Pizza Birthday Cake

Originally published in the Herald Sun 7/2012

If, this week, you should hear disembodied wailing and mournful lamentations along the Durham Freeway, it’s not an invasion of otherworldly entities.
It’s only me, as The Kid returned last weekend to culinary school, up in the maple-flavored north. We won’t reunite again until Christmas break.

See, I’m not the Lone Ranger. Even Dean Winchester cries–and that was before he saw Sam’s new haircut.

I will miss my little scholar in a thousand different ways.
The big, exciting class this fall is something called “meat fabrication”. It sounds weird, doesn’t it? But nope, it’s not what you might be thinking. There will be no attempts at cloning, or creating new, edible forms of life. It’s just a butchering course. But when you pay $35,000 a year for tuition, it’s called ‘Meat Fab”.
Although The Kid is training to be a pastry chef, the class is a requirement for a degree in culinary arts.
Being a non-repentant dessert lover, I couldn’t be more excited about those pastry aspirations. I love all things sugar. Strangely though, The Kid, not so much. While I literally dream of bakeries and candy stores, my child has never had much of a sweet tooth. Red velvet cake sans frosting, moon pies, a couple of odd, artisanal candy bars, and my mother’s strangely addictive Christmas cookies, are the sum total of the “like list”.
Which has made picking out a birthday cake somewhat problematic.
Years ago, The Kid fell in love with an odd dish. It has become the perennial b-day request. Not really a dessert, but a light, sweet and salty snack-type item. In accordance with its odd status, it has an equally odd name.
It’s called strawberry pizza.

Strawberry pizza–TaDa!

It a dish loaded with layers of salty pretzels, frothy, whipped, sweetened cream cheese, and fruit spiked jello. The alchemy of the ingredients combine to form a cool, yummy treat.
There are many permutations of the recipe, with various names and assorted components. After making it year after year, I have refined it to this lightly jacked up version.

The Kid’s “Birthday Cake” Strawberry Pizza
Pretzel crust:
2 1/3 cups crushed pretzels (the butter flavor ones taste best)
3/4 cup melted butter
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon (pinch) kosher salt
Cream cheese layer:
2-8 ounce blocks cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
1- 16 ounce tub Cool Whip, thawed
1 vanilla bean, scraped (or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Jello layer:
Large box strawberry jello
1- 16 ounce bag individually frozen strawberries (I actually like it better with blueberries; any berries will work great)
2 cups boiling water
For crust: Preheat oven to 4oo degrees. In the pot with the melting butter, add sugar. Let the sugar almost melt into the warm butter. Mix buttery syrup and pretzels, and press into 9×13 pan. Very lightly dust top of pretzels with a pinch of kosher salt. Bake for 8 minutes and let cool completely.
For creamy layer: Beat softened cream cheese, sugar, scraped vanilla caviar or extract, and salt. When totally smooth, fold in fully thawed Cool Whip. Spread over cooled crust. Put in fridge to cool further and set.
Jello layer: In a bowl, slowly whisk boiling water into jello powder. Stir in strawberries. Refrigerate. When the jello has cooled and just started to set, pour over cream cheese, spreading out the berries so that they are evenly distributed. Please, please, DO NOT pour the jello layer on until it is cool and has started to congeal, or the heat will float up the layers, and the jello will leach into the pretzels, and make them soggy (gross).
Refrigerate for three hours or until the jello has fully set. Slice and serve. Keep leftovers covered and refrigerated.

Almost everyone loves this sweet and salty treat. My brother has three daughters, and normally food is a minefield because of their very different tastes. But all of Bud’s girls eat up when strawberry pizza is served.
It’s an odd delight, and while not hard to make, it does take time because if you rush it, you get a 9 x 13 disaster. But, when you open the fridge and see a pan of this in there waiting for you, it makes you happy. It’s a cool, creamy, crunchy simple pleasure.
Give it a try. Who knows, it might be your “birthday cake” next year.
Thanks for your time.

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