I have a soft spot for the sweet, high-calorie dishes we Southerners call "salads", but which are really more like dessert. Since we call them salads, we can eat them as a side dish, pretend they aren't desserts, and still eat cakes and cookies later on. That's a win!
This Strawberry Pretzel Salad is one such dish. It's also one my Granny use to make very often, which makes it really special to me. The flavors give it a bit of a surprise - lots of these things sound like they wouldn't taste very good together. But the final result is a perfect blend of sweet, fruity, salty, and buttery.
This recipe calls for ingredients that complement but offset each other, to create a sweet-and-salty final dish. These are:
Strawberry Jell-o - this is the sweetest part of the salad. Strawberry gelatin gives the top layer its structure as we as providing most of the strawberry flavor. The Jello holds the actual strawberries in place.
Fresh or Frozen Strawberries - For a fresh fruit component,, we use actual strawberries. You can use fresh berries if you'd like; if you do, slice them first because they'll be too larger otherwise. I usually use frozen strawberries because they don't need to be sliced. You can aso put them into the Jell-o without thawing them, as long as they aren't in a big solid block. The frozen strawberries actually help the gelatin set faster. But either fresh or frozen works well and tastes delicious.
Cream cheese - the middle layer of the strawberry pretzel salad is a mixture of cream cheese and white sugar. The cream cheese gives the dessert its creaminess (that sounds obvious, but it's true), which is a nice middle ground between the sweet strawberry layer and the salty pretzel layer.
Cool Whip whipped topping - Cool Whip helps lighten up the cream cheese layer so it's less dense , The result is a sweet cream-cheese flavor but with fluffiness that's added by the Cool Whip.
Crushed pretzels - salted crushed pretzels create the bottom layer, which is the salty part of this dessert. You could choose to use unsalted pretzels if you don't like as much salt in the final prepared dish. I use stick pretzels, and crush them inside a Ziploc freezer bag with my rolling pin.
Butter - helps the pretzels stick together (and it tastes good!)
White sugar - adds sweetness to both the Cool Whip / cream cheese mixture, and to the pretzel layer.
This dessert has three distinct layers, and you have to make each layer separately. Here are the instructions for each one. You can find a more complete set in the recipe a the bottom of this post.
Layer 1 - Salty and Buttery
Mix together 2 cups crushed pretzels, melted ¾ cup butter, and 4 T sugar in a small bowl. Pat into a 9x12 baking dish, and bake at 400 degrees for 6 minutes. Set aside and allow the pretzel crust to cool.
Layer 2 - Light and Fluffy
Cream together softened cream cheese and 1 cup sugar. Then, fold in entire package of Cool Whip. Spread this cream cheese layer over cooled pretzel layer.
Layer 3 - Oh-So Strawberry!
Prepare Jell-O with 2 cups boiling water, stirring until completely dissolved. Add strawberries. Chill in the refrigerator until the Jell-O is just starting to gel, then pour over cream cheese layer. (If you pour too soon, the liquid Jell-O seeps past the edges of the Cool Whip, and ruins the pretzel layer.)
To finish, cover with Saran Wrap and refrigerate for an hour. If you let the Saran Wrap touch the Jell-O, it will help prevent that yucky skin from developing - but it can also pull the Jell-O layer away from the cream cheese layer. It's up to you, so try it and see what works best.
When to Serve It
As soon as possible!
Strawberry pretzel dessert is perfect for get-togethers with friends or families, as well as pot-luck dinners. It travels well as long as the distance and temperature aren't so far that there's time for it to melt. If it stays fairly cold, there's nothing that can our out, which is really nice.
It's a really good summertime dish, and it goes well with cook out entrees like burgers and hot dogs. It's also really nice to serve with holiday meals as a side dish or a dessert. Or, if you have a particularly savory meal, like my pork tenderloin with pan sauce, this helps to balance the flavors.
Serving this dish is pretty simple. If you're eating buffet style, just set out the dish and let people cut a square out, plop it on their plates, and enjoy! However, if you want to be more formal, you can place individual servings on a plate and top with a dollop of whipped cream and a fresh strawberry slice.
Garnish with a dollop of whipped cream or a fresh strawberry.
And remember, it's a salad so you can still have a "real" dessert!
Strawberry Pretzel Salad
- 1 package strawberry Jello large
- 2 cups salted pretzels crushed
- ¾ cup butter salted or unsalted
- 1 cups white sugar plus
- 4 tablespoons white sugar
- 8 ounces Cool Whip thawed
- 16 ounces frozen strawberries
- 8 ounces cream cheese softened
- Crush the pretzels by placing them in a Zip-loc bag and rolling over them with a rolling pin. Alternatively you can use a food processor.
- Mix together pretzels, melted ¾ cup butter, and 4 T sugar in a small bowl. Pat into a 9x12 baking dish, and bake at 400 degrees for 6 minutes.
- Cream together softened cream cheese and 1 cup sugar. Fold in entire package of Cool Whip. Spread over cooled pretzel layer.
- Prepare Jell-O with 2 cups boiling water, stirring until completely dissolved. Add still-frozen strawberries.
- Wait until the Jell-O is just starting to gel, then pour over cream cheese layer.
- Chill 1 hour or longer to completely set the Jell-o.