Layered Strawberry Pretzel Salad is a classic recipe that is a family favorite for potlucks. It starts with a salty pretzel crust for the bottom layer. Then a creamy, cool layer of cream cheese and whipped cream (this version is made without Cool Whip)! Finally, a sweet layer of fresh strawberries and jello.
It is a delicious, addicting combination that results in a dish loved by adults and children alike!
What is Pretzel Salad?
Strawberry Pretzel Jell-O Salad is a popular dish in the Midwest. It is the perfect combination of sweet, salty, creamy, and crunchy! With such great flavors, there is something for everyone, making it a delicious recipe option for holiday dinners, or really any family gathering!
I know it is a little confusing that it is called a salad when there is not a single piece of lettuce in the recipe. But in the Midwest, you can call it a salad if it has fruit mixed with Jell-O or whipped cream. (I think that is just an excuse to serve dessert as a side dish.)
Just like with my Cheesecake Salad, there is some debate about whether this recipe is a side dish or a dessert. My vote is to serve it with the meal so that I can have one of my favorite desserts, like mini New York Cheesecakes, as well! But then again, I also love it as an easy dessert. Let's just serve it for both!
Why You Will Love This Recipe
Fresh Ingredients: Fresh strawberries and freshly made whipped cream make this salad more flavorful than many similar recipes. The whipped cream is stabilized so that it is similar to Cool Whip, allowing the buttery pretzel crust to stay crunchy.
Make-Ahead: It takes about 4 hours for the Jell-O to fully set up. This is perfect because you can make this recipe ahead of time and not have to rush around at the last minute.
Serves a Crowd: One reason people love to take this salad to potlucks is that it can serve a lot of people! It makes 12 standard servings but can be stretched to serve up to 24 from one pan.
Pretzels - Both stick and twist pretzels work equally well. Just make sure that you purchase salted pretzels because the salt is what makes this recipe so delicious! If you don't have pretzels on hand you can substitute graham cracker crumbs.
Heavy Cream - I like using heavy cream so much better than Cool Whip in this recipe! You can avoid lots of unnecessary chemicals and it is much tastier!
Cream of Tartar - This ingredient is used to stabilize meringue and it works well in this recipe to keep the whipped cream from separating and making your pretzel crust soggy. It can be left out if you will be serving the same day and do not expect leftovers.
Cream Cheese - Soften your cream cheese to room temperature so that it blends smoothly into the whipped cream. Low fat cream cheese can be used but the filling will not be as firm.
Jell-O - Regular or sugar-free Jell-O can be used. You can also mix it up with different flavors of Jell-O.
Strawberries - If strawberries are in season then I love to use fresh fruit, but frozen sliced strawberries work well too. If you are using a different flavor of Jell-O then you can also use a different kind of fruit, like mandarin oranges, blueberries, or cherries.
Step One: Make the Pretzel Crust
- Crush the pretzels by hand or with a rubber mallet into ½-inch to 1-inch pieces. I like crushing them this way versus with a rolling pin or food processor because you can get larger pieces, which make a crunchier crust versus fine crumbs.
- Once crushed, combine the pretzels with melted butter and sugar. Press mixture into a 9x13 pan and bake. Cool completely before adding the cream cheese layer.
Step Two: Whip the Cream
- Beat the heavy cream using an electric or hand mixer until it starts to thicken, then add ¼ cup sugar, cream of tartar, and vanilla extract.
- Increase to high speed and continue beating. Once you can remove the beater and the peaks of the whipped cream stay in place, you have reached the "stiff peak" stage and your whipped cream is ready.
Step Three: Make the Cream Cheese Layer
- Blend the cream cheese and sugar in a large mixing bowl, until smooth.
- Gently fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture.
- Spread across the cooled pretzel crust. Make sure you spread all the way to the edges of the pan! You want to essentially create a seal between the cream cheese and the pan. This will keep the Jell-O from seeping down and getting the pretzel base soggy.
- Place in the refrigerator while you prepare the Jell-O layer.
Step Four: Make the Jello Layer
- Boil 2 cups of water in a medium bowl, then stir in the Jell-O until the powder has completely dissolved.
- Refrigerate the mixture for about 30 minutes, or until it thickens to an egg-white consistency.
- Stir in the strawberries, then pour over the top of the cream cheese.
- Refrigerate for 4 hours before serving.
Tips for the Best Salad
- Chunks of pretzels make a crunchier crust than pretzel crumbs, making a great texture to contrast the creamy filling.
- Keep your heavy cream in the refrigerator until you are ready to whip. Cold cream makes the fluffiest whipped cream.
- Soften cream cheese to room temperature. This will help it blend smoothly into the whipped cream without having any chunks.
- Press the cream cheese mixture all the way to the edge to seal it. This keeps the Jell-O from leaking into the crust and making it soggy.
- Chilling each layer before adding the next will help the dish set well, giving you 3 distinct layers.
- If you are using frozen strawberries, add them in immediately after dissolving the Jell-O. The frozen berries will thicken the hot liquid quickly.
- For recipes with no-bake fillings like this one, you can place the completed recipe in the freezer for 10 minutes before serving. This will help you cut pretty slices.
Strawberry Pretzel Salad is best enjoyed on the day it is made, as the crust gets softens the longer it sits. It is safe to store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
The Jell-O does not hold up well to long-term freezing. I recommend making this recipe on the day that you plan to serve it, rather than freezing it.
Yes, any thawed whipped topping can be used in place of the whipped cream, ¼ cup of sugar, cream, or tartar, and vanilla extract, though I prefer the flavor of freshly made whipped cream.
There are a few reasons your Strawberry Pretzel Salad may be runny. To help it set properly it is important to chill each layer before adding the next. Make sure that your whipped cream has stiff peaks before folding it into the cream cheese. And follow the recipe directions, not the package directions for the Jell-O.
This Strawberry Pretzel salad was the dessert for our Iowa state dinner. Check out the other recipes that we served at this dinner!
You can also view the web story for this recipe!
Let me know how you like this recipe by leaving a review! And follow along on Instagram @stateofdinner for behind-the-scenes and to be among the first to know when new recipes post!
Strawberry Pretzel SaladRecipe by:
- 3 cups pretzels sticks or twists (about 130 grams)
- 11 tablespoons butter, melted (160 grams)
- 3 tablespoons white sugar (38 grams)
- 1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream (354 ml)
- 1 cup granulated sugar (200 grams)
- ¼ teaspoons cream of tartar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 6 ounces strawberry Jell-O
- 2 cups boiling water (473 ml)
- 3 cups fresh strawberries washed and sliced
- Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
- Place the pretzels into a large Ziploc bag and pound them by hand or with a rubber mallet until they are broken into chunks. The chunks should be less than an inch in size but not crumbs.
- Mix the crushed pretzels, melted butter, and sugar in a medium bowl. Pour into a 9x13 pan and press gently into the bottom of the pan.Bake for 10 minutes, then set aside to cool completely.3 cups pretzels, 11 tablespoons butter, melted, 3 tablespoons white sugar
- Place whipping cream and cream of tartar in a mixing bowl. Using the whisk attachment for your electric mixer, mix on medium until the mixture begins to thicken. Then turn to high speed and whip for several minutes, until stiff peaks form.1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream, ¼ teaspoons cream of tartar
- In a separate bowl, beat the cream cheese mixture with sugar and vanilla extract until smooth. Gently fold in the whipped cream.1 cup granulated sugar, 8 ounces cream cheese, softened, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Spread the cream cheese mixture over the cooled pretzel crust, being careful to press against the edges of the pan. This will create a seal that prevents the Jell-O from dripping down and getting the crust soggy. Place in the refrigerator to set while preparing the Jell-O.
- Add strawberry Jell-O to boiling water and stir until the Jell-O granules have dissolved. Refrigerate until it has thickened to a consistency similar to that of egg whites (45-60 minutes). Add the strawberries and stir to combine. Pour over the cream cheese layer and refrigerate for 2-4 hours.6 ounces strawberry Jell-O, 2 cups boiling water, 3 cups fresh strawberries
This recipe was originally posted on September 9, 2020. It was updated in April 2022 to share additional tips and new pictures. Here is an old image of my kids helping me make this dish. Crushing pretzels is a fun way to get your kids in the kitchen!