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Layered Cranberry Salad Recipe With Cream Cheese Topping

To be honest, this cranberry salad recipe, with its sweet & tangy cream cheese topping, is probably more of a dessert, but we serve it as a side dish at all of our holiday dinners… SO good, a MUST TRY recipe!

cranberry salad for thanksgiving or christmas

Cranberry Salad For Thanksgiving

I honestly don’t remember when this cranberry salad recipe first started making an appearance at our family’s Thanksgiving dinner table. Somewhere along the way, a lovely little slice made its way to a separate plate at my place setting, and from then on it was a yearly tradition — right alongside my Grandma’s cream corn casserole. It wouldn’t feel like Thanksgiving without these two dishes!

Oh wait… You caught that separate plate thing, huh?! Have I mentioned that I absolutely cannot stand to have my food touch? Can’t. Stand. It. So if you’re planning to invite me to a large dinner at your house, plan on having extra plates available for this mama!

Anyhow, back to the cranberry jello “salad” — if that’s what you really want to call it. It’s one of those retro recipes that teenagers have a tendency to turn up their noses at. I know I sure did…

I mean, it was made with cranberries, eeewwwww! At that age, cranberries ran a close second to asparagus. In my mind they were sour, slightly tough, and generally to be avoided at all costs. And Jell-o?!? Um, no thanks — pass the mashed potatoes, please.


cranberry jello salad with pineapple and walnuts or pecans

Cranberry Jello Salad With Cream Cheese

But then I took my obligatory bite… and my world was forever changed. Seriously.

There are so many flavors and textures going on in this cranberry jello salad. Layers of ingredients that I never would have thought about pairing, but somehow they JUST WORK. And the results will rock your world!

The pineapple and Jell-o add just enough sweetness to counter the tartness of the cranberries and the cream cheese/sour cream topping. I mean, really — how can you go wrong with that combination?

Top the whole thing off with plenty of toasted walnuts or pecans for a bit of crunch and extra flavor, and you’ve got a to-die-for salad/side/dessert whatever-you-want-to-call-it.

cranberry jello salad recipe with cream cheese topping

Easy Cranberry Salad Recipe: Dessert or Side?

Truthfully, this easy cranberry salad is more of a dessert. But if you’re coming to my house for Thanksgiving, you’ll find it served as a side with the turkey and all of the trimmings. And who’s counting anyhow?!? Especially on Thanksgiving…

I should note that I don’t JUST serve cranberry salad at Thanksgiving. It’s also ideal for Christmas dinner, Easter dinner, really any time. My kids request it often throughout the year, and I’m always happy to make it!

And why not? It’s so darn easy to make! The cranberry jello layer is simply a mixture of raspberry Jell-o, whole cranberry sauce, crushed pineapple, cranberry juice, and toasted walnuts or pecans.

Layer number two is simply a mixture of softened cream cheese, sour cream, and granulated sugar. I could just eat this stuff with a spoon! And I’m warning you now, the whole family will fight over who gets to lick the beaters — so make it after they’re in bed. Then they’re all yours. ;)

cranberry salad with cream cheese in a pyrex baking dish

Tips For How To Make Cranberry Salad

Just a few quick things to note and then I’ll drop the recipe:

1| I’ve forgotten to buy the cranberry juice before, and if that happens, you can just substitute an equal amount of water. The end result is slightly less tart, but if your family won’t drink the rest of the juice, you may want to just skip it and avoid the waste.

2| DO NOT use fresh pineapple in this recipe. Fresh pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain, which will prevent the gelatin from solidifying. Use canned crushed pineapple, as the bromelain is destroyed during the canning process.

3| DO NOT microwave the cream cheese to soften it. It’s just way too easy to take it too far, and you will end up with a runny, goopy topping. Be patient and allow it to soften at room temperate, and be sure to cream together the cream cheese and sugar first to help eliminate lumps.

Now go make this cranberry salad recipe ASAP!


cranberry salad recipe with walnuts or pecans

Layered Cranberry Salad Recipe

Yield: 16 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Additional Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 20 minutes

To be honest, this easy cranberry salad recipe, with its sweet & tangy cream cheese topping, is probably more of a dessert, but we serve it as a side dish at all of our holiday dinners... SO good, a MUST TRY recipe!


For the cranberry jello:

For the cream cheese topping:

  • 1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese, softened*
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar


  1. Dissolve the raspberry Jell-O in the boiling water.
  2. Add the crushed pineapple (juice and all), whole berry cranberry sauce, cranberry juice, and your choice of nuts to the Jell-O mixture. Reserve a small amount of the nuts to sprinkle on top. Mix well.
  3. Pour into a 9x13" glass baking dish and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.
  4. For a lump-free cream cheese topping, first cream together the cream cheese and sugar using a hand mixer. Then add the sour cream and whip until smooth.
  5. When the cranberry jello mixture is firm, spread the cream cheese topping over the top. Garnish with additional chopped toasted walnuts or pecans. Refrigerate for about an hour to allow the topping to firm up.



  • DO NOT use fresh pineapple in this recipe. Fresh pineapple contains an enzyme that will prevent the gelatin from setting up.
  • DO NOT soften the cream cheese in the microwave. It may change the consistency and result in the cream cheese topping not setting up properly.

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 16 Serving Size: 1 square
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 258Total Fat: 12.9gSaturated Fat: 5.1gCholesterol: 21.8mgSodium: 94.2mgCarbohydrates: 34.5gFiber: 1.2gSugar: 31gProtein: 3.9g

How much did you LOVE this recipe?

Please leave a comment below or share a photo on Instagram with the hashtag #unsophisticook!

easy cranberry salad for thanksgiving or christmas

Cranberry Jello Salad With Cream Cheese Topping

I’ve head from SO many of you that you hate to cover up the beautiful cranberry jello layer, and I totally get it. This is one reason why I prefer to serve it in a 9×13″ Pyrex glass baking dish — so you can see that gorgeous ruby red color through the side.

But you can totally offer your guests the best of both worlds. Simply prepare the cream cheese topping as directed in the recipe, and refrigerate it in a separate bowl. Then you can just top each slice off with a dollop when serving. Either way, don’t forget to save some extra toasted walnuts or pecans for the garnish!

I’d love to see how your cranberry salad turns out… Tag me @Unsophisticook on Instagram or use the hashtag #Unsophisticook so I can check it out. Enjoy!

How do you prefer your cranberry jello salad, with or without the cream cheese topping?

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L. Hendricks

Wednesday 27th of November 2019

Hi Tara, I just ran across your post as I was looking to see if I could find similar recipe to the one my mother used to make back in the 70's. The topping was what I was really looking for because the recipe she had called for "vanilla-flavored whipped dessert mix". I remember her using the topping from Spoon Candy because either she couldn't find it or it was no longer available (like the Spoon Candy). I thought about using Jello pudding as a replacement but I'm leaning more toward your topping. Below is the recipe I have: Jello Layer 1 13.5 oz. can crushed pineapple 2 3 oz. pkgs. raspberry Jello 3/4 cup cold water 1 16 oz. can JELLIED cranberry sauce Creamy Cheese Topping 1 3.5 oz. pkg. vanilla-flavored whipped dessert mix 1/2 cup heavy cream 1/2 cup milk 1 3 oz. pkg. cream cheese (room temp.) Drain pineapple juice into a measuring cup, adding water to make 1 cup. Set well-drained pineapple aside. Bring pineapple juice to a boil then add to Jello, stirring until dissolved. Add cold water; chill until the consistency of unbeaten egg whites. In a medium-sized bowl combine drained pineapple and cranberry sauce; when well mixed stir into Jello mixture. Pour into a 9-inch square pan (Mom used 9x12 oblong). Cover & chill until firm. Meanwhile, heat oven to 350F. Place pecans & 1 Tbsp. of butter or margarine in a shallow pan and bake about 8 min, stirring occasionally, until toasted. Cool nuts. Topping: Prepare dessert mix in according to pkg. directions EXCEPT substitute 1/2 Cup heavy cream for the milk called for & 1/2 Cup milk for the water. When mixed add the cream cheese and blend well. When Jello is firm, spread Creamy Cheese Topping over top. Sprinkle nuts over topping. Chill 2 - 3 hours, until topping is firm.


Sunday 22nd of December 2019

Is it possible your mom was referring to, dream whip, whipped topping mix. It was very popular in the 40’s-70’s

Tara Kuczykowski

Wednesday 27th of November 2019

Sounds very close -- thanks for sharing! Do you think the "vanilla-flavored whipped dessert mix" is Cool Whip? Not sure if that was around back then.


Monday 25th of November 2019

I have made this every year for Thanksgiving, for about 30 years now. This is the first time I have seen an actual recipe for it! Mine is slightly different - instead of pineapple, I use a secret ingredient: cinnamon red hots. Just put a handful into a little saucepan with a bit of water. Let them mostly melt, throw out any chunks left, and use this in place of some of the liquid. It adds an amazing flavor that no one can ever guess (it’s not overwhelming). I made the cream cheese frosting with a little mayo, a bit of sugar, and a little bit of milk if needed to thin out a little. Then sprinkle with chopped walnuts. This is very addictive!! Thank you for posting the recipe!

Tara Kuczykowski

Monday 25th of November 2019

Oh, wow - that certainly does sound different, but good! Thanks for sharing — will have to give it a try. Enjoy your Thanksgiving!

Linda Gottshall-Sayed

Saturday 16th of November 2019

Hi. What a delicious looking side dish that I'd love to try at thanksgiving dinner with my daughter this year. (It's just she and I together ... a dinner for mom and daughter). My question is this. Can I replace the pineapple with anything else? My daughter will refuse to touch anything with pineapple.


Thursday 28th of November 2019

I love this salad. A good substitution would be mandrian oranges. I love the flavors of cranberry and orange together.

Tara Kuczykowski

Saturday 16th of November 2019

Thanks for your question, Linda! Unfortunately, I don't have a very good answer for you. I'm not sure there's another fruit that would balance out the cranberry's tartness nearly as well. I can tell you that many of my family members that don't love pineapple actually love this salad, though. Since you're using crushed pineapple, it just melts into everything else, and there's not an overwhelming pineapple flavor. In fact, I think most people would not even realize there's pineapple in it.


Sunday 10th of November 2019

Do you prefer walnuts or pecans? How do you toast the nuts?

Tara Kuczykowski

Sunday 10th of November 2019

Hi Barbara! I personally prefer pecans, but walnuts are good, too. I have instructions for toasting them in the oven here: or in the microwave here: You can toast them on the stovetop too, but they can go from toasted to burnt in a flash, so I usually use the oven method.


Saturday 17th of August 2019

First, thank you so much for the recipe. My Mom used to make a cranberry side dish very much like this but in a bowl with no topping and I loved it. Second, I had a good laugh when you said you hate your food touching as I was always like that too! I still am if I have a food with a sauce or gravy. Did you always get the line "well everything touches in your stomach"?

Tara Kuczykowski

Saturday 17th of August 2019

Oh my gosh -- you know it!!! I don't care once it's in my stomach, but I don't want to taste it all mixed together, LOL. Hope you love the cranberry salad!