanksgiving. Just sayin’. ;)

  6. These look delicious! And I love the photo of the old recipe card. I love finding my grandmothers and great aunt’s recipes cards with all their handwritten notes, stains, etc. It feels like you are really in the kitchen with them still when you are using those!

  7. Rachel says:

    Okay, as someone who isn’t crazy about Cheesecake (I know….) these look to die-for. I would not be able to resist myself around a little bowl of heaven like this.
    Your mom was right – those walnuts look delicious and are the perfect topping to the dessert. Such a great recipe!


  8. I love incorporating family recipes in my recipes! Those candied walnuts sound like they’d be great on so many things!

  9. Jill says:

    Girl, anything called “no bake” gets this disaster of a chefs attention!! These look so delicious, I’m going to get my bf to help me make them this weekend for our couples-giving. Gorgeous photography too – in fact, can I just eat one of these for breakfast right now?? XX

    Jill @

    • Oh! I hope you love them too – please tell me how they turn out for you:) (And yes, totally breakfast food – they have cream cheese in them and you put cream cheese on bagels, so therefore, this is breakfast).

  10. These photos are FANTASTIC, Sarah! Jeeze. Just beautiful. Also I’m dying over your letter to the grandparents. I just love little kids’ writing. Thanks for making me laugh this morning!!

  11. Yay for cute cheesecakes in a jar! Love the fun topping and the story behind how it came to be.

  12. Your mom sounds so fun! Love her idea to use your great grandma’s candied walnuts and I LOVE the idea of putting them in jars as holiday gifts!! These caramel cheesecake mousse desserts are awesome!! and I LOVE the note from you as a kid to your grandparents!!! I’m been saving a few from my oldest and can’t wait to share them with her when she’s older :) so sweet! Have a happy Thanksgiving!!

    • Thank you so much, Alice! This is something my mom was SO great at – saving little tidbits from my childhood. The notes are the easiest to save and always the most meaningful over time.

  13. This has got to be the best no bake cheesecake EVER! Those candied walnuts take it right over the top. Excellent job. And I adore the story behind the recipe.

  14. Veronica says:

    I love your recipes and beautiful stories of your family! You brought back so many memories of Jello mold recipes but I do have one that I love cranberry mold! I also make Cinnamon Spiced Pecans! Thank you for the recipe!

  15. I’m making that spinach jell-o salad! (Not really. I’m still recovering from just reading about it.) This dessert, on the other hand, looks heaven sent. I’m glad you got the nuts just right for these beauties. Happy Thanksgiving, Sarah!

  16. Melissa Falk says:

    Beautiful! I appreciate any dessert that is “no-bake”. Thanks!

  17. Sheri Nix says:

    Glad my visit helped! This dessert looks delicious! I’m not sure I ever had the “pleasure” of tasting Grandma’s Spinach Gelatin Salad, but I do remember a green jello mold gracing grandma’s Thanksgiving table so no doubt it was served. I wish I had a memory of tasting it so I could tell you that regardless of the disgusting sounding ingredients, it was delicious! :)

  18. So much fun that you brainstorm with your mom – I love that! This looks so delicious. What a gorgeous and flavorful dessert.

  19. I just love handwritten recipes on notecards. I’m impressed that recipes would turn out so well back then, no pictures or anything! So neat that you still have the original recipe card! And that little note you wrote them is so cute. I love that she kept it. Grandmas are the best. Even if they have recipe cards for the oddest sounding spinach jello, can’t imagine what that tastes like, or what course you would serve it? Appetizer, side, dessert, all 3?

    This cheesecake mousse sounds delicious! I love that their little individual ones too, those kind of desserts seem to taste better. And you definitely nailed the candied nuts. Can’t wait to make these! Hope you have a great Thanksgiving Sarah!

    • I know! I’m such a visual learner that without a photo, it’s so hard for me to feel motivated to even TRY the recipe. Probably all 3 haha. Mystery salad! We should do a blog series of resurrecting 50s recipes. EXACTLY AS THEY WERE. Then have a potluck and test them all. hahaha.

      Thanks so much, Natalie! Have a delicious Thanksgiving too!

  20. you had me at no bake!! these look amazing sarah! so cute the card is handwritten! make sure you scan that and save it ;) also love how the desserts are in cute jars. those lucky neighbors of yours ;)

    • OH! I was so inspired by the s’mores pot de creme from Theo’s birthday – I was originally planning to make cute labels like those to put on the jars….but then…I got….busy. I DID, however, put the lids on them when I brought them over to the neighbors – made it so much easier to transport.

  21. This dessert looks so amazing – no bake?! LOVE! Your photos are all so gorgeous too :)

  22. I love looking through all my mom’s recipes! She always gives me great inspiration! These sound fabulous!

  23. I love everything about this post. Candied nuts are my favorite holiday snack EVER. Also, I expect all future written communications between us to be like baby Sarah’s note, ok?

  24. Aaw, your little note was adorable!! Love that you brainstorm with your mom too and I couldn’t help but giggle over how cute your grandmas’s spinach jell-o salad recipe is :) Loving these no-bake cheesecakes, they look amazing especially topped with the candied walnuts!

  25. Cheesecake mousse? With salted caramel sauce AND candied walnuts? Well that just sounds like a slice of heaven to me!!!

  26. I love using my grandma’s old recipes. They are on cards just like the one you have a picture of! These cheesecakes look so perfect, love salted caramel!

  27. dear sarah i like how you make delicious desserts with cream cheese I live in an apartment on the third floor so many stairs i like your double bubble love carla

    • Dear Carla-sac i Like the way you use capital leTTers i’m wearing slipper socks with swirls on them i like your blue holiday garland that’s spread out on my guest bed currently love sarah.

  28. Dear Sarah, I like the way you touch my face. I live in a tiny flat with a couch that you can sleep on. I like the way you got ma back when it comes to UPS. Love, Annie.

    Ps. That spatula standing up shot might be my all time favorite.

  29. This looks and sounds delicious! What beautiful photographs!

  30. Sarah, your photos are totally gorgeous!! I’m drooling!! Also, did you design your website or did a designer?

  31. janelle says:

    pretty and delicious looking! great idea, plus I am a sucker for anything in a jar!

  32. Yum! No bake desserts are the BEST for T-giving. In the past years, I usually have to fight my mom for oven space. I’ve learned to either make things ahead of time or use the slow cooker.

    Maybe I’m just seeing things, but in your letter, did you dot the “i” in “like” with a heart?

    Also, I like how you used fleur de sel in your salted caramel sauce. Fancy! :)

    • Good eye! Sure did. It’s the little things that tell a person you love them, right? I should dot the i in my last name with a heart from now on. Also – how can I change my blog font to make that happen?

      I’m sooooo fancy. ;) Hehe.

  33. Absolutely LOVE the story behind these! Although I’m totally intrigued by that spinach jello salad… ;)

  34. Fantastic! I am all about things no bake!

  35. I loved reading this post! From that spinach jello salad (oh my!) to the lovely recipe and memories of your grandma, you had me laughing and smiling. These no bake cheesecakes are beautiful! Your mom was right – those candied walnuts look like the perfect topping.

    • It means so much when people tell me that they read and enjoy my stories – thank you Kristine! I am pretty sure I’m going to need to reprise that spinach jello salad on my blog…ha!

  36. OMG!!!! This is heavenly, Sarah. I will definitely snack on your (GranDma’s) candied walnuts non stop. Your light dessert is a home run; I can see myself skipping the turkey and eat 2-3 of them in one sitting. :)

    P.S. OMG!!! Love your note; it’s so adorableeeeee

    • Haha – That’s EXACTLY what I did over the holidays. My mom made a huge jar of my GranDma’s candied walnuts and I definitely ate more candied walnuts than turkey. Thanks, Pang!

  37. Your grandma sounds like an amazing lady!! Hand cured olives?? From her own olive trees?? Wow! Your mom sounds pretty awesome too! And I love her idea of topping these with candied walnuts! I so want one of these right now!

    • Right?! They also had huge orange trees over their patio. It was actually my grandpa who grew and cured the olives, but it was always a treat to eat holiday meals at their house! I wish I could send one of these cheesecake mousse cups to you!

  38. Hah, that note is ADORABLE. I may have written something similar to my sisters, thanking them for picking me up from school.

    Oh my gosh, I’ve burned SO MANY candied nuts in my kitchen, too! I also like to wander around and do the dishes while things are heating on the stove. I should stop doing that whenever I’m working with sugar. Hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving!

    • Haha – I feel like we all could take a cue from our thoughtful childhood selves who appreciated the value of a good handwritten note, right? Just think how touched your sisters would be if you thanked them for picking you with a handwritten thank you card now that you’re all grown up?! Bahaha – You sound just like me – always burning sugar while doing dishes – I’m the worst. I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving too!

  39. mira says:

    I love these mini cheesecakes Sarah, definitely worth the effort. And the homemade candied walnuts look perfect, I’ve messed up candied walnuts/pecans many times, so I totally hear you! Grandma’s recipes are the best, but most of the time I try to test some of my grandma’s old recipes, I spend way too much time doing it :) Pinning!

    • Thanks for sharing it Mira! I’m so glad to hear I’m not alone on the burned candied nut front. The thing about grandma’s recipes is that she never wrote detailed enough instructions so I’m always left trying to figure out what she meant by this or that. Ha!

  40. Liz says:

    Isn’t it amazing that the same person who cures their own olives can have a recipe for spinach jello? We are all so complicated!

    These little desserts look delicious and the packaging is a great idea. I usually don’t make dessert (having many bakers amoung my friends) but this is one I would take to share. It would also be great for a large party.

    Great post!

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