Jell-O Cream Cheese Squares

October 21, 2022

Jell-O Cream Cheese Squares are a popular dessert in Hawaii. You will find them at potlucks and at local restaurants. My favorite is from Napoleon’s Bakery, a sister bakery to Zippy’s restaurants. This recipe is an homage to that version. I don’t know where this dessert originated. Maybe it is an offshoot of the various no-bake cheesecake recipes. I think that Hawaii has a particular love for this dessert, even if it wasn’t born here.

Building a Jell-O Cream Cheese Square

The bottom layer is a simple graham cracker crust. Many recipes will use a shortbread base, usually with chopped walnuts. To accommodate nut-allergies in the family and because Napoleon’s does the same, I use a graham cracker crust. This is the only baking needed for this dessert.

The middle layer is sweetened cream cheese lightened with Cool Whip. You could also use freshly whipped heavy cream but I think the Cool Whip offers more stability. The surprising addition to this layer is lemon Jell-O which adds both a light lemony flavor and added stability from the gelatin.

The top layer is jewel-toned strawberry Jell-O that sits on top of the dessert in all its jiggly glory. I suppose you could use any flavor Jell-O you desire but I have never seen it served with anything other than strawberry.

More than anything, you want to allow yourself enough time to cool and set the different layers.

Substitutions

As I mentioned before, you could switch out the crust for a standard shortbread – with or without nuts.

You could also swap out the Cool Whip for freshly whipped heavy cream.

You could switch out the flavors of the Jell-O.

To “lighten” the dessert you could use sugar-free Jell-O, light cream cheese, and Cool Whip lite. I haven’t tried these substitutions, nor can I vouch for the flavor but you shouldn’t have issues with the structure of the dessert.

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Jell-O Cream Cheese Squares


  • Author: She’s Almost Always Hungry
  • Total Time: 8 hours, 35 minutes
  • Yield: 24 1x

Description

Popular in Hawaii, this dessert features a graham cracker crust, topped with a smooth cream-cheese layer, and finished with a layer of strawberry Jell-O.


Ingredients

Scale

For the crust

1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter, melted

For the cream cheese layer

1 3-ounce package lemon Jell-O

1 cup boiling water

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup sugar

1 8-ounce tub Cool Whip*

For the Jell-O layer

2 3-ounce packages strawberry Jell-O

3 cups boiling water


Instructions

For the crust

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix the graham crack crumbs and 1/4 cup sugar in a bowl. Add the melted butter and mix well. Pour the mixture into a 9″ x 13″ pan and press evenly to make a crust.

Bake for 15 minutes. Place on a rack to cool then chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. You want the crust to be cold before you add the next layer.

For the cream cheese layer

Dissolve the lemon Jell-O in 1 cup boiling water. Set aside to cool.

In a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese with 3/4 cup sugar. Gently fold in the Cool Whip, being sure that everything is well-incorporated (if you are using whipped cream, be careful not to deflate the cream).

Gently stir in the cooled lemon Jell-O mixture.

Pour the cream cheese mixture onto the cooled crust and level evenly. Place in the refrigerator and chill until firm, at least 2 hours. This layer must be firm before pouring on the last layer.

For the Jell-O layer

While the cream cheese layer cools, dissolve the strawberry Jell-O in 3 cups boiling water. Set aside to cool.

Gently pour the strawberry Jell-O mixture over the cream cheese layer. Place in the refrigerator and chill for at least 6 hours, but overnight is preferable. The Jell-O layer must be fully set.

Cut into squares and serve.

Notes

* 1 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks, may be substituted.

  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Inactive Time: 8 hours
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Category: Dessert
  • Cuisine: Hawaiian-American

Nutrition

  • Calories: 171.59
  • Sugar: 18.67 g.
  • Sodium: 158.81 mg.
  • Fat: 8.2 g.
  • Saturated Fat: 4.71 g.
  • Carbohydrates: 23.39 g.
  • Fiber: 0.25 g.
  • Protein: 2.16 g.
  • Cholesterol: 21.22 g.

Keywords: Jell-O, cream cheese, graham crackers

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