Introduction: Strawberry Pretzel Bars

About: I love to spend time in the kitchen to relax and feed those I love with great eats and treats.

If I could eat one flavor combination the rest of my life it would be salty and sweet. Salty Caramel ice cream, Goldfish crackers and M&M's, and now, thanks to Cook's Country, Strawberry Pretzel Bars.

When strawberries fill up our Ohio farmers' markets I make as many strawberry dishes as I can to take full advantage of the short season. I had heard of this dessert before, but since most versions usually contain a whipped topping product, that until a couple years ago contained no dairy, I had little interest.

Cook's Country's version using a white grape juice gelatin and real whipped cream to make a cream cheese filling is right up my alley! It's easy to put together, and looks great on a summer table. I hope you'll try it soon!

Makes 20 bars

Recipe from Cook's Country Magazine June/July 2005

Step 1: Prepare Pan; Gather Ingredients

Adjust an oven rack to middle position and heat to 350 degrees. Coat bottom of 9x13 inch baking dish with cooking spray.

You'll need:

2 1/2 cups finely crushed pretzel crumbs (I used my food processor to get really fine crumbs, alternatively, you can use a rolling pin or rubber mallet on the pretzels in a sealed plastic bag.)
12 Tbsp. unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), melted
3 Tbsp. light brown sugar
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
3 cups white grape juice
1 cup granulated sugar plus 3 additional Tbsp.
1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces cream cheese, cut into 1-inch pieces and softened at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes
3 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced, and chilled

Step 2: Make Pretzel Crust

Toss pretzel crumbs, butter, and brown sugar together in medium bowl until evenly combined. Press firmly into even layer on bottom of baking dish.

Bake until fragrant and slightly deepened in color, about 10 minutes. Cool completely.

Step 3: Make Gelatin

Getting the gelatin to just the right consistency before spooning it over the cream cheese is key. Look for the bowl of gelatin to ripple slightly when jiggled. If it wobbles in one mass, it is too solidified and will clump when layered on top of the fruit and cheese.

Sprinkle gelatin over 1 cup grape juice in small bowl. Let stand 5 minutes to soften.

Bring another 1 cup grape juice and 1 cup granulated sugar to boil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Remove pan from heat, add gelatin mixture, and whisk to dissolve any lumps, about 1 minute. Stir in remaining 1 cup grape juice.

Transfer mixture to medium bowl and refrigerate until mixture just begins to set, about 1 hour.

(My gelatin took about 75 minutes to reach the right consistency, after refrigerating it for 45 minutes, I started checking for the ripple described above every 15 minutes.)

Step 4: Make Cream Cheese Filling, Assemble

Meanwhile, beat heavy cream and remaining 3 tablespoons granulated sugar in medium bowl with electric mixer at medium-high speed until cream just holds soft peaks, about 2 minutes.

With mixer running, gradually add cream cheese, then whip until mixture is well blended, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary, about 3 minutes.

Spread mixture evenly over cooled pretzel crust and top with strawberries. Let chill in refrigerator until gelatin is ready to use.

Carefully spoon gelatin over strawberries, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until completely set, at least 4 hours or overnight.

Step 5: Serve

Cut into 20 squares and serve.

Bars can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.

Sorry I didn't photograph any individual slices, we were too busy eating!

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