Today, most people call them Scotcheroos, but in the Swift household they were known as Rice Krispies Bars.

In our family, the Rice Krispies treats made with marshmallows weren’t nearly as popular as their amped-up, peanut butter cousins. So when we announced we were going to make “Rice Krispies Bars,” all other family members knew we were referring to that magical, candy bar-like confection of peanut butter, chocolate, butterscotch and crispy cereal.

Although this 1960s staple is as simple as — or actually much simpler than — pie, I still found a way to botch up the recipe. I was in fourth or fifth grade, and it was my turn to bring treats to the monthly 4-H meeting. I decided on something that everyone (without a peanut allergy) would love: Rice Krispies Bars.

Mom’s chocolate-splotched recipe didn’t specify how long to boil together the sugar and Karo syrup, so I figured five minutes would suffice. In retrospect, the cereal mixture was a little hard to get out of the kettle, so I made another batch of syrup and added that to “soften up” the original layer.

Once slathered with a nice, thick coat of chocolate-butterscotch frosting, they looked good enough to eat. If only it were that easy. I proudly carried them into the kitchen of the parish hall where the meeting was being held and cut into them. Or, at least, I tried to cut into them. By subjecting the sugar and syrup to a long, hard boil, I had effectively created a substance so diamond-hard that it could have shattered the molars of a crocodile.

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It didn’t take long for news of the Rice Krispies Bars of Steel to spread. Someone found a way to remove the entire slab from the pan and then broke it into pieces by hammering it against the edge of the counter. Someone else got the idea to take the “treats” outside and to throw them against the building to see if they could gouge the brick. At the time, a popular insurance commercial used the slogan, “Get a piece of the rock,” which gave my fellow 4-Hers the perfect catchphrase to describe their granite-like goodness. I’m not sure how, but people still managed to ingest some of them. Rumor has it that pieces of this original slab survived, and have been used to effectively seal off cracks in the Hoover Dam.

Since this early trauma, I haven’t made many Scotcheroos. But I have learned a few things along the way, like the fact that more syrup makes a better treat and that the syrup should NOT be boiled. I recently made a giant, heart-shaped Scotcheroo for a colleague for her 10-year workiversary. I finished it off with the iconic frosting and made it even more cake-like by piping a message over the chocolate.

As the unmistakable butterscotchy aroma filled our department, people visited that Scotcheroo all afternoon, slicing away shards and slivers until the heart looked more like a lazy, lopsided “B.” I didn’t care. No knives or teeth were broken, so I considered it a great success.

Here, I humbly offer instructions and tips for making a Scotcheroo heart that won’t give you a dental emergency.

  • Corn syrup and peanut butter are kind of homebodies: Once they nestle into a space, they don’t want to leave. To help these sticky, stubborn ingredients release, liberally spray the inside of the 1-cup measuring cup with a nonstick cooking spray. (OR you can use those groovy Pampered Chef Measure All Cups, which are styled like Push-Up ice cream treats and will literally shove any lingering ingredients out of the cup.)
  • More goo=better. I’m sure there are fans out there of the Spartan Cheaparoos, which are dry and hard and like eating peanut butter-scented gravel. I just haven’t met any of them. In general, people seem to prefer the gooey version of the bar, in which the cereal is embedded in enough syrup to become a chewy, stretch-tacular Scotchegoo. This texture can be achieved by amping up the peanut butter in the original recipe or — if you are a run-with-scissors type — increasing the overall syrup proportions: 1 ½ cups sugar, 1 ½ cups corn syrup, 1 ½ cups peanut butter.
  • Some people actually only eat Scotcheroos because they can’t resist the frosting. While you could certainly go bananas and use a lordly FOUR BAGS total of chips versus the already-generous two, you would run the risk of throwing out your back while trying to lift the pan. In the interest of public safety, you may simply want to pass the cereal aisle and make fudge instead.

Scotcheroos have become an American classic because they work. Period. Even so, some fancy up-and-comers have monkeyed with the recipe in efforts to create a “healthier” ‘roo. Although this seems to be about as easy as creating a vegan spare rib, I do applaud their tenacity. If you would also like to make a Scotcheroo with a lower glycemic index than 742, consider the following substitutions:

  • Use real, organic, no-sugar-added peanut butter instead of the mainstream commercial varieties.
  • Swap out the Rice Krispies with brown crisped rice cereal, available at many health food stores. (I like to think of this as swapping out Snap, Crackle and Pop with their groovy bohemian cousins, Chakra, Moonbeam and Meadow.)
  • Substitute the 1 cup of white corn syrup with 1 cup brown rice syrup plus ¼ cup maple syrup.
  • Replace the traditional choco-scotch frosting with melted dark chocolate chips finished off with a sprinkle of flaked sea salt. To me, eliminating butterscotch chips is blasphemy, immediately changing the sweet from a Scotcheroo to a Not-a-roo. But, hey, you do you, boo.

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The ‘I Scotcheroo You’

Ingredients:

6 cups Rice Krispies

1 cup sugar

1 cup white corn syrup

1 ½ cups creamy peanut butter

1 bag butterscotch chips

1 bag milk chocolate chips

Directions:

Cut parchment paper or foil large enough so that it lines the bottom and sides of 2 pans — an 8-inch square pan and an 8-inch round pan — and still sticks up an inch or so from the top of the pan. (You may need to cut vertical slits for the corners of the square pan, so that it fits more easily.) This enables you to grab the paper and lift the Scotcheroos up out of the pan without too much trouble.

Pour sugar and corn syrup into an extra-large pot and stir together over medium-low heat. When the mixture begins to bubble just a little (do NOT boil), remove it immediately from the burner and stir in the peanut butter until well combined.

Stir in 6 cups of preferred cereal, stirring well so that all the cereal is coated. Scoop equal amounts of cereal mixture into the parchment-lined square pan/round pan combination. Smooth out to be as level as possible.

Allow to cool. Using the parchment paper on the edges, lift the bars out of the square pan and place on extra-large platter with a corner pointing up and a corner pointing down, like a diamond.

Use parchment to remove bars from round pan and place on large cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut the Scotcheroo round into 2 equal half-circles. Place each round so that the cut edge matches up with the 2 top, adjacent angles of the diamond. Ta-da! You’ve created a heart! Feel free to pinch or press the cut edges together so there aren’t gaps between the round and square pieces.

Use microwave to melt butterscotch and chocolate chips together in microwave-safe bowl in 30-second increments. Stir between each interval until chips are melted together. Pour or spread a thick layer of frosting atop the heart.

Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at tswiftsletten@gmail.com.