Inspiration can come from many different places, but I’ll admit that I get a lot of ideas from Disney. As a kid, my sister and I would often determine our Halloween costumes from the parades at the parks. (And back then, it was not easy to find Christmas lights for my light-up dragonfly costume in October!) So it should be no surprise that the original spark for this savory cheesecake with caramelized onions recipe would come from a Disney cruise ship.
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The original recipe I was inspired by was from the Animator’s Palette on the Disney Dream. It was a super unique restaurant where the room started black and white, and then became colorful throughout the meal. The food was all creative and interesting. And one of the dishes was a sesame shrimp and caramelized onion cheesecake. I made some adaptations so it has more of a brunch, but I’ve got to give credit for the concept.
What You Need to Get Started
- Produce: Onions
- Fridge: Cream cheese, Goat cheese, Parmesan grated, Butter, Eggs
- Pantry: Balsamic vinegar, Bread crumbs, Sugar
- Spice Cabinet: Black pepper
- Equipment: Frying pan, Stand mixer, Spring form pan, Cooling rack
How to Make Caramelized Onions
The main tip for making perfect, sweet, jammy caramelized onions is patience. Patience and low heat. Sure you can make them faster by adding sugar, or letting them brown up quicker. But the flavor and texture of perfectly and slowly browned onions is incomparable.
To start heat some oil in a frying pan on medium-low heat. I like caramelizing onions in olive oil. I think it imparts the best flavor and is less likely to burn than butter. Once the oil is hot, you can add in the onions. Season will a little salt and pepper and stir to get them all coated.
You will cook them, stirring occasionally for about 4-5 minutes, until they begin to get soft and translucent. Then, to speed up the softening process a bit, I like to steam them. Add just a bit of water and cover for another 4-5 minutes, which will keep more heat and steam in the pan.
After that cook uncovered. You can check the onions every five minutes or so until they are dark brown and very soft. Give them a stir each time, and if they are starting to stick to the pan, add a splash of water to deglaze and get all of those yummy browned bits off the pan.
Once they are the perfect softness and shade of dark brown, you will want to deglaze the pan one last time. And this time, you’ll use balsamic vinegar to add a little extra touch of sweetness to the onions. Turn off the heat, and let the onions cool to room temperature while you prepare the rest of the cheesecake.
Let’s Make a Savory Cheesecake
A savory cheesecake isn’t that different from a sweet one. Cheesecake itself is not super sweet, and has a really nice tang to it already. However, there are a few small swaps and adjustments you can make when you know it’s meant to be savory.
First is the crust. Instead of your standard graham or cookie crust, we are using bread crumbs and grated parmesan cheese. Combine them in a bowl with some salt and ground black pepper. Then add some melted butter, and press into the bottom of a spring form pan. Bake this by itself for about 10 minutes, to dry out the butter and start melting the cheese.
To make the cheesecake filling, the easiest method is to use softened cream cheese and a stand mixer. Whip up the cream cheese first, and then mix in the eggs one at a time. You’ll mix in the sugar, but it’s not a ton, only 1/3 cup in the whole cheesecake.
Once everything is mixed, add in the onions and goat cheese and mix on low to combine. Pour all of the filling on top of the crust in the pan. And it’s ready to bake!
You can bake this is a water bath, but I like to use a little bit of a cheating technique. I place a 9×13 pan on the lower rack of the oven, and fill it with boiling water. Then, I put the cheesecake on the upper rack to bake. This creates some steam, for a more even cook. But if you don’t have a large enough pan for a water bath, you can still make perfect cheesecake.
It cooks for about 40 minutes, and you’ll know it’s ready when the edges start to pull away from the pan and you can see some browning. The middle may have a little bit of a jiggle, but it shouldn’t look liquidy.
Cool the cheesecake all the way to room temperature on a cooling rack. Then transfer it to the fridge, covered in plastic wrap. It should chill overnight for the best results, but at least eight hours, so it’s cooled throughout. You can then remove the outer ring of the pan.
In the morning, quickly whip up the balsamic drizzle. You just cook the balsamic vinegar stirring occasionally, until it has reduced and thickened significantly. It should be only about 1/3 of the volume you started with. I like to have a heat-proof measuring cup nearby to check the reduction level. Let it cool slightly, and then drizzle over the cheesecake. Slice and serve!
Try something a little different for brunch, when you make this savory cheesecake with caramelized onions and balsamic!
How to Serve Savory Cheesecake
This cheesecake serves eight, but can be stretched to twelve for smaller portions that are more of a side dish than the main event. It’s best served immediately, or you can store it covered in the fridge for 3-4 days. To cover, add some toothpicks to the cheesecake, and place plastic wrap over those, so it’s not directly touching the cake.
We enjoyed this for breakfast, but you can also have it as a side dish with lunch or dinner, and it would make a perfect dish for brunch. Serve alongside something sweet like apple butter brioche cinnamon rolls. For a savory side, pair with lentil-pecan breakfast sausage.
It’s not brunch without cocktails! So try a fun one to complement this cheesecake, like a cinnamon, pear, and rum drink, or a chocolate turtle martini. For something a little bit lighter, try a raspberry lemon mojito.
Use Up Leftover Ingredients
- Cream cheese: Plenty of recipes use cream cheese! My favorite are oatmeal sandwich cookies, but you can also try bananas foster stuffed french toast.
- Balsamic vinegar: Whip up an easy summer strawberry caprese salad with vinaigrette.
- Onions: Another fun savory brunch idea is to make huevos rancheros! Try this variation with mango corn salsa.
Savory Cheesecake with Caramelized Onions and Balsamic
- 2 cups Sliced Onions 1/4-inch thick half rings
- 1 tsp Balsamic Vinegar
- 1/2 cup Bread Crumbs
- 1/2 cup Grated Parmesan
- 1/4 tsp Black Pepper
- 3 Tbsp Butter melted
- 16 oz Cream Cheese softened
- 3 Eggs
- 1/3 cup Sugar
- 4 oz Goat Cheese crumbly
- 1/2 cup Balsamic Vinegar
- crust: mix bread crumbs/cheese/pepper, added melted butter, press into pan bake 350F for 10 min
- filling: mix cheeses, add eggs one at a time, add sugar, add onions, pour into pan
- Boil water and add to 13x9 pan on lower rack, cheesecake to upper rack, bake 350F for 40+ min
- Chill to room temp then in fridge overnight, balsamic glaze in morning
Caramelize the Onions
- Heat about a teaspoon of olive oil in a large saucepan, and then add the onion slices and a pinch of salt. Cook on medium-low for 5-7 minutes until the onions begin to get translucent and soft. Add 1/4 cup of water and cover, cooking for another 5 minutes.
- Uncover, and continue cooking, checking the onions every ten minutes at first, and stirring them. They should start to yellow and shrink significantly. Once they start to stick to the pan and get brown, add a small amount of water and stir. Check every five minutes to prevent burning.
- After about 45-60 minutes, the onions should be a dark golden brown and have a jammy texture. At this point, add the balsamic vinegar, and cook while stirring to scrape up any brown bits stuck to the pan. Turn off the heat and set aside.
Prepare the Cheesecake
- Preheat the oven to 350F and begin to bring a kettle or medium pot of water to a boil.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, and black pepper until combined. Add in the melted butter, and stir until coated. Press evenly into the bottom of a nonstick 9-inch spring form pan. Bake 10 minutes, until slightly golden and dried.
- Meanwhile, add the cream cheese to the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low until fluffy. Then add the eggs one at a time and mix until combined. Add in the sugar and mix thoroughly.
- Add in the cooled caramelized onions and goat cheese, crumbling to break up large pieces. Mix on low for a few seconds, until the filling are mixed in and the goat cheese is incorporated.
- Pour on top of the pre-cooked crust, and spread out evenly. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the edges are starting to brown and pull away from the sides of the pan, and the middle is no longer liquid, although it may still have a slight jiggle.
- Cool in the pan on a cooling rack for about 2 hours, until completely cooled to room temperature. Then cover with plastic wrap and transfer to the fridge to chill overnight, or for at least 8 hours.
- Add the balsamic vinegar to a small saucepan and simmer on medium-high heat for about 20 minutes, until reduced to about 1/3. Set aside to cool, or refrigerate over night.
- Just before serving remove the ring of the spring form pan, and drizzle the balsamic glaze over the top of the cheesecake. Cut into eight slices and serve immediately. Store in the fridge for 3-4 days, and serve cold.
- Make ahead tip: You can make this cheesecake and chill in the fridge for 3-4 days. I suggest adding the balsamic drizzle just before serving for the best presentation. But it will taste great if you eat leftover slices that have already been drizzled.
- To store the cheesecake, after removing it from the pan, you can either store slices individually in sealed containers, or place toothpicks in the top of the cake, and use those to help keep plastic wrap off the surface.
- Gluten-free alternative: Use gluten-free breadcrumbs in the crust.
- If you don't like the taste of goat cheese, leave it out completely, or replace with a different crumbly cheese like feta for a milder flavor.