Rice Crispy Treats

Did you hear the one about the vegan gelatin that wasn’t?  Vegan, that is.  Apparently, it was (at least half) gelatin.  From animals.  Bleh.

That was the story that broke late last year about Emes Kosher-Jel, a product I had recommended for years because it worked just like…well, you know.  It jiggled, it wiggled, it made great marshmallows.

For those of you not in the know –gelatin usually comes from cow bones, pig skins, hooves…pretty much any rendering plant leftovers like that.  Animal skin and bones contains this jelly-like substance – you’ve probably seen it form on ham that has been put in the refrigerator.  That jelly stuff – gelatin – is not only used in colored kids’ desserts, but also in marshmallows.  That’s what gives them their stretch and spring.

So, last year a group from Vegetarians in Paradise (http://www.vegparadise.com/) sent some of the Emes gelatin to a laboratory and got a report back that the product contained at least fifty percent animal product.  Vegetarians in Paradise confronted the company, Emes claimed that it wasn’t true, but they went out of business within two months.  (If you’d like to read the whole sordid tale, check out the archives under “news” on the vegparadise website.)

There were at least two brands of “vegan” marshmallows that had been using Emes in their products — my personal favorites (Vegan Supremes) and some made by a company called Tiny Trapeze.  The good news, however, is that Vegan Sweets marshmallows do not contain Emes Kosher-Jel and they are still available.  They look ugly, but they make great crispy treats.  They aren’t cheap*, however, so I went looking for other options. (but the Pangea website often has sales on their “irregular”marshmallows, which are fine because you’re going to melt them anyway.)

I tried Suzanne’s RiceMellow Crème, which makes great fluffer-nutter sandwiches (p.b. and marshmallow cream).  It does not, however, make great crispy treats.  At least when I followed the usual crispy recipe, they fell apart.  You might have luck with less margarine than I used.

Next stop – brown rice syrup.  I had used brown rice syrup and peanut butter to make some pretty great crispy treats a long while back, but they weren’t very “authentic”.  I am including that recipe, because I think they’re delicious, but they’re not going to make anyone have a flashback to their childhoods.

Brown rice syrup and unbleached sugar, cooked together with some margarine and vanilla, however, works pretty well. I really like this combo with Nature’s Valley Crispy Rice.  Erewhon Crispy Brown Rice looks more like regular Rice Krispies but I found that the Nature’s Path brand held up better in the candy.  They also tasted fresher to me right out of the box.  Maybe I got a bad batch of the Erewhon cereal, though, because I’ve liked it in the past.

I had my husband take test batches of the treats to work, and his co-workers thought that while they liked the brown rice cereal just fine, kids wouldn’t and would find it too “nutty” flavored.  I guess it depends on what the kids are used to, but since my goal was to make rice crispy treats that tasted as much like the originals as possible, I did some more experimenting.

I tried cheap store brand “crispies”, but they were terrible.  They looked more like rice lace than cereal and just didn’t work at all.  I got some brand name Rice Krispies on the next trip to the conventional grocery store.  Better.  I made some treats with brown rice syrup and the regular Krispies.  Pretty good.  I made some with white corn syrup, white sugar, and just a touch of brown rice syrup to round out the flavor.  These won the “tastes most like the original” test.

So – I love the treats made with brown rice syrup and brown rice cereal, but I’ve been vegan for a long time, and I prefer those “nutty” flavors.  I like the peanut butter ones, too.  My husband’s co-workers really loved the white version, which is cheap and easy (but nutritionally void).  If you really have to have that marshmallow-y flavor and stretchiness, the best treats I made were (hands down) the ones I made with Vegan Sweets marshmallows.  Here are the recipes for each.

Vegan Sweets Marshmallow Treats

Recipe By: Vegan Sweets
Serves 12
Preparation Time: 15 minutes plus cooling time

6 tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine (see note)
1 bag VeganSweets Marshmallows
5 cups crisped rice cereal

1. Melt margarine in large non-stick saucepan over VERY low heat. Add marshmallows, stirring constantly until gooey and melted. (Using higher heat setting may result in burning. Have patience!)
2. Add crisped rice cereal. Stir until well-coated.
3. Immediately press evenly into 9X13 pan coated with cooking spray.
4. Allow to cool and cut into squares.
5. Enjoy!
Note:  Do not use low-fat margarine substitutes or tub margarine (except Earth Balance, which works fine) for this recipe!

Classic Rice Krispies Treats
Recipe By: Lisa Bennett, adapted from VegWeb.com
Serves 12
Preparation Time: 30 minutes, plus cooling time

1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup brown rice syrup
1/2 cup sugar (white or unbleached)
1 tablespoon Earth Balance “Buttery Spread”
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 cups Rice Krispies®

1.  Spray a 9X13 pan with non-stick spray.

2.  Add corn syrup, brown rice syrup, and sugar to a small, heavy-bottomed pot.   Stir continuously and bring the mixture to a slow boil over medium heat.   (If it gets frothy, turn down the heat.)

3.  When the sugar is dissolved and the mixture has reached a slow boil, add margarine.
Stir until margarine is melted.

4.  Remove from heat and add vanilla, still stirring.

5.  While cooking the syrup, pour 5 cups of the cereal into a very large bowl.

6.  Pour the heated syrup over the cereal and begin stirring with a heat-proof spoon (silicone, wood, metal) to combine the ingredients.  Add another cup of cereal if your mixture looks too wet.  (Some people like more candy, I like more cereal.)

7.  Spread mixture into pan.  Press flat with “buttered” hands or spray a piece of plastic wrap or disposable gloves with non-stick spray and use that to flatten out the mixture.

8.  Let sit at room temperature for about 1 hour for best cohesion, but it’s perfectly OK to sample the warm Krispies if you can’t wait.

Notes: For a healthier version – substitute brown rice syrup for the corn syrup, unbleached sugar for the white, and brown rice crispy cereal for the Rice Krispies.

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Crispy Treats

Recipe By: Lisa T. Bennett, adapted from VegWeb.com
Serves 12
Preparation Time: 20 minutes, plus cooling time

1 cup unbleached sugar
1 cup brown rice syrup
3/4 cup natural peanut butter
12 ounces vegan chocolate chips
6 cups crispy brown rice cereal

1.  Spray a 9X13 inch pan with non-stick spray.

2.  Combine sugar and syrup in a large sauce pan with a heavy bottom.  Mix over medium heat until it bubbles and the sugar dissolves.

3.  Remove from heat and add peanut butter.  Stir until well mixed.

4.  Stir in cereal (or pour cereal into a large bowl and pour syrup over it).  Mix until well combined.

5.  Press into prepared pan.

6.  Melt the chocolate chips (in a double boiler over simmering water or in the microwave) and pour over the pressed cereal mix.

7.  Refrigerate briefly until set (about 30 minutes) or set aside at room temperature to firm up.  (If you keep the in the refrigerator for too long, they can become very hard.)