We’ve always been big fans of the combination of sweet and salty, so for this pie we took inspiration from a Southern dish called Strawberry Pretzel Salad. To be clear, despite its name, Strawberry Pretzel Salad is not actually a salad. It’s a classic layered dessert with crushed pretzels on the bottom, cream cheese mixed with Cool Whip in the middle, and strawberry Jell-O on top. (If that doesn’t scream the 1960s to you, I don’t know what would.) It’s still super popular, especially around the holidays, and I’m not gonna lie, I think it sounds delightful.
We kept the pretzel crust because that’s just genius. For the creamy layer, we whipped cream cheese (though mascarpone is also fantastic here) with confectioner’s sugar, vanilla and a little cold heavy cream, until it turns light and airy. Think of it as a no-bake cheesecake.
Since it’s berry season in the Hudson Valley, we swapped out fresh strawberries for the Jell-O layer. We actually use the berries in two ways. We cook half of them down with a bit of sugar, cornstarch and lemon to make a zingy, jammy purée. The other half is sliced fresh on top. Our homegrown berries are incredibly sweet and taste like heaven, but we didn’t have quite enough for a whole pie. The good news is that even grocery store strawberries taste amazing in this pie.
This strawberry pretzel pie is incredibly easy to make. The most challenging part is the cooling time, but you can make several of the elements up to a day ahead.
Start the crust by blitzing up 4 1/2 cups of small pretzel twists and the sugar in a food processor. This will be enough crumbs for a 9-inch deep dish pie plate. Obviously a smaller or shallower dish will require less, so adapt as needed. Once you have fine crumbs, add in the melted butter and mix until everything is evenly moistened. Tip it into the dish and spread it out evenly with your fingertips. Build up the sides and use more pressure to pack the crumbs in tightly. Bake the crust in a 350ºF oven until it turns light golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Let the crust cool completely before adding the cream layer.
Make the cream layer by beating the cream cheese (or mascarpone) on high speed for a minute until it’s light and fluffy. If using a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment. Add in the confectioners’ sugar and beat it again on low speed, until smooth, scraping down the bowl once or twice as you go. Switch to the whisk attachment. With the mixer on low, slowly add the cream, a tablespoon or two at a time, beating after each addition to incorporate it. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the vanilla and increase the speed to high. Beat until it becomes billowy and whipped, about 2 more minutes. Transfer the mixture to the cooled crust and spread it in an even layer. Cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours, though you could leave it overnight.
To make the strawberry layers, add half the strawberries (about 3 cups) to a medium saucepan and crush them with a spoon or a potato masher until they become pulpy. If you have any berries that are overripe or not very pretty, use them for the purée and keep the lookers for the topping.
Add in the sugar, cornstarch, and salt and bring the mix to a simmer over medium heat. Keep it simmering for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until the sugar is fully dissolved and the mixture thickens. Turn off the heat and transfer the purée to a bowl and stir in the lemon juice. Allow it to cool to room temperature. You can make the purée up to a day ahead and keep it in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Spread the cooled purée on top of the cream layer and top it with sliced fresh strawberries. You can make a pretty pattern, fanning out the slices in concentric circles…
Or embrace the chaos and pile on the sliced berries and any other garnishes you might like. We used mint and red currants from our garden, as well as a few crumbled pretzels for extra crunch. Serve immediately or chill the strawberry pretzel pie in the refrigerator for up to 6 hours.
Strawberries and Cream Pretzel Pie
- 9-inch deep dish pie plate
For the pretzel crust:
- 4 1/2 cups small salted pretzels 180g
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 9 tablespoons unsalted butter melted
For the cream layer:
- 12 ounces cream cheese or mascarpone room temperature
- 3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar 90g
- 1/2 cup heavy cream cold
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or paste
For the strawberry layers:
- 2 pounds strawberries about 6 to 7 cups, hulled and thickly sliced, divided
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- Pinch of kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- Mint sprigs
- Red currants
- Crumbled pretzels
Make the pretzel crust:
- Heat oven to 350ºF and set a rack in the middle. In a food processor, combine pretzels and sugar until you have fine crumbs. Add butter pulse a few times until crumbs are evenly moistened. Tip into a 9-inch deep dish pie plate and press in an even layer on the bottom and up the sides of the plate. Bake until golden brown and set, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.
Make the cream layer:
- In the stand mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a large bowl and a beater), beat the cream cheese on high for 1 minute to soften. Add the confectioners’ sugar, and continue beating on low speed until combined. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat on high until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. (If using a stand mixer, switch to the whisk attachment). With the mixer on low, slowly add the cream, a tablespoon or two at a time, beating after each addition until the mixture is smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the vanilla and increase speed to high and beat until billowy and whipped, about 2 more minutes. Transfer to the cooled crust and spread in an even layer. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours, before topping.
Make the strawberry layers:
- Add half the strawberries (about 3 cups) to a medium saucepan and crush with a potato masher until pulpy. Add the sugar, cornstarch, and salt and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until the sugar is fully dissolved and the mixture thickens. Turn off heat and transfer mix to a large bowl. Allow to cool to room temperature, then stir in the lemon juice.
- Spread the cooled purée on top of the cream layer and top with sliced fresh strawberries and any other garnishes. Serve immediately or chill in the refrigerator for up to 6 hours.