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).
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.