A few years ago many Seattle coffee shops started carrying salted brown butter rice crispy treats. YUM. I discovered that they seem to be based on this smitten kitchen recipe. I was intrigued! However, I am nearly incapable of leaving a recipe alone, and since this isn’t technically baking (where precise measurements of chemistry and timing matter a ton) I figured I could get away with putting my own spin on these and making them EVEN BETTER.
Every time I’ve made them, I refer loosely to this recipe but I also make up a batch of proper caramel and mix it into things, and sometimes drizzle a bit on top. It’s definitely an improvement on an already delicious treat. And this week, when I made a batch for my new motherhood group, I have to say they are the best batch I’ve made yet! A few people asked for the recipe, so even though I’m not a recipe person I’m gonna do my best to write up what I did so we can all recreate it. :)
Virginia’s rough not-too-sweet caramel recipe, make this first:
1.5 sticks of butter
1 c sugar
1 c heavy whipping cream, plus more to even out texture if needed
Optional add-ins to taste—vanilla bean caviar, fancy salt
Melt butter in a saucepan on medium heat, then add sugar and cream.
Bring to a weird looking boil. Keep cooking 20-60 minutes until a dark amber color, scraping the bottom occasionally but largely avoiding stirring/agitating the mixture manually (stirring causes an unpleasant crystallized texture).
Keep close watch but know that it can take nearly an hour, depending on your cookware and stove type. Your goal is to have the mixture get caramelized but not truly burnt on the bottom. How dark you go is up to you; darker color will impart a more caramel-y flavor.
When you suspect it’s ready, remove a dribble with a spatula and place on a plate, allow to cool to room temperature and test. If the texture is very stiff and veering towards toffee, add a bit more cream to the mixture, taking care to pour slowly and stir it in carefully to avoid a dangerous boiling over from the temperature change. If the texture is crystallized but holds firm at room temperature, pour mixture into a blender to smooth out crystallization. If the texture is runny and doesn’t hold firm at room temperature, cook a bit longer.
When caramel is the desired flavor and texture, remove from heat and set aside. If it separates stir to combine just before adding to bar mixture.
If you want to include vanilla bean caviar or salt directly in your caramel (nice if you plan to drizzle some on top), save this until the very end and fold it in gently once cooking is completed. Small particles encourage crystallization so you should avoid adding these during the actual cooking process.
Note: these proportions make a deliberately not-very-sweet caramel, in order to avoid competing with the sweetness of the marshmallows. If you prefer a sweeter caramel, add more sugar.
Here is the smitten kitchen recipe portion, with my notes in italics:
Makes 16 2-inch squares or 32 1- x 2-inch small bars
4 ounces (113 grams) unsalted butter, plus extra for the pan (you can totally use salted though)
1 10-ounce (285-gram) bag marshmallows (the small ones are easier to melt)
Heaping 1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt (or kosher diamond flake salt, or rock salt—sea is best but any fancy salt will work. You can also add more or less to taste, or sprinkle it on top instead of mixing it in if you prefer.)
6 cups (160 grams) crispy rice cereal (about half a 12-ounce box)—I like to get a non-Rice Krispies brand because not only are they cheaper, they tend to be less sweet and use less sketchy ingredients. Trader Joe’s makes a great one.
Butter (or coat with non-stick spray) an 8-inch square cake pan with 2-inch sides. (I get away with skipping this because my version is inherently butterier.)
In a large pot, melt butter over medium-low heat. It will melt, then foam, then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty. Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom as you do. Don’t take your eyes off the pot as while you may be impatient for it to start browning, the period between the time the butter begins to take on color and the point where it burns is often less than a minute.
As soon as the butter takes on a nutty color, turn the heat off and stir in the marshmallows. The residual heat from the melted butter should be enough to melt them, but if it is not, turn it back on low until the marshmallows are smooth.
Remove the pot from the stove and stir in the salt and cereal together. Also stir in the caramel at this time. If you’ve added a lot of salt to your caramel, reduce the amount of salt in the rice crispy mix; taste constantly until you like the flavor. Reserve a bit of caramel if you want to use it for decoration. Quickly spread into prepared pan. I liked to use a piece of waxed or parchment paper that I’ve sprayed with oil to press it firmly and evenly into the edges and corners, though a silicon spatula works almost as well.
Let cool, drizzle with reserved caramel sauce and/or pretty salt if desired, cut into squares and get ready to make new friends.