Strawberry pretzel salad is a three layered dessert that consists of a pretzel crust, a no-bake cheesecake filling, and a strawberry jello topping.
- Skill Level: Beginner
- Components Used: No-Bake Cheesecake Filling
If you aren’t familiar with this dessert, you might be wondering “how is this a salad?” All I can say is that this is what it is most commonly called! Though I have also heard it referred to as strawberry pretzel bars, strawberry pretzel dessert, and strawberry pretzel delight!
This is one of those really classic church cookbook, potluck style recipes. And I think it became really popular around the 50’s to start calling anything that involved fruit with gelatin and/or whipped cream, and especially if it was layered or molded, a “salad.”
What is Strawberry Pretzel Salad?
Strawberry pretzel salad involves three distinct layers: a pretzel crust, a cream cheese filling, and a strawberry jello topping.
The contrast of the crunchy and salty crust, with the creamy cream cheese filling, and the bright and tart strawberry jello topping hits every flavor and texture note!
What Makes this Version the Best?
There are many recipes out there for this dessert and most all of them are the same. And they’re good! However, I am always missing a bit of tartness that I think it needs to really brighten it up.
In my version I add lemon juice and zest the the cream cheese filling. This acidity really enhances the tartness of the strawberry layer and in my opinion makes it so much better!
Most classically the cream cheese filling also calls for a store bought whipped topping, like cool whip, to be folded into the cream cheese. However, it is just as easy and even more delicious to use heavy cream to set the filling. Because, why not?!
How to Make Strawberry Pretzel Salad
The dessert is made essentially in 3 parts: the pretzel crust, the cream cheese filling, and then the jello layer.
However, the order in which you do this is going to make the work flow so much easier.
I start by mixing the jello so it has time to cool because you do not want to add it when it is warm at all. Then I make the crust, then the filling, then chop and add the strawberries.
Once you have the whole dessert assembled you want to let it chill completely before slicing it. This should take about 2 hours, but longer is always better. This way you can maintain those perfect layers.
How to Keep the Crust from Getting Soggy
One of the most common issues people have with this dessert is the pretzel crust getting soggy. Here are my tips to prevent that.
- Bake the crust until it is firmly set and toasted.
- Make sure you cool the crust completely before adding the cheesecake layer.
- Do not let the dessert sit out of the fridge. The cheesecake layer will start getting softer and will start making the crust soggy!
For the Jello Layer
- 2- 3 oz (85 gr) packages of strawberry jello
- 2 cups (480 ml) boiling water
- 1 lb (450 gr) strawberries (*see note for using frozen)
For the Crust
- 4 heaping cups (150 gr) Pretzels
- 6 tbsp (85 gr) butter, melted
- 1/4 cup (50 gr) granulated sugar
For the Cream Cheese Layer
- 8 oz (227 gr) cream cheese, room temperature
- 1/2 cup (100 gr) sugar
- 1 tbsp lemon zest (*optional)
- 2 tbsp lemon juice (*optional)
- 1 cup (240 ml) cold heavy cream, whipping cream, or double cream (cannot be half and half or light cream, see note for using cool whip)
- Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C).
- Mix Jello: Start by mixing the jello so it has time to cool. Pour the powdered jello into a medium mixing bowl. Pour in the boiling water and whisk together until well combined. Make sure all of the powdered jello is mixed and dissolved. Set aside while you work on the other layers.
- Make Crust: Place the pretzels into a large ziplock bag and use a rolling pin to roughly crush them. Alternatively, you could put them in a bowl and break them up by hand. Putting them into a food processor doesn't work well, I have found. You don't want them powdered, just nicely broken up like in the video and pictures in the post. Pour the crushed pretzels into a mixing bowl and add the sugar and the melted butter for the crust. Stir until well combined.
- Bake Crust: Pour the prepared crust mixture into an ungreased 9x13" (23 x 33 cm) pan. This can be glass, ceramic, or metal. However, I prefer to use glass so you can see all of the layers. Spread the crust mixture out evenly in the pan (it will just barely cover the bottom) and use the bottom of a measuring up to firmly press it down until it is in a thin even layer. Bake at 350 F (180 C) for about 12 minutes until set and toasted. Allow to cool completely before adding the filling.
- Make Cheesecake Filling: In a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer, or in the bowl of a stand mixer fit with a paddle attachment, whip the cream cheese on medium speed until fluffy- about 30 seconds. Add the sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest (if using) to the bowl and mix until incorporated. Add the cold heavy cream and mix on medium/high speed until very thick and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally.
- Add Filling to Crust: Once the crust is completely cooled, dollop the filling over the top of the crust and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly over the crust, making sure you go all the way to the edge of the pan to create a seal so the top layer doesn't seep through to the crust. Place in the refrigerator.
- Cut Strawberries: Cut the tops off the strawberries and slice into thin strips. Take the pan out of the refrigerator. To top, you have two options: you can stir the strawberries into the jello completely and then pour that on top of the cream cheese layer. Or if you want to place the strawberries individually so they are nicely lined up like I did in the video, I recommend placing them first and pressing them gently into the cream cheese filling and then very carefully pouring the jello over the top. (Note: I placed them after pouring the jello in the video, but this way is much easier).
- Chill: Place the strawberry pretzel salad in the refrigerator to set completely, for at least 2 hours, before slicing.
- Store uneaten dessert covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Avoid leaving it sit out of the refrigerator for too long or the crust starts to get soggy.
*The lemon juice and zest is optional and is not called for in most versions of this recipe. I find that it really brings out the brightness of the strawberry topping.
*Traditionally, frozen cool whip topping is used instead of the heavy cream. If you prefer to use that, use an 8 oz container and thaw it before mixing it in. You do not need to mix as long as you do when using heavy cream.
*Some versions of this recipe call for frozen sliced strawberries with sugar to be used instead of fresh strawberries. If you want to use those, you will want to use 2- 10 oz packages and thaw them in the refrigerator before mixing into the jello.
*My biggest tips for making sure the crust does not get soggy is to make sure it is completely cooled before adding the cream cheese layer and do not leave it out of the refrigerator.