In late September my family starts thinking about Halloween. We remind me of that old joke about the early days of Chicago politics: “Vote early and often.” In our home Halloween comes early—and often.
When we became a gluten-free household that put an end to trick-or-treating for the kids. There was just no way to insure gluten-free handouts. Trick-or-treating ended, but we more than compensated with our homemade gluten-free Halloween treats (several of which you will see in upcoming blogs). This week I mixed up a batch of that old favorite Crispy Rice Bars made with marshmallows. The bars are gluten free because they are made with GF crisp rice cereal, but they are high in sugar and not very nutritionally virtuous. However, October is a convenient excuse to indulge. And Halloween is the perfect occasion to have fun and make them festive.
The simplest way to say Halloween is to sprinkle the bars with orange sprinkles or orange sugar right after the bars are pressed into the pan.
Another simple way is to cut the pressed bars into Halloween shapes with cookie cutters. And yes, I have a set of cookie cutters that includes a witch, a ghost, and a pumpkin. But to take it to the top, get the whole family involved in frosting the Halloween shapes with a simple confectioners’ sugar glaze.
If you have not made these bars before, a few helpful hints:
•Use a large (at least 3-quart) pan with a heavy bottom to melt the butter and marshmallows because the high-sugar mixture tends to burn. To be perfectly safe, set the pan (or a large bowl) in a large skillet filled ¾ of the way with water and bring the water to a simmer.
•Use a large, heavy stainless steel or wooden spoon to stir the butter-marshmallow mixture in the pan as the marshmallows melt. Use the same sturdy spoon to mix in the rice cereal. It becomes stiff and sticky fast and a silicone spatula won’t work.
•Work as quickly as possible to mix and transfer the cereal-marshmallow mixture into the prepared pan. Then press down firmly with your hands, spraying them with nonstick cooking spray if necessary.
•If you color the confectioners’ sugar glaze, add colors to the white glaze in sequence so you can color and mix in the same bowl: After, white, second comes orange; third, green; fourth, brown; and fifth, dark green.
- 3 tablespoons of butter or nondairy alternative (not reduced fat)
- 1 (10-ounce) package regular marshmallows (about 40)
- 4 cups miniature marshmallows
- 6 cups gluten-free crisp rice cereal
- Orange sprinkles or orange sugar crystals, as needed
- Confectioners’ glaze, optional (recipe follows)
- Place butter in a large (at least 4-quart) stainless steel bowl. Set bowl in a large skillet filled ¾ with water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Stir until butter melts.
- Add marshmallows and stir with a large, sturdy spoon (wood or stainless steel) until completely melted.
- Add cereal, cup by cup, and stir until completely coated. Work quickly.
- Scrape cereal mixture into a 9 by 12-inch pan sprayed with nonstick cooking spray, the bottom lined with parchment paper cut to fit.
- Using hands, press down firmly to distribute mixture evenly in the pan. Sprinkle top with orange sprinkles or sugar if using. Cool to room temperature.
- Cut 4 by 5 into 20 bars. Store, covered, and serve within 2 days.
- To freeze, layer, separated with parchment or waxed paper, in an airtight container. Freeze up to 6 weeks. Let come to room temperature before serving.
- Variations: Stir 2 cups of chocolate chips into the marshmallow-cereal mixture before patting into the pan. Stir 2 cups of chopped walnuts, pecans or peanuts into the marshmallow-cereal mixture before patting into the pan. Frost the top of the pressed mixture in the pan with chocolate frosting before cutting into bars. Insert a popsicle stick into a cut bar and dip into melted chocolate for a crispy rice popsicle.
- For Halloween shapes, remove cooled pressed cereal mixture from pan onto a cutting board. Using cookie cutters, cut into pumpkins, ghosts and witches.
- Using colored confectioners’ sugar glaze and a food-safe paintbrush, paint first ghost; second, orange pumpkins; third, witch’s green face and green pumpkins’ stem; fourth, witch’s brown hair and pumpkin’s brown stripes; last, witch’s dark green hat. Place mini chocolate chips on white ghosts for eyes and mouth.
- 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 ½ tablespoons milk or nondairy alternative
- Stir to mix into smooth glaze that can be painted onto cookies.
- For orange, add a few drops of GF orange food color, or a few drops of yellow and a drop of red.
- For green, add green food color to orange.
- For brown, add red food color to green.
- For dark green, add blue to brown.
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