We Tried Molly Yeh’s Famous Midwest Cookie Salad

Updated: Jun. 26, 2023

Cookies? In a salad? You betcha! Here's how to make cookie salad, a Midwestern favorite.

In the Midwest, the definition of “salad” is pretty loose. Yes, green salads, pasta salads and potato salads are all welcome at the dinner table. But it’s not unusual to see Jell-O salads or fluff salads served up at the potluck. I grew up enjoying many of these, including the wonderful and inexplicable Candy Bar Apple Salad.

Despite my Midwest pedigree, however, I have never tried one particular fluffy side: cookie salad!

What Is a Cookie Salad?

So what is a cookie salad anyway? To learn more about this sweet side, I talked to fellow Midwesterner and cookie salad expert—not to mention one of my favorite foodie celebs—Molly Yeh.

First, Molly says, “You have to get past the fact that it’s called a salad.”

She then explains that cookie salads are made up of a few basic components: cookies, fruit, pudding and cream. Crushed cookies and fruit get folded into a mix of cream and pudding. Then it’s all spooned into a serving dish and gets topped with a few more cookies. It’s almost akin to a dirt cake or a banana pudding—but it’s served with dinner.

The most popular cookie salad combination is made with vanilla pudding, whipped topping, mandarin oranges and fudge-striped shortbread cookies.

Molly’s biggest tip for serving cookie salad: “Don’t let it touch your hot dish and just try it. You will like it.”

Molly Yeh’s Favorite Cookie Salad Recipe

While the shortcut cookie salad is delicious, Molly says a fully homemade version is worth the extra effort. “I love to make all of the elements from scratch,” she says.

Here’s how to make Molly’s signature cookie salad.

Ingredients

For the fluff:

  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1-1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1-1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

For the cookies:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 cup butter, cold and cubed
  • 5 ounces chocolate chips, melted

For the rest:

  • 2 (11-ounce) cans mandarin oranges
  • Sprinkles

Directions

Step 1: Make the pudding

 Cookie SaladLisa Kaminski/Taste of Home

In Minnesota and the Dakotas, most cookie salad recipes start with packaged pudding; but Molly says that making pudding from scratch is what takes this treat over the top.

Start by combining flour, salt and sugar in a saucepan. Then whisk in the egg yolks and cream and heat over medium heat. Stir this mixture constantly until it has thickened and it coats the back of a spoon. This does take time. I was stirring for about 10 minutes before the mix came together.

Then stir in the vanilla and almond extracts.

Next, move the pudding into a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap, waxed paper or parchment. Make sure that the paper touches the pudding so it doesn’t form a skin.

Chill for at least an hour. You can also prep the pudding component a day in advance.

Step 2: Stir up the cookie dough

Cookie SaladLisa Kaminski/Taste of Home

While the pudding cools, it’s a good time to start making the dough for the cookies. Start by whisking together the flour, confectioners’ sugar, salt and extracts together.

Then add in the cold butter and beat in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Start slow and then increase the speed as the butter begins to break down.

Once combined, divide the dough in half and chill for at least 30 minutes in the fridge.

Editor’s Tip: The cookie dough is very crumbly. After mixing for a bit, pause and press a handful together. If it holds, it’s ready to chill.

Step 3: Roll out the cookies

Cookie SaladLisa Kaminski/Taste of Home

Next, dust your work surface with a bit of flour and roll out the dough until it’s about 1/4- to 1/8-inch thick. Then cut out into rounds using a 2- or 3-inch round cookie cutter. To get the hole in the middle, I used a piping tip. The opening size was just right.

Reroll the dough once or twice more. In the end you should have 18 to 24 cookies—depending on the size of the cookie cutter you use.

Step 3: Bake and cool

 Cookie SaladLisa Kaminski/Taste of Home

Bake the cookies at 350ºF for 11 to 12 minutes or until the edges just start to turn golden. Once they start to get that warm color, take them out of the oven and move them to a wire rack to cool completely before moving to the next step.

Step 4: Add the chocolate

Cookie SaladLisa Kaminski/Taste of Home

When the cookies are finally cool, melt the chocolate chips. Use a spoon or piping bag to drizzle the chocolate over the top of the cookies in a zig-zag pattern.

Wait until the chocolate has set before you start assembling. You can expedite this process by popping the chocolate-topped cookies in the fridge or freezer.

Step 5: Make the whipped cream

Cookie SaladLisa Kaminski/Taste of Home

The last homemade component of this cookie salad is fresh whipped cream. Molly’s recipe calls for just heavy whipping cream and confectioners’ sugar beaten together. I added a splash of vanilla extract for a bit more flavor.

To make whipped cream, combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and beat with a hand mixer. You can also use the whisk attachment on your stand mixer. Beat until soft peaks form; that means when you lift the beaters out of the bowl, the cream will cling and form peaks that droop slightly.

Step 6: Fold the pudding and whipped cream together

Cookie SaladLisa Kaminski/Taste of Home

With your whipped cream and pudding both complete, it’s time to fold them together.

Start by taking your pudding and giving it a quick stir to loosen it up. Then fold in the whipped cream in a few batches using a large, flexible spatula. Take your time here. In the end, the mixture should be rich yet fluffy.

Step 7: Put it all together

Img 1742 Cookie SaladLisa Kaminski/Taste of Home

Take all but six to eight cookies (you’ll want them to finish the top) and crush them with a rolling pin until you have a good cookie crumble (don’t crush them too finely—just enough to break them up).

Then drain the mandarin oranges; again, keep a few aside for decoration.

Stir the cookie crumbles and oranges into the pudding until combined and spoon it into the serving dish of your choice. You can layer this dessert into a large dish or even spoon it into small custard cups.

Step 8: Garnish the top

Three dishes of Molly Yeh's cookie saladLisa Kaminski/Taste of Home

Use the reserved cookies and mandarin orange slices to decorate the top of the cookie salad. Molly’s recipe also calls for optional sprinkles. As a like-minded sprinkle fanatic, I had to add them!

You can serve the cookie salad immediately or stash this in the fridge until you’re ready.

Cookie Salad Tips

Can you make cookie salad with premade ingredients?

Absolutely! In fact, most Midwesterners make this salad with packaged ingredients (and it’s delicious that way, too). Instead of from-scratch components, you can use a box of pudding mix, whipped topping and store-bought cookies. You can use any cookie you like, but Keebler Fudge Stripes are a popular pick.

What other flavors of cookie salad can you make?

According to Molly, “Once you figure out the format and the equation—the cookie salad equation— you can add different flavors and really make it your own.”

Molly says that she often switches up the pudding by infusing the cream with different flavors or even using dairy-alternative milks. You can change up the flavor with any of your favorite pudding mixes as well.

You can also swap in different cookies. Store-bought favorites like Milano cookies would be welcome. You can also try shortbread, pecan sandies or any cookie jar favorite.

Can you make cookie salad in advance?

While you do want the cookies to soften up a little bit, I wouldn’t recommend prepping this more than a day in advance. Any further out and you’ll have less of a cookie salad and more of a cookie mush.

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