Eureka! For the longest time I didn’t understand why rice krispie treats I made from scratch were so much harder and crunchier than the soft, chewy, pre-packaged versions were. Finally, I discovered the answer. It happened by accident, as all the best ideas do, when I failed miserably many, many, many times at making caramel. Maybe “failed” is a strong word but it was far from perfect. I kept ending up with either the entire concoction hardening into clumps or at the very least having a few tiny clumps mixed in at the end that I’d have to strain out. My patience was the problem. When making caramel or hard candy or even when melting chocolate, temperature is VERY important. Getting your concoction to the right temperature yields perfect results. If your temperature is off, sometimes even by just a bit, sugary Armageddon ensues.
Then when I went to make rice krispies one day, it dawned on me. Marshmallows are pretty much just airy clouds of sugar. So wouldn’t it react the same way as the caramel? The higher the temperature while melting, the harder the rice krispies will be when they cool? Seems logical, right? Turns out, it’s true! In addition to this, I’ve learned the hard way that the older the marshmallow, the harder it is to melt. If you get a reeeeally, reeeeally old marshmallow that was lost in the back of your cupboard for who knows how long and you figure, “meh, might as well make rice krispies with them” they literally will not melt at all. I don’t know why, I don’t know how, but I cooked those things for what seemed like hours and they would not melt. I just kept turning up the heat and eventually they just burned and crumbled. Sugary Armageddon.
Tricks for super soft rice krispie treats
Use really fresh marshmallows. The ones in the store usually have an expiration date that is about 4-5 months out. Those work perfectly. The closer you get to that expiration date and worse yet, the farther you get after that expiration date, the harder it will be to melt the marshmallows and the harder the end result will be.
Use a wide pan with LOW heat to melt the marshmallows into the butter. After you’ve melted 4-5 tablespoons of salted butter, you’ll add the 10oz of marshmallows. Keeping the temperature low is the key trick here. The second that mixture bubbles at all, your end result will be harder than you’d like. Use the widest pan you have so the marshmallows can be in a single layer across the bottom, or at least close to it. I use this pan by Calphalon for sooooo much and it is amazing. I actually have three Calphalon Contemporary pans that I use for most of my cooking. I’ve had them for years and they’re still in great shape. I really can’t say enough good things about these pans but I digress. Using a wide pan will help the marshmallows melt faster and more evenly but keep in mind, it’s still going to take a really, really, ridiculously long time for the marshmallows to melt completely. We’re talking 20-30 minutes long. It’s pretty much the worst form of torture you can imagine. All you want to do it crank the heat and get those marshmallows melted already but DON’T DO IT. Keep it on low, stir it occasionally and you will be rewarded for your patience.
Don’t add more than 6 cups of rice krispies. I know this was a problem for me so I assume others probably do this too. When I used to measure the cereal, I’d casually just use a 1 cup measuring cup and mix 6 of them in. Cereal is kind of tricky that way though. It’s not a fine powder like flour or sugar when you can be relatively sure you’re measuring accurately. If you’re just scooping the cereal out casually and not leveling off the cup six different times, you’re probably adding a lot more cereal than you think you are. This is another reason recipes should really be by weight and not volume but that’s another conversation. I started using a large Pyrex measuring cup that holds I think 8-10 cups so I could measure all 6 cups in one shot and I was sure to level the cereal out and check that it was at or below the measurement line. There’s no point in going through all of the trouble of making sure the marshmallow part doesn’t get too hard if you’re just going to over pack that soft marshmallow with too much cereal.
Bonus Tip: How to add sprinkles that stay put without having bleeding colors.
Don’t try to mix sprinkles in. Keep them on top. Now I haven’t tried every sprinkle on the planet, but I’m just not willing to go sacrifice a dozen different types of sprinkles to the baking gods just to see if any of them won’t bleed into the hot marshmallow. Even if they don’t bleed, it’s pretty difficult to get them evenly distributed throughout the treats. Wherever you pour them in, they stick right there and only there, they don’t really spread out the more you mix so you have to be very skilled with your initial pouring technique all while trying to work quickly while the treats are still warm. Too much work. Get your treats in the pan as you normally would and put the sprinkles on top.
Brush a thin layer of milk onto the surface of the treats. And I do mean thin. I actually think this adds to the softness of the treats as well but you definitely don’t want to drown the cereal. I put about a tablespoon of whole milk in a small bowl and used my fingers to quickly spread a thin layer of the milk over the top of the treats. Since I always use a spatula that’s just been coated with butter flavored cooking spray, there’s no way the sprinkles will stick to the surface as it is. The milk gives something for the sprinkles to actually stick to.
Sprinkle your sprinkles! nuff said.
Use a greased spatula to press the sprinkles into the treats. They’re still not super secure at this point but if you use that same greased spatula or spoon you used to press the treats into the pan, it’ll push the sprinkles into the milk even more and fully secure them. Out of an entire pan we maybe only had one or two jumper sprinkles while eating them. I call that a success.
Let them cool and dig in!
Have you ever had a cooking experience with ancient marshmallows? Any caramel horror stories? Any other tips for soft and chewy rice krispie treats? Comment below!