August 10, 2018
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A Good and Weird Cooking Trick
Food52-Genius-Desserts_Salted-Brown-Butter-Crispy-Treats2

Using the same ingredients from the classic back-of-the-box formula, Smitten Kitchen’s Deb Perelman turns the rice crispy treat into something a lot better.

Have you ever noticed that 9 times out of 10, when a recipe professes to contain “one weird trick,” it’s usually a giant scam designed to get you to click on a link before realizing that the trick is something along the lines of “use eggs” or “put salt on it”? The real, ultimate test of a good and weird trick is not whether you click on the link, but whether it’s weird enough that you’re tempted to try it—and whether the final product is good enough to make again.

Like many of the recipes in Kristen Miglore’s new Food52 Genius Desserts (I’ve cooked at least six), Deb Perelman’s Salted Brown Butter Crispy Treats live up to every lofty expectation that you might have for a good-weird trick: 1) It’s something you would never think of on your own. 2) It genuinely improves the final product, rather than just putting an unnecessary spin on it. And 3) If you make them once, you will probably make them many, many times.

The recipe turns the entire “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” aphorism on its head. We’ve all made and eaten our fair share of rice crispy treats between age six and now. The recipe’s easy. It’s on the back of the cereal box. It only requires three ingredients—marshmallows, Rice Krispies, and butter. Before trying this recipe, I had complacently eaten enough rice crispy treats to feel absolutely ambivalent about rice crispy treats.

But then came the riff to end all riffs. Using an almost identical ingredient list as the original (plus a little bit of coarse salt), Deb turns the sticky one-note childhood dessert from something that might come out of a plastic package from a vending machine into something that tastes rich and caramelized and labored-over.

The trick is simple: Use more butter (about twice as much as the original formula), and melt it for a little longer, until the milk solids start to darken and smell nutty. Here, you have brown butter. By browning the butter before mixing it into the marshmallows, the rice crispy treats take on toasted flavor without you actually having to turn on your oven to bake—and without sacrificing any of the gooey crunchiness you’d expect from a classic rice crispy treat.

Unlike many of my favorite cookie recipes, which start to taste stale after a few days or melt on especially hot summer days, these will keep their integrity and trademark crispiness over the course of a week, whether you’re hauling them to the beach for a picnic or quietly hoarding them in your desk drawer.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
  • 1 (10-ounce) bag marshmallows
  • 6 cups Rice Krispies cereal (about half a 12-ounce box)
  • ¼ teaspoon coarse sea salt, heaping

Here’s the truth: The classic recipe that’s been printed on the Rice Krispies box since 1940 is already a genius dessert. It’s ready in 10 minutes without heating the oven, using three ingredients you can find anywhere: cereal, marshmallows, butter. In fact, it’s so ubiquitous that we tend to thumb past it in our mental recipe files in favor of newer, flashier prospects. But here’s another truth: most people will walk past all sorts of fancy cookies and tarts to get to the stack of crispy treats before the rest of us make off with them.

This modernized riff from Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen fame is very much like the original—the same siren crunch surrounded by sweet, soft goo—and uses virtually the same technique. The only differences are that you sizzle the butter a bit longer, until the milk solids have turned toasty and brown, and add salt to balance the sweet. (Oh, and what was 3 tablespoons becomes a full stick of butter—more to brown!) You might be tempted to brown the marshmallow, too, but don’t: It will only turn the bars dry and stiff, and I know you’re in it for the goo.

  1. Generously butter an 8-by-8-by-2-inch cake pan. If you want to make it extra easy to pop out the treats, line the pan with parchment paper, leaving a 1-inch overhang on two opposite sides for easier lifting when the bars are done.
  2. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium-low heat, stirring frequently with a silicone spatula, until it browns. The butter will melt, then foam, then turn clear golden with brown bits and start to smell nutty. Be patient and don’t wander away—the bits will go from brown to black quickly, and you don’t want black.
  3. Turn off the heat as soon as the bits in the butter are a deep nut brown color. Immediately add the marshmallows and stir until smooth. The residual heat from the pot should be enough to fully melt the marshmallows, but if not, return the heat to low and cook until the marshmallows are completely smooth.
  4. Remove the pot from the heat and pour in the cereal and salt. Stir well to make a big sticky mass, then quickly scrape the mixture into the prepared pan. Flatten the gooey mix evenly with a spatula or buttered waxed or parchment paper, pressing into the edges and corners.
  5. Let cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes, and cut into squares to serve. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Anna Hezel

Anna Hezel is the senior editor of TASTE.

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