It’s berry season! My girls and I hit the strawberry fields last week and came home with tons of the most delicious, ruby-red berries. I’ve never seen berries so red, and my fridge has never seen so many berries in it at once. So, when life hands you lots of berries, what do you do? Well, around these parts, we make “salad”…and jam, but today we’re talking about “salad”.
Between you and me, I know it’s not a salad. But, tell that to the legions of fans of this summer treat and you’ll be quickly shot down. I’ve grown up on Strawberry Pretzel Salad, but I’ll never forget the first time a friend of ours made it and served it to my husband, as the salad. He looked at her like she was crazy, said a few choice words about her craziness, and then promptly ate his slice of salad, before asking for more.
It’s delicious, and if you’ve never tried this good, old-fashioned, pot luck favorite, this is the time. The crust is crunchy, salty pretzels, the middle layer is soft and cream cheesy, and the top is kid-approved strawberries and jello. Totally salad-like, right?
The traditional old-school version of this recipe uses frozen strawberries in syrup as well as frozen whipped topping for the middle layer. I wanted things a bit more on the fresh side, so I combined a couple of different components from different recipes, and came up with this version of famed Strawberry Pretzel Salad. This version uses lots of those amazing berries, and real cream.
First things first, I crushed up some pretzels and built my simple, salty, crunchy crust.
The crust is simply the crushed pretzels mixed with some melted butter and sugar. I pressed that mixture into the bottom of my 9×13-inch dish and popped it in the oven to bake for about ten minutes.
While that was baking, I started on my cream cheese layer. I sprinkled some unflavored gelatin over some water, and then heated some half-and-half on the stove top until it was hot, but not boiling. Then, I whisked in the softened gelatin and let it sit for a bit until it had cooled down to room temperature.
Once it was cool, I beat together a block of cream cheese, some sugar, and vanilla in my stand mixer. To that I drizzled in the cream mixture. I scraped down my bowl a couple of times as I beat the mixture, to make sure that all of the cream cheese was worked in, and once it was, I poured the cream mixture over my cooled crust.
This needed to go into the refrigerator for about an hour, until it was completely set.
On a side note, I learned through this process that the shelves in my refrigerator must not be level, because the jello set up with a definite lean to it. Bummer!
About twenty minutes before I wanted to add the next layer, I started with the strawberries. I dissolved a large box of strawberry jello in some boiling water, then added a cup of cold water to the mix, and allowed it to come to room temperature.
While it was sitting, I sliced up three cups of those amazing strawberries from the farm.
When the mixture was cooled, I stirred the berries into the jello.
I carefully spooned the berries and jello mixture onto the white layer, making sure the berries were all spread out nicely and evenly.
Then, into the fridge it went to set up! You could chill it anywhere from a few hours to overnight, so this is a great make ahead “salad”.
Don’t let its salad moniker fool you. You could absolutely bring this as dessert to the next BBQ you’re invited to, or just whip it up for family and friends. Most of the adults I’ve served it to get a bit nostalgic about it, having had it in their past. And the kids are equally as excited because, well, who doesn’t like Jello?
FRESH STRAWBERRY PRETZEL SALAD
- For the Crust:
- 2 cups of crushed pretzels
- 3/4 cup butter, melted
- 3 Tbsp. sugar
- For the Cheese Layer:
- 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
- 1/2 cup cold water
- 1 cup half-and-half
- 1 (8 oz) block cream cheese (I used reduced fat), softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- For the Strawberry Layer:
- 1 (6 oz.) box Strawberry Jello
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 cup cold water
- 3 cups sliced, fresh strawberries
- Preheat the oven to 400*F. Spray a 9×13 inch baking dish with nonstick spray.
- Combine the crushed pretzels, melted butter, and sugar in a bowl. Press the crust mixture into the bottom of the prepared dish. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the crust starts to toast up. Remove the crust from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Cool completely before adding the next layer.
- As the crust bakes, sprinkle the unflavored gelatin over the 1/2 cup cold water in a small bowl. Allow to rest for a minute.
- Pour the half-and-half into a small saucepan, and heat over medium-high heat until heated but not boiling. Remove the cream from the heat and whisk in the gelatin. Set aside and cool to room temperature.
- In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla together until it’s creamy smooth. Gradually beat in the gelatin-cream mixture until well combined, scraping down the sides, and stirring in the cheese from the bottom of the bowl when needed. The mixture will be very fluid.
- Pour the cheese mixture over the cooled pretzel crust, and place the dish in the refrigerator to chill for 1 hour.
- Combine the strawberry jello with the boiling water and stir until the powder dissolves. Stir in the cold water, and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.
- Stir in the sliced strawberries, and then carefully spoon the jello and berry mixture over the white layer in the dish, making sure to spread out the berries evenly.
- Cover the dish and allow to chill for 4 hours to overnight before serving.