Rice Krispie Treats Recipe
Why It Works
- Toasting the Rice Krispies and browning the butter lends the bars a rich nuttiness and beautiful golden brown color.
- Seasoning the Rice Krispie treats generously with kosher salt helps cut through the sweetness of marshmallows and creates the right balance of salty and sweet.
With the exception of Betty Crocker pound cake, my mother rarely baked. The only thing she contributed to bake sales at school were Rice Krispies treats, and she didn’t even bother making them on the stove. She’d melt the butter and the marshmallows in the microwave, add the Rice Krispies, and call it a day. Her recipe was the one on the back of the box, and though the taste of the classic treat is incredibly nostalgic for me, I find them a little too sickly sweet as an adult.
Over the years, I’ve tweaked the classic recipe to come up with a bar that has more complexity and depth. With only a few ingredients, it may seem like there’s not much to do with a basic Rice Krispie treat without altering it beyond recognition—you’ve got the Krispies, the marshmallows, and the butter. It is what it is, right? Well, to a point. Even with so few ingredients, we can still turn to a couple strong techniques to enhance and improve upon the original Rice Krispie treat while staying remarkably true to it.
Those techniques are the Maillard reaction and salt. If you’re a reader of Serious Eats, you already know what Maillard is: a complex transformation of proteins and sugars when heated to create increasingly complex and savory aromas and flavors, along with deeper, darker brown colors. It’s largely what makes roast chicken skin so delicious, roasted vegetables vastly more layered in flavor than steamed or boiled, and gives breads and pastries an earthier edge to offset the sweetness of their ample simple and complex carbohydrates.
There are two opportunities to apply the Maillard reaction to Rice Krispie treats without adding a single additional ingredient. First, we can toast the cereal in the oven until golden, which brings out the grain’s nutty, earthy notes. Second, instead of just melting the butter, we can brown it until nutty and fragrant. With just those two simple steps, the Rice Krispie treats develop needed depth and dimension beyond their underlying sweetness.
And then there’s the salt. As anyone who’s pushed the salt just a little more than might seem appropriate in a dessert knows, it’s one of the secret weapons of making sweet foods significantly more delicious. And so, in this Rice Krispie treats recipe, I generously season the toasted puffed rice grains while incorporating them into the mixture of brown butter and marshmallows. After that, I finish the bars with a sprinkle of flaky sea salt, which helps to balance the sweetness of the vanilla-scented marshmallows and highlights the richness of the brown butter.
Though I use regular marshmallows in this recipe, you could certainly swap them out for a vegetarian alternative. And feel free to change up your cereal—this recipe is delicious with Corn Flakes, too.