Have you ever had a scotcheroo? Where I grew up in Minnesota, no backyard cookout, birthday party, or post-Little League pizza dinner was complete without a plate piled high with these squares. Imagine if Rice Krispies treats had a run-in with a jar of peanut butter and then got doused in a melted medley of chocolate and butterscotch chips. An improbable combination? Perhaps. Insanely good? You betcha.
If you didn't grow up with these, you must — I repeat, must — try them this summer. Making a batch big enough to feed the whole neighborhood takes just a few pantry ingredients and about 15 minutes, so no excuses. Here's what to do.
You Can't Beat a Classic
This back-of-the-box recipe from Kellogg's is darn near perfection. I'm sure you could find ways to tweak and adapt this recipe if you truly wanted to, but the original is so good, why bother? These bars are made by mixing puffed rice cereal with a warm peanut butter mixture, and then topping it with melted chocolate and butterscotch chips.
The result is something more than the sum of its parts. Despite the healthy dose of peanut butter, the bars don't really taste peanut butter-y. Nor do they taste exactly like butterscotch. They're somewhere in the middle. Add to that a nice dose of chocolate just to make sure all bases are covered. Scotcheroos are also fantastically chewy, and after that plate has been sitting out on the picnic table for an hour or two, they're even better (trust me).
Buying Ingredients for Scotcheroos
You can go as fancy-pants or as generic-store-brand as you like with scotcheroos. When I was a kid, it was Skippy peanut butter, Rice Krispies cereal, and Nestle chocolate chips and butterscotch chips. Upgrading the ingredients makes a more grown-up scotcheroo, but it's not so big of an improvement that I bother seeking out special ingredients when I make these. Use what you have in your cupboard, and that should be just fine. (One note: You can make these with natural peanut butter, but use a very creamy variety, and if the oil has separated, mix it in very well before making the bars.)
One thing you can't skip, and which I think just needs to be accepted in this recipe, is the corn syrup. This is a necessary ingredient for that chewiness; without it, the bars tend to be hard and brittle — very sad. You can use rice syrup or other corn syrup substitutes, but I find the flavor just isn't the same.
How To Make Peanut Butter Scotcheroos
Makes 20 squares
What You Need
puffed rice cereal, like Rice Krispies
light corn syrup
creamy peanut butter (see Recipe Note)
semi-sweet chocolate chips
9x13-inch baking pan
Nonstick baking spray
Large mixing bowl
Medium saucepan (at least 3 quarts)
Get everything ready: These bars certainly aren't difficult, but once you start, it's best to keep going. If you have stop in the middle, the sauce could overcook or harden too much to stir into the cereal. First, line the baking pan with parchment and coat it evenly with nonstick spray. Then, measure the puffed rice into a large mixing bowl. Measure the sugar and corn syrup into a medium saucepan and have the peanut butter ready close by. Combine the chocolate and butterscotch chips in a heatproof bowl and set aside.
Bring the sugar and corn syrup to a boil: Set the pan with sugar and corn syrup over medium heat. Stir to form a sandy paste, then stop stirring. Let the mixture come to a boil — as it warms, the sugar will dissolve and the mixture will become clear. Once the mixture is at a full boil with bubbles covering the whole surface, remove the pan from heat.
Stir in the peanut butter: While the syrup is still very hot, stir in the peanut butter to form a thick, glossy sauce.
Pour the peanut butter sauce over the puffed rice: Pour a little sauce over the puffed rice, stir it in, then pour a little more. Continue until all the sauce has been added. Continue to gently stir the puffed rice another few seconds until the cereal is evenly coated and no pockets of sauce remain.
Transfer the cereal mixture to the baking dish: Butter your hands or spray with a little oil, and press the mixture firmly and evenly into the pan.
Melt the chocolate chips and butterscotch chips: Melt the chips in the microwave on high for 30 seconds, then stir. Repeat until just a few tiny lumps remain. Stir until the last lumps are dissolved. (In my microwave, this took three 30-second intervals, or 1 1/2 minutes total.)
Pour the chocolate over the cereal bars: Use a spatula to scrape every last bit of melted chocolate onto the bars. Smooth into an even layer with the back of the spatula.
Cool until the chocolate becomes firm: Let the bars firm up for a few hours. Once the chocolate has firmed, cover the bars until ready to serve. On a hot day, you may need to put the bars in the fridge for the chocolate topping to set.
Cut into individual bars: If your bars have been refrigerated, let them come to room temperature for a half hour or so before cutting or serving. Lift the bars out of the pan by lifting on the parchment. Use a sharp knife to cut the bars into 20 squares.
Storing the bars: Scotcheroos will keep for at least a week or longer, and are fine served at any time. Keep the bars in an airtight container at room temperature. If it's warm and the chocolate is softening too much, you can store the bars in the fridge; just let them come to room temperature before serving or they will be brittle.
Adapted from Kellogg's Rice Krispies
Scotcheroos with natural peanut butter: You can make these with natural and organic peanut butters, but use a very creamy variety. If the oil has separated, mix it in very well before making the bars.
Special K Bars and Scotcheroos with Other Cereals: We also made these bars with Special K Cornflakes as kids — they're great! I've also seen versions made with Chex and other cereals.