It’s Friday morning and I’ve been up since 6 am. I may have had one of these rice krispy bars at that time and perhaps another on my way out the door three hours later. Basically I’ve successfully convinced myself that since they’re made with brown crisped rice cereal and are sweetened with unrefined sugars that we’re basically in breakfast territory here. But in reality, these are quite decadent: as if Rice Krispy treats weren’t delightful enough on their own, this recipe takes them up a notch in all the right ways, adding bittersweet chocolate, almonds, toasted coconut, and a little sea salt. They’re just the thing to close out this busy, whirlwind late spring week.
I’ve been trying to get a new post up for the past week and a half, but we’ve been deep in the everyday upkeep that is life with a baby. My wonderful baker at Marge Granola is going on maternity leave and after an extensive search, I’ve hired someone we’re all excited about to temporarily replace her. The day to day operations of a small business are a delicate balance at best, and when everyone and everything is in place, things run smoothly and I hold my breath and look around, marveling that ingredients get ordered, shipments go out, and deliveries are made without me having to intervene too terribly much. And then when we’re faced with hiring or any internal changes, really, I hold my breath in a different way, realizing that the delicate balance is about to shift.
The day before I started interviewing for the baking position, I realized I was sorely underprepared. Oliver had started waking up twice in the middle of the night again (babies! You think you’ve got them figured out and then they change!) and I hadn’t even had a chance to look over resumes or prepare questions. The first woman showed up on time, I grabbed a clipboard to look official-ish and started asking her the questions I was always asked in interviews: what’s your greatest strength in the workplace? What’s your biggest weakness? I saw this intelligent, articulate woman pausing and stumbling and grasping for an answer and recalled being in the same position so many times before, thinking what a stupid trick question that is. Here: try to find a way, on the spot, to turn a supposed personal weakness into a strength so as to sell yourself to this person who doesn’t know you at all! I looked at her and apologized, telling her not to bother answering that question. That it was a dumb question. I asked her about what she does in her free time instead, and why she was excited about the job.
After she left, I made another cup of coffee and texted my friend Brandon to ask him some advice on hiring questions. His text back was brief: ask them about their story. Because we were hiring for a temporary position, this seemed especially appropriate: these candidates all srely had other things going on — other lives outside of Marge Granola that would make them an interesting addition to the team. So I ditched the official-ish looking clipboard, turned on a little music and started asking the trickle of people that came in that afternoon about their bigger plan, about what they were excited about. And the typical stress of hiring and interviewing melted away as we had conversations about grilled cheese sandwiches, woodworking, handcrafting gardening benches and an RV trip along the Pacific coast. At first, you may wonder what any of this has to do with kitchen experience and ability to step smoothly into the position and I did a little, too. But really, I can train almost anyone to make granola. It’s a lot harder to train personality, readiness and enthusiasm to learn, or dynamics within a team. And the woman we ended up hiring is, frankly, someone with kitchen experience but someone we’re also excited to keep chatting with for the remainder of the summer. A new addition to our growing and evolving story.
These super deluxe rice crispy bars are like a grown-up version of the beloved classic: the marshmallows are traded in for almond butter and chocolate. I made some tweaks to the original recipe, using brown rice crispies, and adding in chopped almonds and toasted coconut to the cereal mixture. The Food 52 editors mention that if you love chocolate, you could even double the ganache to make them even more decadent. If you don’t love almonds, I think chopped pistachios would be really delicious in these, or salted peanuts could be nostalgic and delightful. Cacao nibs would feel fancy. The options to customize and adapt these feel endless. Take it away.
A quick note on toasting coconut and nuts: It’s really easy to burn coconut, so keep an eye on it in the oven. I generally toast the coconut flakes at 300 F for about 5 minutes or so, or until golden brown and fragrant. Sliced almonds take about the same amount of time and the whole almonds will take longer, closer to 8-10 minutes. I chop them after toasting them. For this recipe, I toasted the coconut and sliced almonds on the same tray first, and then toasted the whole almonds separately, second.
Adapted from: Food 52 Baking
For the Bars:
For the Topping:
Line an 8-inch (20cm) square baking pan with parchment paper, allowing it to drape over the edges.
To make the bars, combine the maple syrup and rice syrups in a large pan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute. Remove from the heat, add the almond butter, chocolate, coconut oil, and salt and stir until the mixture is smooth and the chocolate is melted. Fold in the cereal, coconut and chopped almonds.
Transfer the mixture to the lined pan and pack it firmly and evenly using a spatula or your fingers (you may want to damped your fingers to prevent sticking).
To make the topping: combine the chocolate and oil in a small saucepan and cook over very low heat, stirring occasionally, just until the chocolate has melted, then cool for 5 minutes.
To assemble the treats, pour the topping evenly over the rice mixture and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle the sliced almonds and flaky salt on top. Let set at cool room temperature for about 2 hours, or in the refrigerator for about 1 hour, until firm. Use the edges of the parchment paper to lift the bars out of the pan and cut into 16 squares. These are best the day they’re made but they’ll keep at room temperature for several days (the cereal will just soften slightly).
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
We walked to the library last week and I had a strange realization standing in line watching Sam check out his usual massive stack of books: Will I ever have the time to read stacks of books again? I used to be much more of a reader than I am today -- a fact I'm not at all proud of. But when evening rolls around and the more formal workday ends, I find emails and other odds and ends creep in. Walking home from the library, I began obsessing over free time for reading, asking Sam if we'd ever be those two old people who study bird manuals and can recognize birds on walks. I want to have the time to read bird manuals someday. For now though, we're young and we're working a lot. We did sneak away on that one-night camping trip I told you about, and cooked some interesting, haphazard meals which I hope to share with you soon. For now though, for summer: a strawberry dessert recipe.
Much like friends, types of Sunday mornings, or books -- there are many different kinds of desserts. Sometimes you may be in the mood for a light French cake piled high with summer fruit. Other days, a thick slice of fragrant pound cake will do. And then there are those days when you crave a rich chocolate mousse that you share after a night of good conversation and a little too much wine. But let's be honest. When it comes right down to it, the most basic and unassuming dessert of all is sometimes the only one that will do. A good and simple affair. Vanilla ice cream. So I want to talk about that today--about a dessert that withstands the test of time, that will always be there for you. A dessert that is far from trendy, that doesn't play favorites or trick you into thinking it's something that it's not. It's a good foundation. A solid beginning.
[ Pie. if you've been around here much in the last few months, you know that I make pie. A lot of pie. And I'm particularly excited to share this pie with you today because it helped me break out of a rut. A pie rut. A baking rut. A Marge inspiration rut.