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Strawberry Pretzel Salad: Summer Delight or Christmas Treat?

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Strawberry Pretzel Salad: Summer Delight or Christmas Treat?

Here at Farmers’ Almanac, we love exploring many of the different regional foods enjoyed by our readers and learning about their history and origin. Recently, we asked what your favorite go-to pot luck treat was, and Strawberry Pretzel Salad was mentioned over and over. So we decided to do some culinary digging to learn about this sweet and salty favorite (which is ours now, too!).

What is Strawberry Pretzel Salad?

Strawberry Pretzel Salad is not a salad at all, but a light dessert that resembles a cheesecake with a sweet-salty crust made with pretzels, butter, and brown sugar, and a fruit topping. For many, this dish is a staple at the holiday dinner table but can be found at potlucks and barbecues all throughout the year. Second, pretzel crust is so delicious, we think it should be the base of every dessert! Lastly, the recipe is said to have originated in a 1960s cookbook called The Joys of Jell-O™. From there, it took off and became an iconic southern tradition, but it’s catching on in all parts of the country.

With its pretty red and white layers, this dessert definitely looks festive enough for the holidays, but it’s light and airy enough to serve in warm weather months as well.

Strawberry Pretzel Salad Recipe

For the Crust:

2 cups pretzels (small pretzel sticks or mini twists work best)
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3/4 cup butter, melted

For the Filling:

12 ounces cream cheese, softened
12 ounces whipped topping
1 cup sugar

For the Topping:

2 6-ounce packages of strawberry gelatin dessert
2 cups water, boiling
1 pound (16 ounces) strawberries, fresh (in summer) or frozen (in winter)


Preheat the oven to 375º F. Prepare crust: Place the pretzels in a resealable bag and crush them with a rolling pin. Make sure to crush the pretzels until they’re fairly fine, but still a little bit chunky. Pour into a large bowl. Stir in the brown sugar to coat the pretzels and then pour the melted butter over the top, making sure to mix well.

Press the crust mixture into an ungreased 9×13 baking dish and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until it is lightly toasted and firm. Cool completely before adding the filling.

To make the filling:  Beat the cream cheese and sugar until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Fold in the whipped topping and spread the mixture over the cooled crust, ensuring to cover the pretzel crust completely to seal out the gelatin layer. Allow cream cheese mixture to chill and set up in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before adding the topping.

As the crust and filling are chilling, chop the strawberries into halves or quarters (unless you’re using pre-sliced frozen strawberries, in which case, you can simply add them directly to the dissolved gelatin. Just be sure they are not in sweetened liquid).

For the Topping: Dissolve the strawberry gelatin in the boiling water. When dissolved, add the strawberries and coat completely in the liquid (note: if using frozen strawberries, reduce boiling water by 1/4 cup). Chill briefly for about 10 minutes until partially set but still runny.

Once the crust and filling are chilled, pour the strawberry topping over the cream cheese mixture and refrigerate until completely set, about 2 hours, or overnight. Slice and serve! Makes 12 servings.

Note: Refrigerate any uneaten portion, however, this recipe does not keep for very long and should be consumed within 24 hours for best flavor.

Do you serve this iconic dessert as a summer treat or at Christmastime? Tell us in the comments below!

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1 Susan Higgins { 05.28.19 at 12:09 pm }

Hi D Smith, Our apologies for having to install CAPTCHA, but if you saw the horrific posts from spammers (using poor language, fake links, and the like), you would agree it’s a necessary evil. Thank you for your note about Cool Whip.

2 D. Smith { 05.24.19 at 11:24 am }

WHy would anyone in their right mind use Cool Whip??? A bunch of chemicals mixed together to make you think it’s whipped cream, when it’s sooooo easy to mke REAL whipped cream. It just never made sense to me. I’ve been making this pretzel salad for at least 40 years. In fact, it was served at one of my bridal showers in 1974. No cool whip back then and that’s why my family liked it so much. In fact we used real farm cream from some people who milked who lived just outside of my small home town at the time. Nothing artificial except the jello and I don’t know how to get around jello – I’m sure you can make homemade jello I just never knew how and didn’t have the time to find out. I figure one artificial ingredient was plenty.

NOTE TO THE EDITORS: If I have to complete one of those captcha things with each and every comment, I won’t be back very often. They are a pain in the keister. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. Most websites who make you use CAPTCHA, I just click out and move on. You might keep that in mind. And then the blasted thing expires and you have to do it over again…….my goodness. No wonder people from my generation are leaving the world of computers behind. What a rackette.

3 Betty Babb { 09.12.16 at 1:40 pm }

At our monthly Church Potluck….this is one of the most popular deserts! I hear lot’s of people saying…..”What is this and who made it?” Love to say… me me!

Thank you for posting the recipe here so I can share it easier!

4 Alyson Neely { 04.02.16 at 12:57 pm }

My mom used to make this dessert but slightly different and it’s the BEST desert I’ve ever had. She used a tub of Cool Whip and whipped everything together, light and fluffy, folded in strawberries, no brown sugar, then put it in the freezer. We kept it in the freezer and it could stay good a couple of days (if only one person was eating it)! This is so good, it’ll almost make you slap your grandmother! Almost!

5 Guinevere Wright { 03.26.16 at 10:20 pm }

Folks almost lost their minds when I made this!

6 Jason Persun { 03.26.16 at 1:31 pm }

Not just a Southern favorite. Favorite here in PA too.

7 Dee Loutsenhizer { 02.10.16 at 12:24 pm }

I make mine with pineapple instead of strawberries. I drain a 20oz can of pineapple chunks or crushed pineapple(preferred) and use the juice and cornstarch to make a topping, instead of Jello, which I dislike. It is requested at all the summer gatherings I attend with family.

8 Laura { 12.21.15 at 1:07 pm }

I remember having this years ago at our pastor’s house. It was yummy.

9 Preston { 12.18.15 at 5:41 pm }

I’ve made this dish for years, but with some minor variations. The crust in this article is pretty much the same as in my family recipe sans the brown sugar. The filling, I use just 8oz of cream cheese and a 9oz tub of Cool Whip. It is important to make sure the sides are completely sealed with the filling or the Jell-O topping causes the crust to get soggy.

Regarding the topping on this recipe, that sounds like a lot of Jello and not enough strawberries. My recipe calls for one 6oz box of Jell-o to 20oz of frozen sweetened strawberries. (I’ve used stlightly more depending on how they come, but I err to having more than fewer strawberries.).

10 Pam Goshorn { 12.16.15 at 10:02 am }

I just happen to have the Joys of Jell-O cookbook, published by General Foods Corporation. (And no, I do not, and never have, lived in the South!) Sorry, there is no such recipe in that book. It did have a similar recipe for the topping, however.

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