Nothing is more quintessentially North American to me than a plate of Rice Krispie squares and a glass of milk – a simple and beloved treat that, in my childhood, appeared at every potluck, or birthday party or gathering involving food.
Just not in our house.
We seldom had boxed cereal in our cupboards, and marshmallows were a special treat reserved for camping. I had to get my Rice-Krispie-Square fix when I was invited over to friends’ houses or at 4-H potluck dinners. It wasn’t that I was deprived in any way – my mom is an amazing cook and we were fed wonderful meals regularly – it’s just that she wasn’t familiar with this food from Europe and couldn’t see its appeal.
I remember my uncle from Germany visiting when I was 10 years old and him being so enamored with marshmallows that he took several bags home in his suitcase. Several years ago when one of our German exchange students was living with us, she took a foods class at the local high school and one of the first things she learned how to make was Rice Krispie squares. She was hooked – a Rice Krispie Square junkie – and she proudly made them often for us at home. So we also sent her home with a box of Rice Krispies and a bag of marshmallows in her suitcase. (I think they may be more available now in Germany, but they’re definitely not a part of everyday food culture like they are here in Canada and the rest of North America.)
Heck, our highly-packaged-loving-society even has the squares available pre-made and individually wrapped. Though why anybody would buy them when they are so quick to make at home, I’m not sure.
Marshmallows and I have a bit of a rocky history. When we were young, my mother would line me and my four sisters up and give us our daily dose of cod liver oil by spoon. Oh yay. That was a dreaded event. And one time, she had the well-meaning idea to sweeten the vile offering with a marshmallow stuffed into our mouth right after the spoonful of oil was grudgingly swallowed. Well, you can imagine that taste and texture combination and the event that followed. For years after, I could only ever tolerate marshmallows when they were burnt black over the campfire, and then only the charred outer layer, not the spongy, squishy cod-liver-oil-and-marshmallow-related-forever-in-my-mind insides of the fluffy sweet.
I still can’t eat an untoasted marshmallow, but Rice Krispie Squares – I have never had trouble tolerating those! So now that I’ve thoroughly turned your stomachs and done exactly what I’ve always chastised my children for – disgusting talk at the table – let me tell you again how delicious these squares are.
I’ve always added oats to my Rice Krispie squares in an attempt to up the nutrition a bit, and now that we are finding out how good-for-you cinnamon is, I try to sneak its wonderful flavour in wherever I can. Dried cranberries give bursts of tart flavour to offset the sweetness and add some more fiber and nutrition. The warm cinnamony, gingery spices make me feel festive – who doesn’t like gingerbread? You can almost convince yourself these treats are good for you.
Add the decadent chocolate cinnamon ganache and you’ve elevated them to a whole ‘nother level (though I do think they taste mighty fine without, too). My family loves this spiced-up version of Rice Krispie squares, and they are an easy holiday baking treat. The gingerbread spices make them taste festive. In the words of my oldest son “these are really addictive”.
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Kitchen Frau Notes: Many crispy rice cereals are not gluten-free – they often contain barley malt. If you need to follow a gluten-free diet, read the labels carefully, and search out a brand that contains no gluten.
-If you need to make these squares dairy-free, use a dairy-free margarine instead of butter, and use coconut milk to make the ganache topping if you choose to add it.
-If you want to speed up the already quick prep time of this recipe and have a jar of pumpkin pie spice lolling around in your spice cabinet, you could substitute 2 teaspoons (10ml) of it for the spices listed below.
-I always count out 40 regular marshmallows from a large bag, but if you buy the 250gm bag, it usually has about 37 marshmallows in it, so use ¼ – ½ cup less crispy rice cereal to keep the squares from getting harder.
-This recipe works better with quick-cooking oats, usually called quick oats. The old-fashioned/large-flake oats are too coarse, and the instant oats are too fine. In the words of Goldilocks, the quick oats are “juuuuuust right”.
Gingerbread Rice Krispie Squares
- 5 cups (1200ml) crispy rice cereal
- 1 cup (240ml) quick oats
- ½ cup (120ml) dried cranberries or raisins (optional)
- ¼ cup (60ml) butter or margarine
- 1 teaspoon (5ml) cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon (2.5ml) ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon (1.25ml) ground nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon (1.25ml) ground allspice
- 40 regular marshmallows (250 gm bag *see note above)
- 1 teaspoon (5ml) pure vanilla extract
Lightly grease a 9×9″ or 9×13″ pan (larger pan will make thinner squares, smaller pan thicker one – it’s a matter of personal preference) with butter or cooking oil spray.
In a large mixing bowl, measure the crispy rice, oats and cranberries or raisins (if using). Set aside.
Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute to release the flavours in the spices. (What a heavenly aroma!)
When the spiced butter just starts to bubble, add the marshmallows and stir constantly until the marshmallows are melted. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.
Pour this sticky mixture over the rice crisps and oats, scraping it out of the saucepan with a rubber spatula.
Scrape it into the greased pan. Coat the inside of your hands with a smearing of butter or cooking spray, and pat the mixture down firmly (without crushing the cereal) until it is evenly spread out.
Tell your children the leftover sticky-crispy bits in the bowl and on the spatula will make them sick, then when they are out of sight – quickly work them off and devour them. (It’s a dirty job but someone needs to keep the kids safe!)
Leave the pan of nummy-ness to cool at room temperature or in the refrigerator for about an hour or so, then cut into squares. Hide a few away for yourself before the kids get them all. A cold glass of milk (any kind) does go well with these.
Or frost them first with this . . . (simple but deadly)
Decadent Cinnamon Ganache
- 1 cup (6 oz/170gms) good quality dark chocolate, chunks or chopped (or in a pinch – chocolate chips)
- 3/4 cup (180ml) whipping cream
- 1 teaspoon (5ml) cinnamon
Stir constantly until melted and glossy. Remove from heat and allow to cool until lukewarm.
Pour over the pan of prepared Gingerbread Rice Krispie Squares. Spread out with a spatula, and allow to rest until set, about an hour in the refrigerator – a little longer at room temperature.
Slice into squares when the ganache has firmed up, wiping the knife after each cut.
*In the ganache-frosted version the gingerbread flavours are much more subtle than when they are the star of the show, as above in the un-ganached squares. Here, they provide a subtle spicy undertone to the rich, creamy chocoate . . . but sometimes it is all about the chocolate.
Rice Krispie squares in a warm flannel robe, or in a sultry evening gown. It’s your choice.