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The Seductive Snack You Can Make With Just Rice Krispies & Sugar

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A group of us at Food52 were recently discussing the number one visual cue of a good Rice Krispies treat. (Totally normal day.)

The answer was nearly unanimous (3... 2... 1... say it with us... strings of marshmallow goo!)—except for one straggler, who somehow believed that squareness is the signal of a successful R.K.T. (Squareness? Really?)

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The point of the story being, R.K.T. are—to most of us, anyway—all about the soft chewiness that results when marshmallows melt into a sticky glob that velvets every grain of cereal.

Now I wouldn't dare call into question the greatness of the Rice Krispies Treat (I'm not trying to get panned in the comments section). But sometimes—do I venture to say most of the time?—I long for my Rice Krispies to be more like themselves: I want more snap. I want more crackle. And you better believe I want more pop. But please, keep that added sugar—we're making dessert, after all.

Caramelized Rice Krispies
Caramelized Rice Krispies

The great thinkers in dessert—Pierre Hermé, Dorie Greenspan, Dana Cree—have espoused an easy method to make Rice Krispies crunchy, complex, and irresistible. And all with just a bit of sugar and water.

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Here's how it goes: Make a basic caramel (sugar moistened with just a touch of water); as soon as the sugar starts to change color, remove the pan from the heat, add the Rice Krispies and stir until the syrup disappears. Now return the pan to the heat and stir carefully, without stopping, until every Krispie is a deep golden caramel. It should take only three minutes or so.

After you spread the sticky cereal across a parchment-lined baking sheet and allow it to cool, each grain will be coated in a sheen of caramel with a complex sweetness that just verges on bitter. The broken-up bits are almost like caramel corn, but even crunchier; almost like brittle, but lighter; and almost like candied nuts, but more buoyant. They're seductive, they're snackable, and they give Rice Krispies Treats a run for their money.

Cocoa Krispies (left) and Rice Krispies (right).
Cocoa Krispies (left) and Rice Krispies (right). Photo by Julia Gartland

In Hello, My Name is Ice Cream, Dana Cree writes that you can expand the technique to all sorts of pantry items: nuts, seeds, other sorts of cereals. (My mind immediately jumped to Fruity Pebbles, but the other editors here gave that idea the axe. Try it and fill me in, won't you?)

In terms of what to do with them, Dorie uses her caramelized Rice Krispies to top the Crispy Topped Brown Sugar Bars (a thin layer of chewy cookie spread with melted bittersweet chocolate) in Baking Chez Moi, and you can be as ambitious:

  • Sprinkle them over ice cream (or fold them into the base itself) or just-baked blondies
  • Fling them over pudding, mousse, or semifreddo
  • Use them to crown a cream pie
  • Layer them into a trifle or parfait
  • Pour milk over them and eat them like, well, Rice Krispies
  • Smush them between cake layers when you're looking for a crunchy nut-free option
  • No one is stopping you from adding a handful (or two!) of caramelized Cocoa Krispies to your next tiramisuno one!
"I'm waiting for you."
"I'm waiting for you." Photo by Julia Gartland

I cannot honestly say I have consumed my caramel-Krispies in any of these creative forms. My stash lives in a quart container in the freezer (where Dana says it should last for about a month—but I'll push my luck), so that I can munch on it by the handful.

It's cold and supremely crunchy. I won't say I have not eaten it with yogurt for breakfast. Oh, and I still have the lion's share of my Rice Krispies box left. That means there's enough cereal to make those good old Rice Krispies Treats, too.

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Caramelized Rice Krispies

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Makes about 1 quart
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 2 cups (53 grams) Rice Krispies or Cocoa Krispies
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What's your favorite cereal-based dessert? Tell us in the comments below!