Mandarin Orange pretzel salad has a salty crust for the crunchy base, followed by a fluffy cream cheese filling, and a citrus orange jello layer with juicy mandarin oranges. Jell-O salads are the perfect dessert for warmer weather because they are easy, light, and refreshing.
Jello desserts are my favorite when spring and summer hit. I love their fruity flavor and how you can make everything from jello shots to layered pie with it. This dessert salad may remind you of an orange creamsicle from the vibrant layers to the citrusy bite of mandarin. It’s the perfect mix of sweet and salty.
Another potluck favorite is orange creamsicle truffles. They are also dainty enough for special occasions and really simple to make. It’s like a little citrus explosion that is just the right size. If you love the crunchy pretzel crust with a creamy cheesecake layer, you have to try peach pretzel salad. It’s very similar to this recipe but full of peach flavor. When it comes to drinks, the kids love Orange Julius while the adults sip on a screwdriver drink or party punch.
What do I Need for this Recipe?
- pretzels – use any salted variety.
- granulated sugar – balances out the saltiness in the crust.
- butter – binds the crushed pretzels and sugar.
- cream cheese – soften it to room temperature so this layer isn’t lumpy.
- vanilla extract – adds just enough vanilla to taste.
- Cool Whip – if desired, use a store brand.
- orange jell-o – we have not tested this recipe with sugar-free.
- water – needs to be boiling to dissolve the gelatin.
- mandarin oranges and juice – reserve the drained juice.
After slicing garnish the squares with a dollop of whipped cream and a pretzel twist or sweet mandarin oranges. Some even like to enjoy a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
- Food processor – to mix up the pretzel layer
- Hand mixer – gets the cream cheese perfectly smooth and much easier than hand mixing.
Variations and Substitutions:
- Whipped topping: If you don’t want to use Cool Whip you can make homemade whipped cream instead.
- Swap the fruit: You can easily turn this jello salad into a strawberry pretzel salad or a pineapple version by using different flavored gelatin with the correlating fruit.
- Mandarins in syrup: if the oranges are in syrup instead of natural juice, drain the syrup and replace it with 2 cups of cold water instead.
PREP: Grease a 9×13 pan with cooking spray and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Step 1: Place pretzels into the food processor. Pulse until they are crushed into small pieces, but not a powder. Add ¾ cup of sugar and the melted butter. Pulse a couple of times to combine.
Step 2: Press the pretzel mixture into the bottom of the pan. Bake the pretzel layer for 10 minutes, then cool completely.
Step 3: Beat the cream cheese in a large bowl with the remaining sugar and vanilla using an electric mixer. Once smooth, fold in the Cool Whip using a spatula until combined.
Step 4: Spread the cream cheese mixture over top of the cooled buttery pretzel crust. Be sure the spread it all the way to the edges to seal.
Pro Tip: Make sure the cream cheese covers the pretzel layer entirely or else the jello will seep down and make it soggy.
Step 5: Drain the oranges, while reserving 2 cups of juice. Refrigerate the juice or add ice cubes to it.
Step 6: Dissolve the jello in two cups of boiling water. Once dissolved add the mandarin juice. Stir in the mandarin oranges. Chill for 30 minutes in the refrigerator or until the gelatin starts to thicken but has not set.
Step 7: Carefully pour or spoon the gelatin mixture over the cream cheese layer. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-4 hours.
SERVE: Slice into squares and serve. Top with whipped cream or serve with ice cream if desired.
- I prefer to use an offset spatula to spread the cream cheese layer. It gets to the edges perfectly.
- If you don’t have access to a food processor add the pretzels to a bag and use a rolling pin to crush them.
- You want to chill the gelatin mandarin mixture just until it starts to thicken. It still needs to be pourable.
- There may be extra gelatin leftover depending on how deep the pan is. Just be sure to cover the oranges and fill to the top of the dish.
- Allow plenty of time for the jello mixture to set, if you slice too quickly it will be runny.
Almost $600 million of pretzels are sold every year in America!
Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week.
The original recipe is the strawberry pretzel salad that has been around since the 1960s when a Jell-O cookbook was published.
We do not recommend freezing. As it thaws the gelatin texture changes and the crust will no longer be crunchy.
Mandarin Orange Pretzel Salad
- 5 cups pretzels crushed (2 ½ cups once crushed)
- 1½ cups granulated sugar divided
- ¾ cup butter melted
- 12 ounces cream cheese
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 12 ounces Cool Whip
- 6- ounce package orange gelatin
- 2 cups water boiling
- 3 – 15.75 oz. cans of mandarin oranges in fruit juice
- 2 cups mandarin orange juice reserved from cans of mandarins
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray the bottom and sides of a 9×13 pan with nonstick baking spray.
- Place the pretzels in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the pretzels are crushed into small pieces, but not pulverized. Add ¾ cups sugar and the melted butter and pulse a few more times to combine the ingredients without breaking down the pretzel pieces too small. Press the mixture into the bottom of the 9×13 pan.
- Bake the pretzel base for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.
- In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, the remaining ¾ cup of sugar, and the vanilla until well combined. Fold in the Cool Whip until the mixture is evenly combined.
- Spread the cream cheese mixture on top of the cooled pretzel crust. When adding the cream cheese mixture to the pan, make sure that it goes all the way to the edges. This creates a barrier to prevent the jello from seeping down into the pretzel base and making it soggy.
- Drain the mandarin oranges, reserving 2 cups of the juice. (If your mandarin oranges are in syrup, use 2 cups of water instead.) Add ice cubes to the juice or refrigerate it.
- In a medium bowl, dissolve the gelatin/jello in two cups of boiling water. Once it is completely dissolved, add the chilled mandarin juice (or water.) Add the mandarin oranges to the mixture and stir to combine. Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or until the jello is just starting to thicken but has not yet set.
- Carefully pour the mandarins and jello over the cream cheese layer. Cover and refrigerate for two hours or until the jello is set. Slice into squares to serve.
You may have a little extra gelatin depending on the depth of the pan. Be sure to cover the mandarin oranges and fill to the top of the baking dish. Store, covered in plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for up to 7 days.