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A Little Debbie Treat, All Grown Up (With Spiced Brown Butter)

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As an adult, I can appreciate my mother's aversion to feeding us junk food. With the wisdom and perspective of age, I can say I'm glad I was raised on homemade cookies instead of Dunkaroos; freshly-baked 7-grain bread instead of squishy white sandwich slices. But as a second grader, I would have killed for just one pack of Oreos or a single strawberry Pop-Tart.

High on my list of coveted sweets was the Little Debbie oatmeal creme pie, a whoopie pie–esque confection of two soft oatmeal cookies sandwiching a toothachingly sweet whipped frosting. Needless to say, I did not sample many Little Debbie pies as a child.

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Photo by Posie Harwood

Happily, a perk of adulthood is that I could buy them for myself. But as my mother's daughter, I now prefer learning to make things from scratch, and enjoying them all the more because of it. Not only it is satisfying to master an iconic dessert, but you can tweak it to taste just the way you want. My version of the Little Debbie pies is different. Brown butter adds a sophisticated, nutty flavor. A hefty dose of spices makes the base flavorful and complex. Instead of making a sandwich cookie, I bake the batter in a square pan, creating a cross between a cake and a bar, with a chewy yet soft texture and golden edges.

The frosting is less sweet that the classic Little Debbie filling, but you'll use marshmallow Fluff, so don't worry that we're getting too highbrow or anything. If you want, you can even dial back the sugar and add some spice (like cardamom, or cardamom sugar) to the frosting for a more sophisticated version.

Photo by Posie Harwood

The bars keep well overnight at room temperature, and I actually preferred them the second day. If you remember vending machine desserts with a fervent happiness, this recipe is for you. If you've never even heard of Little Debbie or her pies, this recipe is for you, too!

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Iced Oatmeal Pie Bars

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Makes 9 medium bars

For the bars

  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) butter
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup (7 1/2 ounces) brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (3 1/8 ounces) quick-cooking oats
  • 3/4 cup (3 1/8 ounces) all-purpose flour

For the frosting

  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) confectioners' sugar
  • 7 ounces marshmallow cream (fluff)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
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Tags: oatmeal