Photo by Elizabeth Coetzee, Food styling by Micah Marie Morton
When I was growing up in the Midwest, we had our fair share of regional desserts that outsiders might gawk at with confusion. Buckeyes, French silk pie, gooey butter cake, and salads in an array of colors and textures (all considered desserts, some containing veggies) were not uncommon additions to dessert tables. While these might be novel creations for coastal elites, they were some of the most beloved foods of my childhood.
One dessert in particular that transcended into almost every aspect of Midwest life, be it sleepovers, funerals, potlucks, or school gatherings were scotcheroos: The chewy, nutty, chocolatey Midwestern cousin to Rice Krispies treats.
“This is one treat that always had a spot in the dessert lineup at family gatherings, picnics, and church basements,” recalls Kelly Janke, the director of culinary production for Epicurious and Bon Appétit videos. The bar’s portability, ease, and ability to please just about every palate made it a community staple, popping up everywhere no matter the occasion.
“In recent years my dad has requested them to be one of the treats our family indulges in during our Minnesota deer hunting weekend. Once he has spotted the nine-by-thirteen pan, you better snatch one quickly because it won’t be long until they’re gone,” says Janke.
Like all great American culinary inventions, scotcheroos debuted as back-of-box marketing material, only later growing into their iconic regional status. The original recipe first appeared on the side of a Rice Krispies box in the mid 1960s; an era where combining various convenience foods to produce new culinary creations was all the rage. Corn syrup, sugar, peanut butter, Rice Krispies, chocolate chips, and butterscotch morsels were all you needed to create an entirely new dessert far greater than the sum of its parts; and a new modern culinary star was born.
Over the years, scotcheroos have become synonymous with the Midwest, most specifically in Iowa where the regional importance of the treat has been a topic of local news outlets and Iowa-centric food blogs. Growing up in Illinois, we had classic Rice Krispies treats, but those always played second fiddle to the beloved scotcheroos (Who would want a plain cereal square when their peanutty, chocolaty counterparts were right beside them?)
So what makes scotcheroos so special? Well, for starters, unlike Rice Krispies treats, the base is made with a combination of sugar and peanut butter, not marshmallows. You cook sugar and corn syrup just until the sugar melts; then take it off the heat. The latter ingredient is essential: It’s what gives the base a toothsome, chewy texture that can’t be beat. My recipe uses brown sugar and a generous pinch of salt to appease my adult palate, emboldening the butterscotch flavor.
Next you’ll mix peanut butter into the hot sugar mixture until melted, then toss that with puffed rice cereal and press it into a baking pan. Since developing my own scotcheroos recipes and hearing fellow Midwesterners recount their own memories of growing up with them, I’ve learned that some people make theirs with other brands of cereal, such as Special K, which in my humble opinion, is an abomination.
While the cereal base sets, a combination of chocolate chips and butterscotch morsels (hence the name scotcheroos) are melted together, then poured over top. Nestlé Toll House brand butterscotch morsels are the go-to brand for making scotcheroos and the one I grew up using, but Guittard has become my personal favorite as I’ve grown older because it skews a tad less sweet. My version of the bars keeps the chocolate and butterscotch separate by pouring them on top in a swirling marble pattern to up the drama (I always love a good swirl), but you can keep things classic and mix them together if you like. Once set, the bars are cut into squares and can be shuttled off to whatever event they are destined for; be it a Friday night fish fry or Sunday church potluck.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious
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