Picture a love struck teenager sitting at a back table of the library in study hall chatting with one of her friends. This was me. It was 1997. We weren’t discussing the upcoming Basketball game or who was dating who. We were discussing recipes! I wanted to make a special Valentine’s Day meal for my love and my friend was helping me with the recipe for one of his all time favorites, a special treat that his mom made, Strawberry Pretzel Salad! Now, this friend was not just any friend, she also happens to be his sister and also responsible for connecting her older brother and me together and telling him to just ask me out! So this recipe was very special. It was written down by his mom and passed along to his sister, my friend. I had never even heard of such a thing – Strawberry Pretzel Salad – what is it? Is it a salad? Is it a dessert? Whatever it is, it was his favorite and she was walking me through step by step on how to make it! I remember messing it up and forgetting to bake the crust before adding the next layer, only to have floating pretzel coming up to the surface so I had to start all over. It eventually turned out ok and the dinner was wonderful! Steak, fried shrimp, baked potatoes, and this strawberry pretzel salad. I don’t make it very often, but when I do, I always think of that day in study hall, carefully reading over that special recipe that was hand written by his mom, who is now my mother-in-law and how my friend, who is now my sister-in-law walked me through all the steps of this dessert! I still seem to mess it up and I’m sure it’s not as good as his mom’s, but it’s the thought that counts and my husband still gets a big smile on his face when I bring him a big slab of it on a saucer. I’ve made a few changes to his mom’s original recipe over the years but the basics are the same. That sweet, salty, and buttery combination is still what makes this special! I call it Strawberry Pretzel Dessert because it is just too sweet and yummy to be considered a salad in my book, but whatever category you file it under, it’s a delightful treat!
Strawberry Pretzel Dessert
About 1/2 lb or 2 2/3 C crushed pretzels. I use a food processor and pulse until it is crumbly.
3 TBS Sugar
3/4 C melted butter
1 8 oz package of cream cheese – softened. I used the lighter Neuchâtel cheese.
3/4 C Sugar
12 oz heavy cream (my mother-in-law’s recipe calls for 2 C of Cool Whip, which probably sets up better. I just like all natural heavy cream, so use whichever you prefer)
Two large 6 oz boxes of strawberry Jell-O
2 C boiling water
1 1/2 C cold water
1 pint of strawberries – frozen or fresh – sliced
Crush Pretzels in food processor or in a large storage bag until they are small pieces.
Melt Butter in medium size bowl in microwave and add crushed pretzels and sugar to the butter and mix until combined to make your crust.
Press Pretzel crust into bottom of 9 x 13 inch oven safe pan.
Bake this at 350 Degrees F for 10 minutes and then remove from oven and set aside to cool.
While the crust is cooling, combine cool whip, sugar and softened cream cheese together in mixing bowl and beat together until combined. If using heavy cream, whip the heavy cream until it starts to form peaks and then gradually add the sugar and cream cheese and beat until all combined. Chill this in the fridge until your pretzel crust is completely cooled.
Spread the cream cheese filling mixture evenly over the cooled pretzel crust. I had some filling leftover that I transferred to a bowl and sealed and returned to the fridge for a wonderful treat later in the week – see below for details.
Chill this in the fridge or freezer if you have space for at least 30 minutes.
Once the filling mixture has chilled for at least 30 minutes, combine the 2 Jell-O packages with 2 C of boiling water and 1 1/2 C cold water in a medium bowl.
Let this chill in the fridge for 3 minutes or so and then add in sliced strawberries and pour it over the filling layer. I made the mistake this time of pouring the Jell-O layer over filling and letting it set up a bit in the fridge and then adding the strawberries on top. DON’T DO THIS! The Jell-O set up too much and the strawberries didn’t really sink into the Jell-O so they kept sliding off the top when I served it. Instead, add the strawberries to the Jell-O mixture while it’s still liquidy and then pour it over the filling mixture. You can use a spoon to gently arrange the strawberries evenly throughout the Jell-O before it sets up.
Chill the whole thing until Jell-O is set and ready to serve.
Notice how my strawberries aren’t really in the Jell-O jiggliness. I guess I need a little more practice on this one!
Now for that bonus treat with that leftover filling!!
I saved some of the leftover filling (cream cheese, sugar, heavy cream whipped together) and knew it would make the perfect fruit dip! So one night after the kids were in bed, I made a lovely little snack for my husband and I!
Shhhh!!! Don’t tell the kids!