Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Everything's Closed on Easter" Salted Caramel Peanut Butter Cereal Treats

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Salted Caramel Peanut Butter Cereal Treats

I have a confession: I don't "test" recipes per se. I make them, and if they work, I post them here but if they turn out anywhere on the spectrum of "Not Something I'm Psyched About" to "Basically Poison" ... well, don't worry, I spare you.  But these cereal treats are the exception to the refusal to test recipes. I've tested and tested and tested these babies and finally gotten to a version that works. And it works well. 

Salted Caramel Peanut Butter Cereal Treats

Here is how I know they work well: First, I hate caramel but I devoured about 9 er, several of these. Second, I brought them to work and they were all gone by lunchtime, devoured by every single one of my coworkers, even those who usually are not big fans of sweets. Three days later, people were still talking about these little bars.

Salted Caramel Peanut Butter Cereal Treats

They're so easy, but they taste so decadent. The combination of peanut butter, salted caramel and chocolate sounds overwhelming but it is actually sort of like an awesome tango on your taste buds. (Tango is the technically complex genre of music I'm thinking of, right? Let's say it is.) You taste one flavor, then the next, and then the next, and then it all starts over. Peanut butter and caramel complement each other surprisingly perfectly.

Salted Caramel Peanut Butter Cereal Treats

Another sort-of-weird-sounding element of these bars is that I used Cheerios instead of Rice Krispies. It was totally a fluke: I thought I had Rice Krispies and after the binding mixture was already well on its way to done, I realized I had used them all up on the last (failed) batch of these. Whoops. I used Cheerios in a pinch, and, let me tell you, it is not an exaggeration* to say that this is probably the best accidental discovery since penicillin.

Whereas Rice Krispies can get so dry and brittle in treats, Cheerios remained moist and soft, didn't crumble into powder when you bit into them, and also - you have to admit - look much more attractive and appetizing than Rice Krispies. There's a new cereal bar in town.

*This may be a minor exaggeration

Salted Caramel Peanut Butter Cereal Treats

So, why the obsession (Not to mention the name of this post)? Well besides the fact that I am just generally a lunatic, when I was in Denver, my friend and host Kate took me to a healthy fast food joint called Tokyo Joe's for dinner on the first night I was there. The name makes the restaurant sound cheesy, but the ambiance was really relaxed and the food was very good. However, the best part was dessert: a locally made peanut butter Rice Krispie treat topped with soft chocolate frosting.

A few days later, it was Easter and nothing was open. Maybe we are naive heathens, but neither Kate nor I really expected quite the extent of the closures around town, so we didn't really have a plan B, other than watching bootleg episodes of Girls all day (don't judge. It's like a train wreck: you can't look away). One of the only places open was the grocery store. So, off we went to buy ingredients to try to recreate the amazing dessert. We did a decent job, but it wasn't quite right. And I've been obsessively tweaking and testing the recipe ever since. This version is not terribly similar to the original that we had at Tokyo Joe's, but I've finally given up on recreating the original precisely, and am really happy with what these evolved into. Hopefully, if you get the chance to try them, you will be too. 

Salted Caramel Peanut Butter Cereal Treats

Chocolate-Covered Salted Caramel Peanut Butter Cereal Treats
From Buttercream Fanatic (2013)

For the cereal layer: 
Nonstick spray
1 cup peanut butter (don't use the natural kind)
2 Tablespoons butter
10 ounces (1 regular-sized bag) large plain marshmallows
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Generous pinch (about 1/2 teaspoon) table salt
4 cups any plain cereal - I used Cheerios, but Chex or Rice Krispies would work too

For the chocolate topping:
1.65 oz (approximately 1/4 cup) dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 Tablespoon butter
Generous pinch (about 1/2 teaspoon) table salt

Spray an 8x8 pan with nonstick spray.

Pour the cereal into a large mixing bowl and set aside. 

In a large saucepan over medium heat, mix peanut butter, butter, marshmallows, and vanilla, stirring constantly, until melted. Continue to stir continuously until the mixture turns a little browner (caramel-colored), then stir in the salt. Immediately remove from heat and pour over cereal. Use a rubber spatula to turn the mixture over, gently mixing the caramel into the cereal. This will take some time. Keep turning until the caramel is evenly distributed and all of the cereal pieces are covered. Turn the coated cereal into the prepared pan and use your fingertips to pack down, flatten, and evenly distribute (into corners, etc).

In a small, microwave-safe bowl, combine dark chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate and butter and microwave on high for 90 seconds. Do not microwave longer, even if it is not completely melted. Stir with a fork until the mixture is smooth and even, and everything is completely melted (no chunks left). Pour over the cereal in the pan and use a rubber spatula to spread to cover all of the cereal. No cereal should be showing.

Transfer to the refrigerator for about a half hour to solidify before cutting.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week. Makes 16 bars.


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8 comments:

  1. I don't really recipe test either but for these babies...I would have tried and tried again. They seem totally worth the effort!

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  2. Thanks, Joanne! Seriously, it is such a relief to hear that other people don't do extensive testing too. I know of some bloggers out there who do, and it's so intimidating. These were worth the effort, but now I am looking forward to just winging it again!

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  3. I love the look of these! I work the same way as you...if a recipe is awesome and sharable I share it! And it it's not then I don't. EXCEPT carrot cake...I've been "testing" it for like 4 years. I still can't get it perfect! :(

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  4. These look so delicious, Nora! Caramel and peanut butter definitely sound like they make a nice pair (:

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  5. Thanks so much! I know what you mean about having that "white whale" recipe...although for carrot cake, you should definitely try out the Flour Bakery Cookbook recipe. It's here: http://www.buttercreamfanatic.com/2013/04/carrot-birthday-cake-with-vanilla.html It's pretty perfect, if you ask me :)

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  6. Thanks Monica! I was actually surprised about how well PB and caramel paired. Live and learn I guess!

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  7. Oh my heaven! I might make these for a memorial day BBQ this weekend!

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  8. They'd be perfect for a BBQ! Hope you enjoy them!

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