brown butter rice krispy treats + homemade marshmallow creme
Since we all agree that every body is a beach body and that being caftan ready is less of “a lifestyle” and more like the only lifestyle, let’s set our calorie-tracking apps aside for a second and talk about my new favorite first-rate splurge: homemade rice krispy treats with brown butter and marshmallow creme made from scratch. Mmhmm, you read that right, girl!
Now listen, I can already see you scrunching up your nose at the thought of having to mess with sticky corn syrup, and I totally get it, and you’re right. Marshmallow creme (or cream, whatevs) is messy and finicky, corn syrup really does give me unpleasant GMO vibes, and, yes, you do need a cooking thermometer, preferably one for candy. But you’re wrong about it not being worth the trouble. I’m sorry, but you are. I know this for sure because I was too.
Up until last week, I was thoroughly convinced that Smitten Kitchen’s salted brown butter version would be all I’d ever need from a rice krispy treat in this lifetime. I was certain I’d find the marshmallow creme too temperamental to be worth whatever supposed boost in flavor the extra effort promised. Maybe I’m just one of those people who prefer marshmallows from the bag, I thought. Then I made these homemade RKTs for a potluck last weekend and they made everyone’s tastebuds feel like they were tripping on acid. You should’ve seen the eye daggers that flew across the kitchen when it was time to divvy out leftovers.
The homemade marshmallow cream is so unfathomably toasty and stretchy that it made me realize how much of my enjoyment of the processed ones hinged on a sort of sentimentality from eating them as a kid. Those gleaming little blue packaged squares were the crown jewel of any snack machine and a staple of my childhood lunchbox. But this version, which hales straight from the pages of Stella Park’s gorgeous book Bravetart*, is The Ultimate of snap crackle pop confectionary glee, grown up-style. They’re the most extra brown butter kripsies in all the land. Their max-volume flavor making them inexplicably more enjoyable to shove in your piehole than anything you could get from a box, no nostalgia required.
*Bravetart is essential reading for anyone who even remotely likes to bake. Stella Parks is one of the most talented bakers of our time, and leaves no stone unturned in her meticulous recipe testing. If there was any potential for puffing your own rice to be worthwhile, she would’ve already done it and taught us all how. I made no intentional changes to this recipe because when I do exactly what she tells me to, I nail it. However, there were still mishaps because that’s life, and so I had some notes to contribute after a couple of tries.
Homemade Rice Krispies Treats with Brown Butter, straight from Bravetart + my notes
Yields twelve 3-inch squares
11 cups / 11 ounces Rice Krispies cereal
2 envelopes (4 ½ teaspoons / ½ ounce) unflavored gelatin powder
¼ cup / 2 ounces cool water to bloom the gelatin (see note)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ cup / 4 ounces water for the sugar syrup
1 cup / 12 ounces light corn syrup (see note)
2 ¼ cups / 16 ounces sugar
1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt (use half of much if iodized or fine grain)
2 sticks / 8 ounces unsalted butter, browned (see note)
Flaky salt to finish (optional)
I had never seen gelatin “bloom” before trying this recipe because I’ve never made marshmallows (or jello molds) from scratch. If you haven’t either, know that bloom here means “grows into a giant brown jelly lump” and it’s totally fine. It’ll distribute itself normally when you add it to the mixer.
I ran out of light corn syrup and had to sub ⅔ cup of dark corn syrup. The color while cooking never gets as clear as a full cup of light corn syrup (which was sort of stressful as I was trying to follow the directions to the letter), but if you have to sub it for dark just continue following the time and temp guidelines and it should be fine. The substitution didn’t affect the texture as far as I or anyone else could tell, but it did make it slightly more toasty. I might even do it on purpose next time.
Follow the directions very closely, not least of all the first few lines. Move the oven rack or the krispies will toast too much; use a dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot or you will end up with a floor covered in too toasty rice krispies; grease the shit out of the bowl before you dump the cereal in or the marshmallow creme will stick when you add it later. But if all of these things do go awry, persevere! They’ll still be excellent.
Temperature Note (from Bravetart): The creme will be thick and tough when cooked above 250 F, sticky and gooey if not cooled to 212 F, or obnoxiously thick if cooled below 205 F. Avoid these problems with an accurate digital thermometer which should register 212 F in a pot of boiling water.
I ended up using a meat thermometer for the first batch because I couldn’t find my candy one (had never used it before tbh). The meat thermometer worked fine, but I did make sure to test it in a pot of boiling water before starting. I did so again once I found the candy one. Save your sanity and test that thang before you start.
Key Point (from Bravetart): In winter months, the hot syrup may harden in the bottom of a chilly mixing bowl. Warm the bowl in the hot water to avoid this problem, and dry well before use.
If you’re not going to brown the butter and prefer to simply melt it instead (certainly not ahem your best idea, but I understand), then reduce to 1 stick of butter.
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 175 degrees F. Generously grease a 5-quart bowl, pot, or roasting pan, then add cereal and place in the oven to keep warm.
Melt 2 sticks of butter in a larger pot than you’d think you need, 2-quart or bigger; it will foam up. Increase the heat to medium and simmer, stirring continuously while the butter hisses and pops. Scrape up the brown bits as they start to form on the bottom of the pan and continue to stir until the butter is golden-yellow and perfectly silent. Pour into a bowl or measuring cup, making sure not to leave behind any of the toasty brown bits. Set aside.
In a small bowl, mix gelatin, 2 ounces (¼ cup) cool water, and vanilla with a fork. Combine remaining 4 ounces (½ cup) water, corn syrup, sugar, and salt in a 3-quart stainless steel pot over medium heat. Stir with a fork until bubbling, about 8 minutes, then increase to medium-high. Clip on a digital thermometer to the side of the pot, and cook without stirring until the clear syrup registers 250 F, about 6 minutes.
Transfer thermometer to the clean and dry bowl of a stand mixer and pour in the hot syrup all at once, scraping the pot with a heat-resistant spatula. Cool to exactly 212 F, about 8 minutes, then add gelatin. With the whisk attachment, mix on low speed to combine, then increase to medium-high and whip until syrup is thick, snowy white, roughly tripled in volume, and beginning to ball up around the whisk, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, grease a 9-by-13-inch aluminum baking pan.
When the creme is thick, reduce mixer speed to low, add browned butter, and return to medium-high for a few seconds more. (Note: more like 10 to 15 seconds for my brown butter to disperse.) Scrape the creamy mixture over the warm cereal and fold with a greased spatual to coat. Transfer to the prepared pan and gently press into an even layer, taking care not to crush the cereal (as much as you can help it, which was not terribly much for me). Cover with foil or lid and let stand at room temperature until firm, about 1 hour.
To serve, cut only as many portions as needed (each cut opens countless grains of rice, speeding up the staling process). Store leftovers tightly wrapped in plastic for up to 3 days, or for up to a week in the fridge.