2 Ways To Upgrade Rice Krispie Treats With The Maillard Reaction

Most of us are familiar with the sticky, sweet, yet crunchy glory that comes with biting into a warm Rice Krispies treat. As a kid, you probably spotted the confection often at school sports games, birthday parties, and even at the Christmas dessert table. This "talking cereal" arrived on the scene in 1928, but Rice Krispies treats didn't make an official splash with everyday consumers until over a decade later when the glorified crackling confection was outlined in detail on cereal boxes far and wide. Chances are you may not know how Rice Krispies are made, yet that probably hasn't stopped you from making this convenient treat countless times over the years.

While the original Rice Krispies treat recipe calls for only one 10-ounce package of marshmallows, three tablespoons of butter, and six cups of Rice Krispies cereal, there are countless ways to upgrade this timeless recipe. You can try some decadent additions like peanut butter and chocolate and craft Kellog's Rice Krispies chocolate scotcheroos. If you want to keep things simple, try following The Toasty Kitchen's lead by adding a decent serving of crushed freeze-dried strawberries to the mix for added color and flavor. While the add-in options are endless, there are two simple ways to upgrade the classic Rice Krispies treat with no extra ingredients by following a few simple steps via the Maillard reaction. Before we uncover these easy upgrades, what exactly is the Maillard reaction?

The Maillard reaction explained

Adding chocolate chips, your favorite cereal, or rainbow sprinkles to create birthday Rice Krispies treats is always fun. However, you probably didn't know a few tweaks to the traditional recipe using the Maillard reaction could be the taste elevation you have been looking for all along. This unique chemical reaction was founded in the early 20th century when one chemist discovered a unique occurrence when he combined sugar and amino acids. Essentially, food heated past 280 degrees Fahrenheit creates a chemical reaction between carbohydrates or simple sugars and amino acids, causing your food to deepen in color and develop more complex flavors.

Some of your favorite foods are the happy result of the Maillard reaction including soy sauce, maple syrup, and cocoa powder. Every day, you are most likely igniting this complex reaction in some form or another by preparing a simple meal. Any simple browning that occurs, as long as there is heat present in the mix of protein and sugar, the Maillard reaction will result. This chemical reaction takes simple foods and elevates them to a whole new set of complex flavors. How can you utilize this browning technique for the best Rice Krispies treats?

Upgrade the iconic Rice Krispies treat recipe with a little heat

Food editor at Serious Eats, Genevieve Yam, has found a way to add more complexity to the traditional crispy squares we know and love by utilizing the Mailliard reaction in two distinct ways. First, she toasts the crackling rice cereal in the oven before mixing the end result with marshmallows and butter. This slightly browns the cereal, releasing a nutty aroma that's completely absent from a standard box of Rice Krispies. Then she browns the butter. While there may be a secret to baking with brown butter without compromising texture, in this case, you can swap brown butter for melted butter on a one-to-one ratio.

If you've never browned butter before, all you need to do is warm a small amount in a saucepan until melted then watch carefully, twirling the pan or stirring the contents intermittently. Once the butter begins to froth and change color, browning has occurred. The bubbles are a sign of evaporation, meaning your butter is cooking down and becoming more aromatic and rich in flavor. With browned butter and crispy rice in the mix, you're sure to intensify the delicious flavors of traditional Rice Krispies treats.