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Mandarin Orange Pretzel Salad has layers of salty & sweet pretzel, sweetened cream cheese layer, and topped with orange jello and chunks of mandarin oranges. It’s the perfect dessert for any occasion or a sweeter side dish for dinner or family gatherings.
What Is A Pretzel Salad?
If you’re looking for a traditional ‘salad’ with greens and all the healthy add-ins, then you might be in the wrong place 😉
These pretzel salads were first introduced to the world by the Jell-O brand and I personally love them for that! I’ve always been a huge fan of Jello and the many ways you can prepare it. Traditionally, people might know this pretzel salad in the strawberry version. But this mandarin orange version of the popular dish just might be one of my faves.
With three layers of sweet & salty perfection, a smooth and creamy cheesecake-like filling, and that fruity & bright orange jello top layer with chunks of mandarin oranges. Perfect for serving as a dessert in the summertime, and it even makes a great sweeter side dish for bbq’s or outdoor potlucks and gatherings.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- Kid Approved! : My kids go crazy when they know we’re having this pretzel salad. Whether it’s this mandarin orange version, classic strawberry, or a raspberry version, it’s always a favorite and something my kids eat willingly.
- Perfect Potluck/Gathering Food : I always love to bring recipes to a gathering or potluck that I know will be devoured and loved by all. This is one of my go-to’s that I can always count on. Plus, it transports really easily (use a 9×13 pan with a lid) and you can make it the day before!
- Versatile Recipe : If you love recipes that are easily change up then this is the recipe for you. Use any flavor of Jello that you want with the matching chunks of fruit. Strawberries + strawberry jello, raspberries + raspberry jello, blueberries + berry blue jello, and pineapple chunks + pineapple jello.
- Boiling Water – This is what mixes with the orange jello to form the gelatin mixture. Make sure that you are using actual boiling water and not the hottest water from the kitchen tap as it won’t be hot enough. Boil water on the stove top or use an electric tea kettle to boil the water.
- Orange Jello
- Mandarin Oranges – The can needs to be chilled because we want to use the cold juice from the can. Stick the can of oranges in the fridge for this recipe.
- Mini Pretzels – These will get crushed up for the crust. For the best fine texture, I recommend using a food processor or food chopper.
- Brown Sugar
- Melted Butter
- Cream Cheese – This needs to be at room temperature or softened somewhat so it mixes in smoothly and easily. Don’t leave cream cheese out at room temperature for longer than 2 hours.
- Powdered Sugar
- Cool Whip – Make sure it’s thawed for this recipe.
How To Make Orange Pretzel Dessert Salad
- Combine the boiling water and orange jello powder into a medium bowl. Whisk until the gelatin has dissolved. Slowly pour in the chilled juice from the can of mandarin oranges while whisking. Place the bowl in the fridge for 1 hour.
- Add the pretzels, brown sugar into a food process and process until the pretzels are in very fine crumbs. Slowly pour in the melted butter while the processor is running on low speed, and process until all the pretzels are coated in the melted butter. Firmly press the crumb mixture into the bottom of a 9×13 baking pan. Freeze for 15 minutes while you prepare the rest.
- Beat the cream cheese and powdered sugar in a mixing bowl with an electric mixer until it’s smooth and combined. Fold in the cool whip until combined. Spread this mixture over the pretzel crust.
- Place the mandarin oranges from the can in an even layer on top of the cream cheese layer. Then slowly pour the chilled orange jello mixture over top.
- Cover the pan with a lid or plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 6 hours, or overnight works great too.
Expert Tips For Success
- Even Layers : When firmly pressing the pretzel curst into the pan make sure that you are going all the way to the edges and pressing it firmly so it forms an even layer. Same thing with the cream cheese layer, spread it evenly all the way to the edges of the pan so it forms sort of a seal which will prevent the jello from leaking down to the crust.
- Plan Ahead : This recipe does need two different chill times in the fridge so it’s important to plan ahead. The orange jello mixture needs 1 hour in the fridge before adding it as the top layer. The entire salad dessert needs at least 6 hours of fridge time before cutting it and serving. This is best to make the day before you need it.
- Full Fat Cream Cheese : For the best thick and creamy texture, that will hold up well in this layered dessert salad, make sure to use full fat cream cheese instead of reduced-fat cream cheese. The reduced fat has more water/liquid in it, so it won’t be as creamy and it has more of a tangy taste to it.
- Storage Instructions : Because of the cream cheese and whipped topping, do not let this dessert sit out at room temperature for longer than 1-2 hours at a time. Store leftovers in the fridge for up to 3-4 days. I don’t recommend freezing this recipe.
- Finely Crushed Pretzels : For a firm crust that is not super crumbly and falls apart, make sure that the pretzels are very finely crushed. I recommend using a food processor for the best results. A food chopper will also work well to finely ground the pretzels and then you can combine it with the other crust ingredients in a mixing bowl.
Kitchen Supplies You Will Need
- Food Processor : I own this Ninja Food Processor which is big enough to make the pretzel crust in it. You can also use a Mini Food Chopper as well, but you won’t be able to make the crust in it. Just finely ground the pretzels in it and then combine it with the other ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir together.
- Whisk : A sturdy Wire Whisk is a must have for dissolving the orange jello powder into the water.
- Mixing Bowls : I love this set of Kitchen Aid Mixing Bowls! They have rubber bases that stick to the counter top and they hold up well to the dishwasher and everything.
- 9×13 Pan w/ Lid : I love using this 9×13 Cake Pan with a Lid. No need to cover with plastic wrap!
Mandarin Orange Pretzel Salad
Mandarin Orange Jello Layer
- 1 can (15 oz) mandarin oranges with juice chilled
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 box (3 oz) orange jello
- 4 cups mini pretzels
- 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 12 tablespoons butter melted
Cream Cheese Layer
- 8 ounces cream cheese softened
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 8 ounces Cool Whip thawed
- TIP : Make sure the can of mandarin oranges is chilled before making this recipe. Put the can inside the fridge for several hours so it has time to get cold. We need the cold/chilled juice from the can to help the jello set up properly.
Make The Orange Jello
- Drain the can of mandarin oranges making sure to reserve the juice.1 can (15 oz) mandarin oranges with juice
- Combine the boiling water and orange jello in a mixing bowl and whisk until the gelatin has dissolved completely. Slowly pour in the chilled mandarin orange juice (from the can) while whisking. Place the bowl of orange gelatin inside the fridge for 1 hour.1 cup boiling water, 1 box (3 oz) orange jello
Make The Pretzel Crust
- Crush the pretzels and brown sugar in a food processor until the pretzels are very fine crumbs. Slowly pour in the melted butter while the food processor runs on low speed until the butter is evenly coating the crumbs. Firmly press the pretzel crust mixture into the bottom of a 9×13 baking pan. Place the crust in the freezer for 15 minutes. * If you don't have a food processor there are two options. Use a food chopper to finely crush the pretzels and then add them into a mixing bowl along with the brown sugar and melted butter. Stir to combine well. You can also crush the pretzels by putting them inside a Ziploc bag and using a rolling pin or meat pounder to crush them into fine crumbs.4 cups mini pretzels, 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar, 12 tablespoons butter
Make The Cream Cheese Layer
- While the crust is freezing, beat the cream cheese and powdered sugar together in a larger mixing bowl with an electric mixer until it's smooth and creamy. Stir in the Cool Whip until combined well. Evenly spread the cream cheese mixture over top the pretzel crust inside the pan. Make sure to tightly spread the cream cheese layer all the way to the edges of the pan to ensure that none of the orange jello layer leaks through.8 ounces cream cheese, 1 cup powdered sugar, 8 ounces Cool Whip
Finish Assembling The Pretzel Salad
- Place the mandarin oranges over the cream cheese layer. Very slowly and gently pour the orange jello (from the first step) on top.
- Cover the pan with a lid or plastic wrap and let it refrigerate for at least 6 hours, or overnight is even better, before slicing and serving.