Strawberry Pretzel Squares (AKA Strawberry Pretzel Salad)

Strawberry Pretzel Squares The English language is a funny thing. I never understood why some dishes that are sweet are called “salads”. It’s off-putting. It’s in the name. If you hear “strawberry pretzel salad”, what do you picture? I imagine a bowl of salad greens with strawberries and pretzels. No, thank you. Other examples of such salads are Jello salad, snickers salad, cookie salad and the list goes on and on.
Strawberry Pretzel Squares Strawberry Pretzel SaladBut after reading numerous blogs all featuring the same recipe and all with glowing reviews of how they grew up with this particular dish and how it’s everyone’s favorite at their family gathering, I broke down and had to try it. And after trying it myself, I can see why people would like it, especially with fresh strawberries. The pretzel crust is salty and crunchy, the cheesecake layer is smooth and creamy and the strawberry jello layer is fruity and refreshing. You pretty much hit every flavor profile. The best part? It’s super easy and the ingredient list is very short. Oh! Also, you only have to bake the pretzel crust for 10 minutes so your kitchen doesn’t get too hot. It’s a serious win-win-win situation.
Strawberry Pretzel SaladStrawberry Pretzel Squares (AKA Strawberry Pretzel Salad)

Ingredients:

2 c. finely crushed pretzels
1 cup and 3 tbsp. sugar, divided
¾ c. salted butter, melted
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
8 oz. cool whip, defrosted
2 c. boiling water
1 – six ounce package strawberry jello
1 ½ c. cold water
4 c. hulled and sliced strawberries

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400˚F and prep a 9×13 inch baking dish by spraying the inside with nonstick spray.
  2. In a bowl, stir the pretzel crumbs and 3 tablespoons of sugar until well mixed.
  3. Pour the melted butter over the pretzel mixture and stir until evenly coated.
  4. Press the pretzel crumb mixture into the bottom of the baking dish, pressing it down with a spatula to form an even layer.
  5. Bake for 10 minutes, or until golden brown and cool completely.
  6. In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese and 1 cup of sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Fold in the cool whip and spread evenly over the cooled pretzel crust. (Wipe off any cream cheese mix you get along the sides of the glass pan for a clean presentation later on.)
  7. Refrigerate crust while you prep the strawberry layer.
  8. In a large bowl, mix the strawberry jello mix with the boiling water. Stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Stir in cold water and refrigerate for about 1½ hours. (At this point, the mixture should have the consistency of egg whites.)
  9. Stir in fresh strawberries into the jello mixture and carefully pour over the prepared cream cheese layer and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or until the strawberry layer is set. If you wiped the sides clean as suggested in step 6, the strawberry layer should set to a glass-like finish.

Recipe adapted from Brown Eyed Baker.

Honey Caramel Cheesecake with Crispy Meringue Bits and Almonds

Honey Caramel Cheesecake 7This is the prettiest dessert I’ve plated so far. I’ve never really mastered the art of plating, but for some reason, I couldn’t help myself when arranging this dessert. It might be because there are so many components to it, or because I was just excited to do something intricate for once, but this one is a stunner for sure, both on the eyes and on the palate.
Honey Caramel Cheesecake 4Honey Caramel Cheesecake 2Sometimes I look at certain recipes and wonder, “Uh…. Yeah, right. Who has the time for that??” I’m thinking this recipe will probably give a lot of people the same thought. I honestly set out with a simple recipe in mind: a honey caramel swirled cheesecake topped with meringue bits. But when I tried this new method of making meringues, I botched the first try and baked the sugar for way too long which resulted in caramelized sugar bits. Luckily, the second time was successful. I have to say, it was worth the trouble because I’ve always had a tough time making meringues that don’t crack or stay perfectly white and this method worked wonders.
meringue flowers caramel shardsIt’s crunchy, crispy, creamy, smooth, nutty, sweet, salty, rich and light. It’s pretty much a party in your mouth.
Honey Caramel Cheesecake 1
Honey Caramel Cheesecake with Crispy Meringue Bits and Almonds

Ingredients:

Honey caramel cheesecake (recipe below)
Honey caramel (recipe below)
Crispy meringue bits (recipe below)
Caramelized sugar bits (recipe below)
Almonds, chopped into small pieces
Maldon sea salt

Instructions:

  1. Trim the edges of the cheesecake to get neat sides.
  2. With a sharp knife, cut cheesecake into long strips, wiping the blade of the knife down after each cut.
  3. Top each cheesecake pieces with crisp meringue bits, caramelized sugar bits, almonds and sea salt.
  4. Optional: put dollops of honey caramel around the edges of the plate and top with sea salt and almond pieces.

Honey Caramel Cheesecake

Ingredients:

½ c. butter, softened
½ c. sugar
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract, divided
¼ tsp. kosher salt
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
14 oz. sweetened condensed milk
1 egg
6 tbsp. heavy cream
honey caramel (recipe below)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven 350˚F and line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, combine butter, sugar, flour, vanilla and salt until a dough forms.
  3. Press dough into an even layer on the bottom of the pan.
  4. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix cream cheese and sweetened condensed milk until homogenous.
  5. Add egg and heavy cream and mix until combined.
  6. Pour cream cheese mixture on top of the flour mixture.
  7. Put dollops of honey caramel and swirl with a toothpick to form swirls.
  8. Bake 20-25 minutes in a preheated oven until cheesecake is set.
  9. Cool on a wire rack and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.

Honey Caramel

Ingredients:

½ c. honey
¼ c. heavy cream
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
½ tsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp. kosher salt

Instructions:

  1. In a saucepan over medium high heat, combine honey and cream.
  2. Cook until mixture reaches 238˚F.
  3. Remove from heat; stir in butter, vanilla and salt.
  4. Cool, and refrigerate if storing for future use.

Crispy Meringue Bits

Ingredients:

150 g. superfine sugar
75 g. egg whites, room temperature
1 pinch of cream of tartar

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400˚F and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Spread sugar in an even layer over parchment.
  3. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, add the egg whites and the cream of tartar.
  4. Place sugar into the oven and bake until the edges of the sugar begins to melt but not brown, about 5 minutes.
  5. Once the sugar begins to melt, turn the mixer onto high.
  6. Remove baking sheet from the oven and the eggs whites should be foamy.
  7. Turn the mixer to medium high and slowly pour the hot sugar from the parchment paper into egg whites.
  8. Once all the sugar is added, turn the mixer onto high and mix until stiff, shiny peaks form.
  9. Reduce oven to lowest setting 140˚F.
  10. Line another baking sheet with parchment paper.
  11. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a closed star tip, make small flower shapes until you have used up all of the meringue.
  12. Bake about 10-20 minutes until they are crisp and hollow.
  13. Turn off oven and let it dry out for about 30 minutes to an hour.
  14. Remove meringues out of the oven and store in a cool, dry place.

Caramelized Sugar Bits

Ingredients:

50 g. superfine sugar

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400˚F and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Spread sugar in a thin even layer over parchment.
  3. Place sugar into oven until it becomes liquefied and golden brown.
  4. Remove and let stand until completely cool.
  5. Break into small shards of crisp sugar.

Toasted Marshmallow Caramel Banana Cake with Cheesecake Frosting

Toasted Marshmallow Caramel Banana Cake with Cheesecake Frosting 2Wordy, I know.  This journey of mine started when I was trying to figure out what to post next for the blog.  I have this great caramelized banana bread recipe that I use and was going to blog about that.  But right when I was about to start baking, I realized that banana bread recipes are a dime a dozen on the internet.
Toasted Marshmallow Caramel Banana Cake with Cheesecake Frosting 4Why would I bore you with something that has been done for the umpteenth time?  No, I needed to do something different, maybe even drastic.  That’s when I spotted a bag of caramel bits that I picked up at Target a few months ago and the cogs in my brain started turning.

Toasted Marshmallow Caramel Banana Cake with Cheesecake Frosting 6It starts with a soft caramelized banana cake.  What makes it “caramelized” banana cake?  Because you caramelize bananas with sugar and melted butter until it starts to smell like banana heaven in your kitchen.  Then you mix your caramel bits into the batter to increase the caramel factor.
Toasted Marshmallow Caramel Banana Cake with Cheesecake Frosting 5Next, the cake layers are sandwiched with cheesecake frosting which is essentially my version of a cream cheese frosting only it is extra thick and tastes very much like cheesecake.  Then the entire cake is surrounded by marshmallow frosting which you toast with your kitchen torch (or in your oven if you don’t have one) and as if you really needed more, you finish it off with a caramel drizzle.
Toasted Marshmallow Caramel Banana Cake with Cheesecake Frosting 1Sweet, gooey, soft, toasty, and slightly chewy (from the caramel bits) this cake is definitely worth making for a celebration… or for no reason because it’s your kitchen and you can bake if you want to. 😉
Toasted Marshmallow Caramel Banana Cake with Cheesecake Frosting 3Toasted Marshmallow Caramel Banana Cake with Cheesecake Frosting

Makes one 6 inch 4-layer cake

Caramelized Banana Cake

Ingredients:
2 oz. unsalted butter
¾ c. brown sugar
3 medium brown bananas
½ c. buttermilk
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. cake flour
¾ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. kosher salt
8 oz. caramel bits

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚F and prepare four 6 inch cake pans by spraying them with non-stick spray and lining the bottom with parchment paper.
  2. In a small pot, melt the butter. Once the butter melts, add the brown sugar and bananas and cook for 4 minutes.  Cool mixture for 10 minutes before transferring mixture into a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  Beat for 2-3 minutes until mixture is cool and combined.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk buttermilk, vegetable oil and eggs until homogeneous.
  4. In another bowl, mix both kinds of flour with baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
  5. With the mixer on low, add half the buttermilk mixture followed by half the flour mixture.
  6. Finish the batter by alternating the buttermilk mixture and flour mixture again.
  7. Fold in the caramel bits into the batter.
  8. Divide the batter evenly between 4 pans and bake about 12-15 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.
  9. Let cool for 10 minutes in the pan and then remove from pan and let cool completely on a wire rack.

Cheesecake Frosting

Ingredients:
10 oz. cream cheese
4 oz. unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ c. powdered sugar
8 oz. mascarpone cheese
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 pinch of kosher salt

Instructions:

  1. In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat cream cheese and butter until combined.
  2. Add the powdered sugar slowly, followed by the mascarpone cheese, vanilla extract and kosher salt.  Do not overbeat the mascarpone cheese it will separate if you do.

Marshmallow Frosting

Ingredients:
4 large egg whites
¾ c. sugar
¼ tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Instructions:

  1. In a metal bowl of a standing mixer, whisk egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar over a small saucepan with simmering water.
  2. Whisk until sugar is dissolved and whites are slightly foamy and warm to the touch, about 2-3 minutes.
  3. Transfer bowl to the standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat starting from low speed and gradually moving to high speed until stiff and glossy.
  4. Mix in the vanilla extract to finish the frosting.

Caramel Drizzle

Ingredients:
3 oz. caramel bits
¼ c. heavy cream

Instructions:

  1. In a small saucepan, melt caramel bits with heavy cream until a thick sauce forms. If the sauce is too thick, feel free to add more heavy cream.

Assembly:

  1. Frost each layer of banana cake with cream cheese frosting, ending with a layer of banana cake. Make sure you smooth the sides as well as you can. (As shown above.)
  2. Generously frost the top and sides with marshmallow frosting using your spatula to make swirl patterns along the cake. This will make a more impressive cake when you toast the frosting.
  3. Toast the frosting with a torch (kitchen, butane, or propane your choice) until golden brown.
  4. Drizzle caramel frosting.
  5. Stand back and enjoy your work of art.

Caramelized banana cake adapted from espresso and cream.
Marshmallow frosting adapted from Martha Stewart.