"Mommy! I need to bring something for the bake sale fundraiser tomorrow or else I won't be able to go on my field trip to Seward!" my fourth-grader declared with a sense of urgency rivaling news of a natural disaster. These are apparently some of the important goings on when one is 9 going on 10 years old.
I mean, I kinda get it. Seward is awesome. The students go every year to Kenai Fjords and the SeaLife Center and it's always a highlight of the school year. And, obviously, baked goods are awesome, too. What kid isn't pumped about bringing brownies, cookies, cupcakes or other treats to class with them? When one's mother also happens to be a food writer, one just sort of expects homemade-bordering-on-gourmet baked goods to materialize out of thin air at a moment's notice.
My brain rattled. The laundry list of things I needed to get done and appointments that needed to be kept scrolled through my head at rapid speed. There was no time for cupcakes from scratch, buttercream frosting and seasonal sprinkles. I shuddered at the thought, the weight of responsibility bearing down on me. It was then that I recalled the enormous box of crisped rice cereal I had bought on sale that had yet to be opened. I could make something quick and easy, but still have it be something special.
I summoned up a recipe I had posted on my blog back in 2012 for rice crispy treats made with vanilla bean, brown butter and sea salt. I knew I could get them done quickly, that they would travel well and survive the bus ride to school the next morning and that they'd be giant squares of gooey, buttery deliciousness that would likely sell well at a bake sale fundraiser.
I swung by the store and bought two bags of mini marshmallows and butter. At the checkout line, the woman looked at me knowingly and asked if I was making rice crispy treats. Dead giveaway. I got home and set butter to brown on the stove while I talked freshman antics with one child and attempted to quell preteen angst with the other. My daughter watched Disney Channel while I was elbow deep in strings of partially melted marshmallows. When I was done, I tucked perfect, thick squares studded with extra marshmallows into large Ziploc bags. On the bags, I wrote in black Sharpie the words: brown butter and vanilla bean. I had avoided a fourth-grade bake sale catastrophe and my daughter marched off to the school bus the next morning with her treats proudly in hand. Maybe this recipe will save some of you folks, too.
Brown butter and vanilla bean rice crispy treats
Makes about 18 large squares
1 cup butter
20 ounces mini marshmallows, 1/2 cup reserved for topping
1 vanilla bean, scraped
10 cups crispy rice cereal
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
In a large nonstick pot, melt the butter over medium heat. The butter will melt, then foam and bubble, then begin to brown. As soon as it looks golden brown and smells nutty, remove it from the heat.
Add the marshmallows (reserving 1/2 cup of the marshmallows for the topping) along with the caviar from the vanilla bean. Stir until the marshmallows melt and become smooth. Add the cereal and the sea salt, stirring well to coat. Press the mixture evenly into a 9-by-13-inch pan. Sprinkle the remaining marshmallows over the top and press them down gently to adhere. Allow the bars to set 30 minutes before slicing with a sharp knife into squares.
Maya Wilson lives in Kenai and blogs about food at alaskafromscratch.com. Have a food question or recipe request? Email email@example.com and your inquiry may appear in a future column.