There’s a flavor of gathering somewhere between “hey we’re ordering pizza tonight, wanna come over?” and “Christmas Eve at our house, pls bring so much wine.” Usually, though not always, some angel cobbles these together on the spur of the moment, say one to three days prior. Preferred format is a flurry of texts, or, better, a group text. (Kidding. But realistic.) Maybe there’s a minor holiday involved (Halloween, most recently in our case) or maybe something’s just drawing you to be together with family or friends (ahem, Election Night).
And though I love an excuse to bake something extravagant — see: atrocious and lovable “pom pom cake” for Jack’s 3rd birthday — a meal’s got to be in harmony with itself. Pizza Night calls for ice cream sundaes, or brownies, preferably eaten on a couch in front of a movie. A grand feast requires a real showstopper ending.
So how do you end a meal that’s homey but genuinely satisfying, where the company is the draw? Where the food is important (because it always is), but the act of gathering is more so?
People, this is my zone. If it’s too fussy, you look like an asshole. If it’s forgettable, you may just get asked to bring the chips from now on. (Which… now that I think about it sounds pretty cushy.) But if you can find something a) crowd-pleasing, b) familiar but with c) some memorable element or twist, you’re golden. Bonus if it takes under 15 minutes to make, requires no actual baking, and is easily memorized.
I give you this: a tweaked, whole-grained, flaky salt-crowned version of a recipe I found by saying, “I have no idea what to bring to my sister’s on Halloween, and I will literally make the first dessert Deb Perelman tells me to make.”
Where I lacked actual (white) crispy rice cereal I found a box of crisped brown rice cereal in my pantry (ordinarily reserved for making Liz Prueitt’s granola from Tartine All Day). Where I lacked coarse salt, I made up for with regular fine-grain sea salt to go into the mix, plus a posh layer of Maldon for the top. Between a somewhat audaciously brown browned butter, the nuttiness of the brown rice, and the crunch of what I’m just teaching my son to call “big salt,” there’s a special, sort of grown-up quality to these that still manages to stay accessible and downright obsession-worthy for kids.
Did I mention it takes like no time at all and after making it once you’ll basically have it memorized?
Salted Brown Butter Brown Rice Crispy Treats (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
Makes 16 squares
1 stick (1/2 cup or 4 ounces) unsalted butter
1 10-ounce bag marshmallows
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
6 cups crispy brown rice cereal
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon Maldon or other flaky salt
Butter or oil an 8-inch square pan or dish.
In a large pot over medium heat, melt the butter. When the butter has melted, reduce heat to medium-low (or low, depending on your stove) and stir continuously until the butter begins to brown. This will take a few minutes at at first you’ll think nothing is happening. I assure you, things are happening! Once the butter clarifies and deposits its tiny milk solids on the bottom of the pot, you’re a minute or so away from browning. Continue stirring until the solids become tiny brown flecks. If you keep a close eye on this you’ll be able to tailor the browning: if you’re skittish and afraid of burning it, kill the heat at a medium golden brown; if you’re feeling gutsy, keep stirring for another 10 seconds or so to bring it to a decidedly chestnut color. Once the butter has browned to your liking, remove the pot from heat and stir in the marshmallows and vanilla, if using. The heat in the butter may be enough to melt your marshmallows (particularly if you’re using small ones), but don’t be afraid to turn the heat back on low to help the marshmallows along. Stir continuously until the mixture is smooth.
Add the brown rice cereal and sea salt and stir, working quickly, until fully incorporated. Dump the mixture into the prepared dish. With a silicone spatula, work it into the corners of the pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle with the flaky salt and allow to cool completely.
Cut into 2-inch squares (or larger, if you’d like) and serve.
- baked goods
- beans + legumes
- dinner party
- freezer friendly
- gluten free
- make ahead
- pregnant food
- roasted stuff
- special occasions
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