Food & Drink

Welcome Back, Strawberry Pretzel Icebox Pie

An old-fashioned Southern dessert stages a return to the menu at two North Carolina restaurants

Photo: Justin Burke-Samson

Justin Burke-Samson appreciates the classics.

So the California native feels right at home as the executive pastry chef at Kindred and Hello, Sailor restaurants outside his mother’s hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Burke-Samson made his name with a series of dessert pop-ups in Boston, Massachusetts. “Boston loved avant-garde desserts,” he says. “That just isn’t me. A lot of the things I gravitate toward making are the things I grew up eating—and, here in North Carolina, I can let a piece of cake speak for itself.”

He also appreciates a year-round supply of farm-fresh ingredients that he puts to work in seasonal treats like this tribute to retro strawberry pretzel pie.

“Strawberry pretzel pie is a good old-fashioned grandmas-at-a-church dish,” he says. “In its simplest form, it’s just crushed-up pretzels with cream cheese and strawberry jello. That’s it. Maybe if grandma is feeling a little interesting, she’ll throw in some chopped strawberries.”

Burke-Samson grew up on the sweet-and-salty original, but, as a professional pastry chef, he decided to make a few changes to the formula. He dialed down the sweetness, lightened the texture of the cream cheese filling with whipped cream, and added complexity with chocolate malt powder and fresh strawberry puree.

It’s still an easy icebox dessert, in slab or round form, made entirely with ingredients you’ll find at the supermarket—though, if you want the fruit filling to pop, you’ll seek out fresh farmers’ market strawberries while they’re in season this spring.


  • For the Crust

    • 3 cups mini pretzel twists

    • ½ cup lightly packed light brown sugar

    • 3 tbsp. chocolate malt powder (Ovaltine works)

    • ½ cup plus 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

  • For the Cream Cheese Filling

    • 1 cup heavy whipping cream

    • ½ tsp. vanilla extract

    • 1 8-oz. package cream cheese

    • ¾ cup powdered sugar

  • Fort the Strawberry Topping

    • 2 16-oz. containers fresh strawberries, hulled

    • 1 (¼ oz.) envelope unflavored gelatin

    • ¾ cup granulated sugar


  1. For the crust: 

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.


  2. Using a food processor, crush pretzels into a fine meal. There should be no large pieces. Pour into a large mixing bowl. Add brown sugar and malt powder and stir to combine. Then, slowly drizzle in melted butter and continue to mix until fully incorporated, and the pretzel meal feels like wet sand. Scoop the mixture into a pie plate or, for a slab pie, an 8×8-inch square or 9×13-inch rectangular pan.


  3. Using the bottom of a measuring cup, press the crust mixture firmly into the pie plate or pan. Start from the center and work your way to the edge. By the end, your crust should be ¼ inch thick.

  4. Bake for 15 minutes, or until lightly toasted and golden. Cool the pan on wire rack, then freeze until ready to use.

  5. For the cream cheese filling:

    Combine the heavy cream and vanilla extract in the bowl of a stand mixer or a large mixing bowl. Using the stand mixer or a handheld mixer, whisk until stiff peaks form. If using a stand mixer, remove the whipped cream and reserve in a mixing bowl.

  6. Combine cream cheese and powdered sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or a large mixing bowl. Cream until light and fluffy.

  7. Gently fold whipped cream into cream cheese mixture. Remove pie crust from freezer and gently spoon in cream cheese filling. Smooth the surface with a spatula, and then return the dish to the freezer.

  8. For the strawberry topping:

    Using a blender or food processor, puree one 16-oz. container of strawberries. Reserve ½ cup of puree in a small bowl, and combine the rest with sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring sugar and strawberry puree almost to a boil, whisking frequently.

  9. Meanwhile, add gelatin to the ½ cup of reserved strawberry puree and mix. Let it sit for 5 minutes, then add to the almost-boiling strawberry-and-sugar mixture and whisk to dissolve gelatin. Once gelatin is dissolved, remove the topping from heat and allow it to cool slightly. (For a smoother result, you can strain it through a fine-mesh sieve while it’s still hot.)

  10. Thinly slice remaining strawberries lengthwise. Remove pie from freezer and lay sliced strawberries over cream cheese mixture in a spiral pattern. Alternately, you can chop strawberries and scatter them over the surface. Return pie to freezer for at least two minutes.

  11. Pour cooled strawberry gelatin over the strawberry slices, and use a spatula to smooth it. Transfer the pie to the refrigerator, and allow at least 4 hours for the gelatin to fully set. Garnish with whipped cream.

From Justin Burke-Samson, Kindred and Hello, Sailor, Davidson and Cornelius, North Carolina