Pre-bathing suit dieters: avert your eyes and avert them now. Go quickly to a health food blog, do an emergency keyword search for things like “quinoa” and “fennel,” and do your best to completely avoid what I have going on here. This is not the post for you. I’m swimming in the sea of early summer fruits as much as the rest of you, but I couldn’t get this out of my head, so here it is. Page one of the newest Baked offering, Baked Elements: The Good Morning Sunshine Bars, finagled by yours truly. And I did do a good amount of finagling here.
I think it’s a widely accepted fact that there’s a positive correlation between loving good food and also loving cereal. I don’t know why, but there’s a large amount of us who spend our days eating salad upon salad, only to lose our minds over cereal flavors. It’s equal parts comforting and disturbing: comforting because I’m not the only one who does it, and disturbing because there’s so many of us who become elated over the newest flavor of Cap’n Crunch.
It’s like an epidemic. I’m here to foster that epidemic with these bars. They feature my beloved Rice Chex (I have loved all things Chex since I was small), but they are oh so much more than that. To give you an idea of how good these are, I’ll say this. If Chex cereal were anthropomorphic and had feelings, they would be clamoring all over each other to be a part of these bars. It would be like winning the lottery for them. Not a scratch-off; like the billion-dollar lottery. If a Rice Chex were contestants on a 1970’s game show, it would be like they won all the prizes and the bonus trip to Italy. If you were Rice Chex, being chosen to participate in these bars would probably feel like it does when someone knocks on your door clutching balloons and holding an enormous check. You would dissolve into hysterical tears, call for your little Chex family to steady you so you don’t pass out, and maybe jump up and down a little bit from sheer joy as you slowly realize all that awaits you.
And that, my friends, is how incredibly wonderful and perfect these bars are.
Anatomy of a the world’s most perfect cereal bar:
You can eat them 24 hours a day. They’re made of cereal, making them acceptable for breakfast (although many of you eat consider most any dessert fair game for breakfast; I should consider my audience.) There’s also honey and peanut butter in there, which I consider to be transitional foods, meaning they also can be eaten for breakfast. I added some things to the original recipe: specifically, pretzel sticks and marshmallows. Result: it’s like they were meant to be in there all along, and they totally amp up the sweet/salty flavor combo, if that’s even possible.
If you are hedgy about corn syrup, I get it. I have made my peace with it a few scant tablespoons at a time, understanding that it has a viscosity to it that is unmatched by any product found in nature. But using a cup of it? I don’t love it; I can’t do that to you, because I know it would deter you from making this, and that would be a shame. I substituted half of it out in favor of a good-quality honey, which works very well, holds everything together perfectly, and adds a nice complementary flavor to the peanut butter. Next batch, I’ll try substituting honey in for corn syrup entirely, to see if it works. If it does, I’ll let you know.
Listen, bottom line: these are wonderful. Magically, perfectly wonderful. You will either make them all the time or you will want to make them all the time. Your family and friends will start saying “hey: I’m having a party and I wasn’t going to invite you, but I am now because I can ask you to make something and there’s a distinct possibility you’ll bring these bars.” They will make you intensely popular, so be prepared to make multiple batches. Thankfully, these come together easily and require no baking, so it’s a great summer (or anytime) snack.
A few recipe notes before we start (oh, sneaky! I’m throwing them in before the actual recipe), because there’s a few technical things to mention. First, please do read the recipe before you begin; mostly because it’s always a smart thing to do, but also because there’s a point in which you add the hot peanut mixture to the dry goods, and as long as you do it right, your marshmallows will end up melty but not dissolved, like the photos above. Secondly, you’ll notice the nice, clean drizzle of chocolate on each bar: that’s a me thing. If you make these for a gathering and drizzle before cutting, you’re liable to run into a situation where you’re getting chocolate all over the bars as you cut into them. At the very least, your smooth chocolate lines won’t be smooth anymore. To counteract this, drizzle the chocolate after you cut the bars rather than before; it won’t take you but a few seconds more time, and they’ll be that much prettier for your teensy bit of extra effort.
Adapted from one of my Mother’s Day cookbook scores, Baked Elements: Our 10 Favorite Ingredients by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. It is a beautiful book. It’s always a good sign when I get only as far as the first page before being overcome.
Crazy Sunshine Bars
- 6 cups Rice Chex cereal
- 1 cup salted peanuts (I used Planters lightly salted, which are my standby for recipes both sweet and savory)
- 2 cups mini stick pretzels
- 1 1/2 cups mini marshmallows
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup light corn syrup
- 1/2 cup good quality honey
- 1 cup smooth peanut butter (I like Skippy Natural, because it’s got a nice salt content which falls in line with my mini pretzels and salted peanuts and kosher salt. salt salt salt. sorry.)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (which you may leave out if you wish, but leaving it in really gives you that sweet/salty contrast)
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
Butter the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13 glass Pyrex baking dish. Line with parchment paper so that the two wide sides have parchment hanging over (like handles), and butter the parchment on top where it resides inside the dish.
In a large bowl, combine the cereal, peanuts, stick pretzels, and marshmallows. Stir with your hands until everything is evenly distributed. It is fun.
In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, stir the brown sugar, corn syrup, and honey together until blended. Increase the heat to medium and bring to a boil. Allow the mixture to boil for one full minute, then remove it from the heat and stir in the peanut butter, vanilla, and salt, stirring until mixture is completely homogenous.
This is where the fast-working starts. Deep breaths. I hope you read ahead and have a strategy. If you haven’t, for shame! You know it’s always good form to read an entire recipe ahead of time. Now scoot.
Pour the sugar mixture over the top of the cereal, swinging the saucepan over the dry ingredients as you pour so that the wet mixture hits as much surface area as possible; you’re on borrowed time from now until that mixture is flat against the bottom of your baking dish.
Spray a rubber spatula with cooking spray so you won’t waste precious seconds un-gooing it. Working quickly, using a fast folding motion, distribute the hot peanut butter mixture all over the cereal mixture. Work up from the bottom and over the top, watching closely for dry ingredient stragglers. The marshmallows won’t melt at first, but when they do (like the cornflake marshmallow chocolate chip cookies), they’ll go fast, and you really want those pockets of white softness in these bars. You should see everything evenly incorporated just as your marshmallows begin their melt, and once it is, turn it into the prepared baking dish.
Using the same cooking-sprayed rubber spatula, press the mixture into the pan until the surface is flat and even. Your marshmallows will be gooey and half-melted, but you’ll see them, and you will rejoice. Good work, you. Let cool on a wire rack until they hit room temperature, which I say is easily an hour, if not more. If you want to speed this part up, place them in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or so, but I recommend the counter cooldown.
Once they’re at room temperature, melt your chocolate. I hate giving you instructions for using the microwave, but for this, you can. It’s almost more appropriate, given we’re making cereal bars and not a haughty little chocolate mousse cake. Place your chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl and zap on high for around 15 seconds. Stir a little, then zap at 10-second intervals until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Remove from the oven and set aside for a few minutes to cool slightly.
When ready, pour the mixture into a piping bag or (again, maybe more appropriate, and what I use) a plastic freezer bag. Cut the corner off to your desired size – very small for what you see in the photo, larger for a more pronounced striping) and weave that chocolate over the top in any style you wish. Let set for another half hour or so.
Alternatively, as I mentioned above, I like to keep the stripe part intact for individual servings. This is easily accomplished by first cutting the bars into squares and then drizzling your chocolate on. I don’t feel like it’s any more work, either, as you’ll be cutting them into squares eventually, anyway.
Makes 28 bars: you’ll make 6 cuts lengthwise (to make 7 rows) and 3 cuts widthwise (to make 4 rows).
Store these in an airtight container for up to 5 days. If you have to stack them, throw some parchment paper in between the layers and be sure the chocolate has completely set, but you should be good.