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).
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
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.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.