263_strawberry-pretzel-salad  - The Julie Gritton Team

Strawberry Pretzel Salad

Happy Friday from the Julie Gritton Team!  With the weather more consistently resembling Summer, outside gatherings and barbeques are on the rise.  Although hamburgers and hotdogs come to mind, no barbeque is complete without sides and desserts.  If you have ever attended a barbeque in Sussex County, then you are probably familiar with the legend known as pretzel salad.  Is it a side?  Is it desert?  What about it is actually salad?  These questions are debatable.  What isn’t debatable is my husband’s insistence that it should be the official state desert for Delaware (sorry, peach pie).  With that said, my husband loves making pretzel salad and will bring it around to his coworkers and special events so that everyone can have an introduction to this culinary delight.  Although I find my husband’s pretzel salad to be delicious and I have never made it myself, I had proposed a friendly competition that we each make a pretzel salad and compare.  He agreed, and hence the competition in our household began.  Who made it better?  Did I completely mess up my first go around?  What is pretzel salad?  Well, let’s find out.

Pretzel salad consists of three separate layers of a pretzel mixture on the bottom, a cream cheese mixture in the middle, and a gelatin mixture on the top.  Although the gelatin can be any variety of flavors, the most traditional flavor you will find pretzel salad made with is strawberry.  When trying to create my own pretzel salad recipe, I worked around my personal taste preference.  Again, my husband makes good pretzel salad, but my personal criticism of it is that it has too much of a very common ingredient in it, Cool Whip.  I know that many love Cool Whip and I don’t dislike it enough to never eat it.  But, if other alternatives are possible (I’m looking at you, whipped cream), I’m going to choose that one.  Another thing about his recipe is that it does not have enough of another common ingredient that I absolutely love which is cream cheese.  Upon investigating his go-to recipe and making notes of my personal taste, I gathered the ingredients for his and my science experiment and it was on!

Collectively one evening we shared the kitchen and I pulled out the ingredients for the pretzel layer.  For this layer, I opted to try something different.  I had purchased Snyder’s of Hanover Sourdough Nibblers for mine and Snyder’s of Hanover Thins Pretzels for my husband’s.  Traditionally, most of the recipes I have tried have the thin pretzels, but I had opted to go with sourdough because I personally enjoy them more.  I had tried to break mine up with a knife since I was concerned about making them turn into dust if I put the pretzels in a blender for too long, but guess what?  The knife wasn’t cutting it!  Because of this, I decided I would just go for it and use the whole pretzels as-is and add extra melted butter to the layer.  After I measured out the pretzels, melted butter, and sugar, I mixed them all together in the oven-safe dish.  I then popped the dish into the pre-heated oven with a timer set for ten minutes and waited.

Well, after peaking into the oven at around the eight-minute point (I know, I probably shouldn’t have done that) I grew concerned because the layer wasn’t looking very cohesive.  I was beginning to regret my decision to not take my chances with the blender.  Upon reflection I concluded that the broken-up pretzels would have been better since the interior would probably soak up the butter more efficiently.  Due to this, I opted to try to manually break open some of the pretzels and mix up the layer to re-coat them with butter and sugar.  I then put the pretzel layer back in the oven for another four minutes as I hoped for the best.  When the timer went off, I pulled the dish out of the oven and observed that the butter appeared to be soaked up.  I looked at my husband, asking him if it was supposed to look this way and he assured me that it was.  With his reassurance I set the dish aside to allow the layer to cool and moved on to the next phase.

As the pretzel mixture cooled, I moved onto making the cream cheese layer.  For every pretzel salad I have ever eaten, this layer is crucial.  If not executed properly upon final completion, it can make the difference between the pretzel layer being a wonderful salty, sweet, buttery, crunchy mixture of delight or a horribly soggy mess (but still generally tasty).  Typically, this layer is made with a mixture of cream cheese, Cool Whip, and sugar but I chose to go a different path.  I am no food scientist, but I wanted to see how it would be if I upped the cream cheese ratio and used whipped cream instead.  Because I thought using already-made whipped cream would just melt, I decided to make my own whipped cream since I would be able to better control how stiff it would be.  After I finished making the whipped cream to the desired stiffness, I then took it upon myself to take the amount of cream cheese I decided to be sufficient and creamed the sugar into it.  When adding the sugar, I decided to do less than what my husband normally adds since I personally prefer my desserts to be less sweet.  After this step was completed, I then folded in the whipped cream.  Honestly, I’m not sure if I folded it in correctly, but I was pleased with the results.  After checking that the pretzel layer was completely cooled, I then added the cream cheese mixture to the top and made sure to have it completely cover and seal the edges around the perimeter of the baking dish.  

Because strawberry season is quickly approaching and is the traditional flavor for the top gelatin layer (you can always choose to use a different flavor of your choice) I opted to make this my final layer.  I sliced the strawberries and arranged them in a decorative fashion on top of the cream cheese layer as I waited for my tea kettle to whistle.  When the kettle was ready, I prepared the strawberry flavored gelatin according to the box directions.  Once I was pleased with my arrangement, I covered my dish with cling wrap as I completed making the gelatin.  I then placed both the so-far prepared pretzel salad and gelatin into the refrigerator until the gelatin had cooled enough pour over the cream cheese layer without melting it.  As soon as the gelatin had cooled, I removed the cling wrap from my pretzel salad and my husband helped me pour the gelatin on top of my pretzel salad as well as his.  All that was left was to leave both of our pretzel salads in the refrigerator overnight and see what the final results were.

Upon inspection the following morning, both pretzel salads looked appetizing.  Some of my strawberry slices I had arranged had floated to the top and my husband’s looked more unified since he had mixed his strawberry slices in with the gelatin before pouring his top layer.  When I cut into mine, I was pretty pleased.  Although it was tough to cut through the bottom (I really should have broken up the sourdough pretzels!) the layers were defined.  When my husband had cut into his, the cream cheese layer oozed a little bit more than mine but still looked scrumptious.  I took a bite out of mine and was happy with my first try.  I really enjoyed the crunch of my pretzel layer and overall enjoyed the cream cheese layer although I do think it could have used a little bit more sugar.  I tried my husband’s and I also really enjoyed his.  His cream cheese layer was creamier than mine and had the appropriate amount of sweetness.  After my husband tried mine, he described mine as being more savory and that the cream cheese layer was like biting into just cream cheese since he felt it wasn’t sweet enough.  In short, he preferred his tried-and-true recipe over my experiment.  When offered to our two kids, our son was very much a fan of the gelatin topping on both of our recipes and our daughter ate more of my husband’s version over mine.

The overall conclusion? My husband’s recipe still prevails.  I liked mine a lot and I think with a little tweaking, it would be perfectly tuned to my personal tastes.  However, I will take this loss as gracefully as possible and will leave the general pretzel salad construction to him.  I have included my general recipe with suggested adjustments at the end of this article if you would like to try at your own risk.  My husband’s recipe however will have to be left to mystery.  Until next time, stay safe, enjoy the lovely weather, and we on the Julie Gritton Team look forward to hearing from you soon!

Pretzel Salad Experimental Recipe

Ingredients List

Pretzel Layer

8”x8” Baking Dish

2 Cups Snyder’s of Hanover Sourdough Nibblers

2 Tbsp Sugar

1 Cup Melted Butter

Cream Cheese Layer

½ Cup Heavy Whipping Cream

1 Tbsp Sugar

1/3 Cup Sugar

12 oz Cream Cheese, softened

Jello Layer

3 oz Packet Strawberry Gelatin Mix

2/3 lb Strawberries, sliced

  1.  Preheat oven to 400°F.
  1.  Mix the Pretzels (I suggest you crush them), 2 Tbsp Sugar, and Melted Butter together in the 8”x8” Baking Dish.
  1.  Put the Pretzel Mixture in the preheated oven for approximately 12 minutes, mixing halfway, until the mixture has emulsified.
  1.  Remove from oven and allow Pretzel Layer to cool to room temperature.
  1.  In the meantime, whip heaving whipping cream and 1 Tbsp Sugar (or to desired sweetness) together with egg beaters until stiff peaks have been achieved to create Whipped Cream.  Set aside.
  1.  Cream Cream Cheese and 1/3 Cup Sugar (or to desired sweetness) together until well combined.  Take Whipped Cream and fold into Cream Cheese Mixture.
  1.  When folding is completed, spread the Cream Cheese Mixture evenly over the Pretzel Mixture making sure that the Cream Cheese Mixture creates a tight seal over the Pretzel Mixture.
  1.  Take Sliced Strawberries and arrange them as desired on top of the Cream Cheese Mixture.
  1.  Follow directions on box for Strawberry Gelatin and allow to cool but do not allow to begin to gel.  When the Gelatin has cooled, pour over the Cream Cheese Mixture layer.  Place the Pretzel Salad into the refrigerator until the Gelatin layer has gelled, approximately 4 hours, or overnight.  Enjoy!