Strawberries & Cream Bars

After the creamsicle cloud pudding, I was asked by someone to try to replicate a Strawberry Jello Salad with Pretzel Crust recipe using all-natural ingredients. There are several ways I could have approached it, but here are the criteria I decided to stick with:

  • Use entirely all-natural ingredients
  • Replicate the original experience pretty closely
  • Try to keep it relatively light
  • Stick to ingredients that most people should be able to find

Strawberries & Cream Bars

Plan for about an hour of cooling or chilling time after each layer, plus a couple of extra hours after the final layer. You can, of course, make the first layer or two one night, then the final layer the next day. And this sits just fine overnight.

Crust

  • 2 cups crushed pretzels (one 8 oz bag of thin crunchy pretzel sticks, pulverized with a rolling pin or in a food processor)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted

Preheat oven to 400 F. Mix crushed pretzels with sugar, and then with melted butter. Press out lightly onto the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch pan with a spatula or the back of a spoon. Bake for six minutes. Cool.

When you press this out (and when you take it out of the oven) you’ll be tempted to think there isn’t enough butter in it and it won’t hold together. Fret not. If you add the next layer gently so it doesn’t stir things up too much, it’ll stabilize things so that the crust holds together perfectly.

Cream Cheese Layer

  • two 8 oz packages cream cheese, softened at room temperature
  • 2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 envelopes (.25 oz each) unflavored gelatin

Blend the softened cream cheese with the sugar and vanilla on the low speed of an electric mixer until thoroughly mixed. Yes, you’re essentially making cream cheese frosting in this step, but try not to eat it!

Sprinkle the gelatin on top of the water and allow to bloom while you heat the milk to scalding hot. Add the hot milk to the water and stir until the gelatin is dissolved.

Gradually add the hot milk and gelatin mixture to the cream cheese mixture, blending first on the low speed of your electric mixer until well-mixed and liquid, then at medium-high speed. Once it’s all added, blend for another three minutes. Mixture should be smooth and foamy.

Pour gently onto the cooled crust and place in the refrigerator until set. Yes, some of the pretzel bits will get stirred up into the milk layer no matter how careful you are. It’ll all be okay. Trust me (muahaha).

Strawberry Layer

  • one 1 lb package fresh strawberries, washed and chopped (or a package of frozen strawberries, thawed and drained)
  • 4 cups all-natural 100% juice fruit punch (total)
  • 3 envelopes (.25 oz each) unflavored gelatin

Scatter the chopped strawberries on top of the cream cheese layer.

Sprinkle the envelopes of gelatin onto one cup of the fruit punch. Allow to bloom while you bring the remaining three cups to a boil. Add the hot juice to the cold, whisking until the gelatin is fully dissolved. Put into the refrigerator, checking and stirring every 15-20 minutes, until fully cooled.

Pour gently over the strawberries. Cover, put the whole thing in the refrigerator (it’s going to be heavy and sloshing, so be careful), and chill until fully set. Optionally, if you wait until the gelatin mixture has reached a soft-set stage where it’s mounding slightly when spooned, that would probably make it easier to get the whole thing into the fridge without spilling anything.

 

Sorry the following slideshow is flash-based, but at least there are pics:

If you can’t see flash, here’s an imgur album instead.

 

Potential variations:

Instead of using my gelatin-stabilized cream cheese layer, do something more like the original. Only instead of using cool whip, use sweetened whipped cream.

Experiment with different juices and fruits.

Try a graham cracker crust.

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