My family loves pretzel salad. It is there at every family get together. I’m not kidding. Birthday parties? It’s there. 4th of July? Of course. Thanksgiving? You better believe it! And it’s not a dessert. It’s served right alongside all of the other main course side dishes. I don’t know when we started serving it but at least since ’86 because I’ve been eating it my entire life. It’s a popular potluck staple around here so I’ve also had some doozies. The worst was at a graduation party a few years ago. It was so bad that I remembered it. There were no defined layers and everything was just a soggy mess. I also distinctly remember when I’ve had really good pretzel salad like at my friend’s birthday party for her little girl. I told you I like it!
My mom makes great pretzel salad and so one day last year I asked her for the recipe because I couldn’t find mine. I asked her via a group text message in case someone else had the recipe handy. See my mom is still somewhat unpracticed in the art of texting, specifically the art of talk to text. The results were hysterical. Here’s just a snippet of the conversation.
By far, my favorite part is when Mom said “Sorry I helped”! Poor Mom but it still makes me giggle! And my nephew Mack won’t let his Grammie forget about it. Every time we have pretzel salad he asks her how many arms she used!
The key to a good pretzel salad is well defined layers and I’m going to share little tips and tricks for the perfect pretzel salad layer by layer. To start, you need a crunchy pretzel crust. To achieve the crunchy crust, you need to crush the pretzels well and I find using the little pretzel sticks makes for easier work. I just put some in a zip top bag and roll over the pretzels with a rolling pin to crush the pretzels. I’ve had a lot of pretzel salad where the pretzels weren’t crushed enough and the crusts fall apart and don’t create nice slices. I also add an extra tablespoon of sugar. The additional sugar helps the crust stay crunchy in the unlikely event of leftovers. Please forgive the picture quality but here’s some pictures of the crushed pretzels and the crust to give you an idea of the texture you’ll want. There’s a good mix of fine crumbs and larger pieces.
It’s hard to mess up the creamy middle layer. Just be sure to soften the cream cheese and fully thaw the Cool Whip. I’ve tried forcing a quick thaw of Cool Whip and it’s not pretty. You either have chunks of frozen Cool Whip or it falls flat and becomes runny. The second layer is also super important to creating the well defined layers. Be sure to spread the cream cheese layer all the way to the edges to create a good seal. If the gelatin runs down the sides while it’s still liquid-y you’ve ruined all of your hard work on the crust.
As for the top layer of Jell-O and strawberries, it can sometimes result in a runny mess. The solution? Add in another small box of Jell-O and always use frozen strawberries. The frozen strawberries help the Jell-O firm up more quickly. I also like to get sliced strawberries as they are easier to eat. Only have whole strawberries? No worries, I usually set mine out for a few minutes and quarter them up and put them back into the freezer until I’m ready to use. Also, maybe because I’ve always had it with strawberries, but to me the only way to go is with strawberry Jell-O and frozen strawberries.
The Perfect Pretzel Salad
- 2 cups crushed pretzels
- 3/4 cup butter, melted
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 8 ounce container Cool Whip, thawed
- 2 cups boiling water
- 3 – 3 ounce packages strawberry gelatin
- 2 – 10 ounce packages frozen strawberries
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix crushed pretzels with 4 tablespoons sugar then stir in melted butter. Press pretzel mixture in an even layer into a 9×13 pan and bake for 8 minutes. Set aside to cool.
- In a mixer, cream 1 cup sugar and cream cheese. Fold in Cool Whip and spread onto the fully cooled pretzel crust all the way to the edges creating a good seal. Refrigerate until you’re ready to top with gelatin mixture.
- Mix together boiling water and gelatin until fully dissolved. Stir in frozen strawberries and then pour over the cream cheese layer. Cover and refrigerate until gelatin is firm.