This classic Orange Jello Pretzel Salad dessert features a crunchy pretzel crust, a creamy center, and silky top with mandarin oranges and orange flavored gelatin. A fun and delicious twist on traditional Strawberry Pretzel Salad. Perfect for a summer luncheon or anytime!
Jello Pretzel Salad Recipe
Pretzels, jello, and a sweet cream cheese center? To anyone who has never made or eaten this dessert, it probably sounds really strange, but trust me, it works! The crunchy pretzels, sweet jello, and a creamy, tangy center is a fantastic sweet and salty combination, and the layers are so pretty, too.
What is Pretzel Salad?
Well, it’s clearly not a salad at all, but really a light dessert that resembles cheesecake with a mousse like texture. Also very similar to a Lush dessert that everyone loves.
It has a salty crust (made from crushed pretzels, sugar, and butter), a creamy middle, and a silky fruit topping. Because of how rich it is, smaller servings are just fine, making it great for a crowd. Which is why it’s become a staple for so many people at holiday time, but mostly for BBQ potlucks and Sunday brunches all year long.
The recipe is believed to have originated in the 1960s when The Joys of Jell-O cookbook was published. And over the years there have been so many variations and a traditional southern (not midwestern!) dessert. All delicious! The original Pretzel Salad Dessert calls for strawberries, but this version with mandarin oranges is just as good.
Pretzel Salad Ingredients
Here’s what you’ll need to make this pretzel salad recipe:
(Scroll below to the printable recipe card for details and measurements.)
- Pretzels: Small salted pretzels (like sticks or twists), so they’re easy to crush up into crumbs.
- Sugar: Lends sweetness to the pretzel crust.
- Melted Butter: This helps bind the pretzel crust together as it bakes. We prefer unsalted butter since the pretzels are salty.
- Instant orange jello: We use regular jello, but sugar free can be substituted without having a huge impact on the flavor.
- Canned mandarin oranges: The orange segments and juice are both used. The juice should be chilled. Canned fruit make this dessert even easier because there’s no slicing or chopping needed.
- Cream cheese: Make sure it’s room temperature, so it will blend easily and become nice and smooth.
- Sugar: Adds sweetness to the creamy layer.
- Cool whip: Thaw in refrigerator and fold into cream cheese and sugar mixture.
Pretzel Salad Recipe Variations
- Try a different fruit. The original pretzel jello salad is made with strawberry jello and fresh sliced strawberries. Crushed pineapple is also delicious.
- Use whipped cream. If you’re not a fan of cool whip, you can swap it out for homemade whipped cream. You’ll need 1 cup heaving whipping cream beaten to stiff peaks. I would also highly recommend you add in some sugar (at least a 1/2 cup to the cream cheese) to replace some of the sweetness that will be missing.
How To Make Orange Pretzel Salad
There’s a lot of thumb twiddling in between steps to make this pretzel jello salad, BUT it’s super easy and totally worth the wait. Here’s a summary:
(Scroll down to the printable recipe card for details and measurements and don’t miss the video below.)
- Combine ingredients for the pretzel layer: In a mixing bowl, combine crushed pretzels, sugar, and melted butter.
- Cook pretzel crust: Press evenly into a lightly greased 9×13 pan. Bake at 350F for 10 minutes and remove from oven. Let cool completely.
- Make the jello: Whisk together the orange gelatin powder with 2 cups boiling water. Stir until completely dissolved. Then whisk in the reserved cold mandarin orange juice. Chill in the fridge for about 1 hour to partially solidify.
- Make creamy center: Beat the cream cheese and sugar together with a hand mixer until creamy. Using a spatula, fold in the cool whip.
- Build finished layers: Spread the creamy mixture evenly over the cooled pretzel layer, making sure it goes completely to the edges so the jello layer doesn’t leak through. Evenly place the mandarin orange segments on top. Chill for 30 minutes. Then pour the chilled orange gelatin over the cream cheese layer. Then, pour the jello over the cream cheese layer and refrigerate until completely chilled and set, at least 4 hours (or overnight). Slice and serve!
Tips for Success
- Ignore the directions on the box of jello. Ensure the Jell-o is the larger 6 oz size box and do not follow the instructions on the package. Follow the written recipe.
- Spread the cream cheese layer to the edges. Spread the cream cheese mixture over the top of the pretzel crust completely to the edges so the gelatin won’t leak through.
- Chill the can of mandarin oranges. Don’t skip chilling the mandarin orange juice or the jello might now set properly.
- Allow each layer to cool/chill completely before adding the next layer. If you proceed with the next layer before the previous once has time to chill, the layers can melt.
Video: How to Make Orange Pretzel Salad
- Make ahead. Orange pretzel salad is best when made at least half a day in advance. It needs at least 4 hours to set up, or preferably longer.
- Storing leftovers. It will keep for up to 3 days in the refrigerator. If you are making it ahead, be sure to use cool whip instead of whipped topping because it doesn’t soften the pretzels overnight.
More Lush Desserts:
Mandarin Orange Pretzel Salad
FOR THE PRETZEL CRUST
- 2 1/2 cups finely crushed pretzels
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter , melted
FOR THE JELLO TOPPING
- 6 ounce box orange gelatin
- 10 ounce can DOLE Mandarin Oranges , drained, juice reserved and chilled
FOR THE CREAMY FILLING
- 8 ounces cream cheese , softened
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 8 ounces cool whip topping , thawed
- Make the crust:Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 9×13 baking dish with nonstick spray.In a medium bowl, mix together the pretzels, sugar, and melted butter. Press evenly into the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Bake for 10 minutes, or until mixture is lightly toasted. Set aside to cool completely.
- Make the topping: In a medium bowl, whisk together the orange gelatin powder with 2 cups boiling water. Stir until completely dissolved. Then whisk in the reserved cold mandarin orange juice. Chill in the fridge for about 1 hour to partially solidify (but not too much longer or it will set too much and you won't be able to pour it.)
- Make the filling: In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugar with a handheld mixer. Fold in the whipped topping until thoroughly combined. Spread evenly over the cooled pretzel layer, making sure it goes completely to the edges so the jello layer doesn't leak through.
- Evenly place the mandarin orange segments on top. Chill for 30 minutes. Then pour chilled orange gelatin over the cream cheese layer.
- Refrigerate until completely chilled and set, at least 4 hours (or overnight). Slice and serve!