Better Crispy Brown Rice Bars

My kids have been addicted to Rice Krispie Treats® Bars long before we became a gluten-free household. When I review the ingredients, I do what I call the “Recipe Rationalization.” It goes something like this: “Well, it’s not really nutritionally sound, but, after all it’s only a once-in-a-while treat.” That’s a double rationalization because I make them more often than cookies. And the ingredients? Crisp rice cereal (okay) with marshmallows (pure sugar) and butter (pure fat). Don’t even mention the possible add-ins: chocolate chips, mini M&Ms, sweetened coconut, and so on.

I think it’s possible to improve almost any recipe nutritionally without going so far that you remove all the flavor and appeal. As a chef I know that fat, sugar and salt are not only flavors in themselves but they enhance the flavor of other ingredients. I once reduced the amount of sugar in a brownie recipe so far that Sarah complained, “Come on Mom, we’re not Aztecs!” (who drank cocoa without sugar, a then-unknown ingredient). That showed me she knew something about the history of chocolate, cultivated and consumed in Mesoamerica as far back as 2000 B.C.

I discovered a recipe for crisp rice bars using brown rice syrup instead of marshmallows, which was a big improvement. Brown rice syrup is not only gluten free like sugar, but unlike sugar, its glycemic index is believed to be much lower, which means it takes longer to be absorbed.

In place of butter the recipe called for peanut butter. I like the idea of nuts (even though peanuts are not a tree nut but a legume) because both peanuts and tree nuts have protein, vitamins and minerals. However, because some of Sarah’s classmates have peanut allergies, I developed a replacement: homemade almond butter, also good in sandwiches, on toast, wherever you would use peanut butter.

So welcome to the new, improved Better Crispy Brown Rice Barswith a word of warning. Don’t be discouraged when it comes to mixing the cereal with the other ingredients. Nobody warned me the first time I tried mixing melted marshmallows with a mountain of crisp rice cereal. It seemed ridiculous and impossible, sticky and difficult. But the bars were such a treat I had to make them again (and again), and the second time I developed some techniques that made the mixing easier. First, use a strong silicone spatula or two. It mixes without breaking too much of the cereal grains. Second, mix in a large glass bowl or container so you can actually see that the cereal is getting well coated. Third, stir from the very bottom up, and be patient. Toward the end of mixing it will all come together. Trust me.

Better Crisp Brown Rice Bars

Yield: 36 (1 ½-inch) bars

Better Crisp Brown Rice Bars


  • 1 cup brown rice syrup
  • 1 cup Homemade Almond Butter (recipe follows)
  • 7 cups gluten-free crisp brown rice cereal


  1. In a medium bowl add the syrup and almond butter, stirring to mix completely.
  2. In a large glass bowl add the cereal. Add the syrup-almond butter mixture in thirds, stirring from the bottom up with a sturdy silicone spatula. Continue stirring from the bottom until the cereal is evenly coated.
  3. Spray a 9 by 9-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line the bottom with parchment paper cut to fit. Transfer cereal mixture to the pan and pat down using the spatula or your fingers into a compact even layer.
  4. Let rest for at least 1 hour.
  5. Run a thin spatula around the pan edges to loosen. Cut 6 by 6 into 36 squares. Remove from pan with spatula and store airtight. Serve the same day or wrap individually and freeze.


Variations: Add any one of the following---1/2 cup mini chocolate chips, 1/2 cup mini candy-coated chocolate pieces, 1/2 cup toasted shredded coconut, 1/2 cup chopped nuts.

Homemade Almond Butter

Yield: 1½ cups

2 cups almonds with their skins

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons canola oil

½ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a half-sheet pan with parchment paper. Spread almonds on pan. Roast for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature.

roasting almonds

Place almonds and sugar in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process until almonds are finely ground and beginning to come together like a paste. Add oil and salt and process until almonds are the consistency of smooth peanut butter.

almond butter

Transfer to a bowl or jar. Refrigerate any unused almond butter and use to spread on toast or sandwiches.



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