Puppy chow is dangerous stuff. I had never even heard of the snack until my friend Beth, an Iowa native, left some at my house after a holiday gathering and I found myself eating handful after handful of the sweet, crunchy, nutty mixture. Why wasn't there a warning label? It didn't last the night.
So when I was coming up with a menu of slightly upscale versions of lowbrow snacks for an outdoor movie party, puppy chow seemed like the right fit, especially since I was co-hosting the party with Beth, the friend who had introduced me to the treat in the first place. And adding Nutella? Well, that's always the right fit. The result is a snack that is as crunchy and addictive as the original, but less tooth-achingly sweet, with the perfect balance of toasty cereal, sweet hazelnut, dark chocolate and a little salt — just enough to keep you going back for handful after handful.
Puppy chow, also known as muddy buddies, is simple to make. In the original recipe, chocolate and peanut butter are melted together and used to coat Chex cereal, then tossed with powdered sugar. Obviously, I have no problem eating multiple cups of the original, but the powdered sugar coating gives it a straightforward sweetness, and I prefer sweets with a bit of an edge.
So in my rendition, dark chocolate takes the place of milk chocolate, bitter cocoa powder is mixed with the powdered sugar and the finished chow gets a generous sprinkling of salt, to give it that addictive savory-sweetness I can't get enough of. And of course, chocolate-hazelnut spread is used instead of peanut butter, for a snack that is probably as glamorous as anything called "puppy chow" can be.
Now about that Nutella — you don't actually have to use Nutella, especially if the hydrogenated oil in the ingredient list gives you pause. There are other chocolate hazelnut spreads on the market that taste just as good, if not better, than the original. For this recipe, I used Natural Nectar's Choco Dream, which is made with non-hydrogenated oil and Fair Trade cocoa. Justin's Nut Butter also has a version with non-hydrogenated oil and a straightforward ingredient list.
Whatever brand you choose, if you plan on serving this puppy chow at a movie party like I did, make sure to spread the word that the only thing better than Nutella puppy chow is Nutella puppy chow mixed with popcorn. I can't claim credit for this genius combination, but I will eat about 50 handfuls of it if given the chance.
Note from the Editor
Thanks for all your great feedback on this recipe and we're so sorry for those of you who have had trouble with the chocolate seizing when you add the vanilla. I suspect that our off-brand Nutella might be to blame (or praise?!). In either case, until we have a chance to re-test this recipe a few times and figure out the problem, I'm advising that you just leave the vanilla out. It's not crucial to the recipe and takes nothing away from the chow's snacking worthyness.
I'll be back as soon as I can with an updated recipe!
5 cups Chex cereal
1/2 cup cocoa powder, divided
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon powdered sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
2 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup chocolate hazelnut spread (such as Nutella)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
Place the cereal in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder, 1/4 cup of the powdered sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and pour into a gallon-size zip-top bag.
Place the dark chocolate, Nutella and butter in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 30 second bursts until the chocolate and butter have melted. (If you don't have a microwave, melt the mixture in a double boiler instead.) Immediately pour over the cereal and stir gently until evenly coated. Transfer the cereal to the zip-top bag and shake until well-coated with the cocoa powder mixture. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon powdered sugar and shake again.
Spread puppy chow onto a baking sheet and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Let cool completely. Puppy chow tastes best within 1 to 2 days of making it, but will keep in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
Any type of Chex will work, but I like corn Chex for its nutty taste and uniform shape. It is also gluten-free.
Adding the last tablespoon of powdered sugar separately gives the puppy chow a more uniform color and appearance. If you're not in it for the aesthetics, you don't have to bother with this step; simply add the extra tablespoon to the cocoa powder mixture.
EDITED: Our original recipe added 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla to the melted chocolate, but we've found that this occasionally caused the chocolate to seize. Until we are able to re-test the recipe and find a alternate solution, we have removed this ingredient from the recipe.