Laisser les bon temps rouler! With Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday fast approaching, we decided to make a king cake fake, a Rice Krispies King Cake. The King Cake originated in France to celebrate Epiphany, but it is now eaten throughout the world from Christmas to Fat Tuesday, and it’s a popular treat in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. The top of the cake is colored purple, gold, and green to represent justice, faith, and power. But the best part of the cake is the surprise hidden inside. A little plastic baby (traditionally a bean) is hidden inside to represent baby Jesus. The person who finds the baby has good luck for the year and is the king/queen of the day. Les bon temps indeed…
except that I had the most epic of fails making Rice Krispies Treats. With three ingredients and a recipe on the back of the cereal box, how could I fail? But I did.
My first fail was assuming the treat-making process would be easy. But moments in, I’m stirring a giant lump of marshmallows with the seemingly rare ability to NOT melt. As I whirled it around, it morphed into a sticky monster of a beast, taunting me with its blubbery greatness. My exceedingly painful and long attempt to tame and melt the sticky blob, which in frustration meant turning up the heat, left me with browned butter and a lump of marshmallow goo tinged a slight brown from the butter and marshmallowy bits that stuck to the pan.
My second major fail was assuming the recipe on the box was a good recipe, I mean it’s on the box of Rice Krispies, shouldn’t it be?! But the marshmallow to cereal ratio was off and there wasn’t enough butter. The result: slightly crispy, not sufficiently gooey, mediocre at best treats.
My third fail was assuming “more is better.” Most add-ins do make the treats better- chocolate chunks, M & M’s, nuts – but covering the treats in melted white chocolate made the treats too sweet. Plus, on this day of epic cooking fails, melting white chocolate proved to be quite challenging and messy. White is much more temperamental than its darker brethren. In fact, it’s not even really chocolate. Even though I used a double boiler, a crappy one I might add, my chocolate scorched slightly and seized. The end result: dry, crumbly, grainy chocolate. Not good.
And then there was the matter of coloring the chocolate purple. My box of food coloring does have a handy chart on the back that explains how to make purple: 3 parts red to 2 parts blue. Had I followed that ratio I might have a bright purple. But the color was added willy-nilly, even more so after it started looking more brown than purple. Though the end result is a dark grape-ish color, emphasis on the ish, the process of stirring and reworking the chocolate along with a short bout in the microwave “to fix it” (it didn’t) left the undesirable chocolate even less desirable.
Long story short, my attempt to make an impromptu EASY treat with my kids did not work as planned. However, the ultimate plan was to make a fun treat for the kids, and I succeeded. Though I was silently cursing, the kids had fun making and decorating the treats and even more fun celebrating Mardi Gras. Was the Rice Krispy Mardi Gras Kings Cake easier than making an actual cake? Not the way I made it, and it made a big sticky, brightly colored, grape-ISH mess. But I’m now full of lots of tips for a better outcome. Did the kids have fun with our impromptu Mardi Gras celebration? Absolutely, tons of fun and the level of fun far exceeded the effort it took to make the treat, even with all my epic fails.
Use fresh marshmallows: As soon as I opened my package and encountered stuck together, strange-looking marshmallows, I knew there was a problem, but we had already committed to the process and I thought there was no turning back. There is. You’re far better off driving to the store and buying a fresh pack of marshmallows than trying to make treats with old ones. Old marshmallows don’t melt properly or easily and are far more of a headache and frustration than they’re worth. Also, use mini marshmallows. No change in taste and they melt faster. Plus, if you buy an extra bag of mini marshmallows you can go a little crazy (or naughty) and throw in a handful or two when you add the cereal for an extra pop of marshmallowy goodness.
Use a big thick-bottomed pot: Use something big. You want space to maneuver the sticky, unwieldy mess. But make it good. I used a cheap dutch oven, which works fine for browning meat and making stews, but when it comes to melting marshmallows, use something that doesn’t allow the marshmallows to brown and stick to the bottom. Duh, I know. But sometimes you just don’t think these things through, especially in the midst of constant chatter from eager helpers. In the dutch oven’s defense, the marshmallows took a gazillion lifetimes to melt, along with much arm power, willpower, and special mojo power, because those marshmallows were the far, far side of good.
Butter: The recipe on the box lists 3 tablespoons of butter. This is not enough. So you want a lower fat treat? Get over it, because skimping on the butter doesn’t give you a treat worth eating. You’re better off eating a small portion of a tasty treat. You gotta add the butter, at least 5 tablespoons and up to 8 tablespoons if you’re going the route of a browned butter beauty. See, my butter browned as I attempted to subdue the marshmallow mass. Though it might seem like the time to chuck the stuff and start afresh, keep it. Browned butter is toasty and nutty and it gives the treat more complexity and depth of flavor. It’s downright delicious.
Salt: Add a touch of salt when you mix the treats or sprinkle some Hawaiian sea salt over the finished product. Salt enhances flavor. You should always add a touch of salt to sweet treats, and add even more if you love the salty-sweet thang of such things as sea salt caramel.
Subduing the marshmallow goo: Melted marshmallows are no fun. Spread a thin layer of butter or spray a light coat of oil on your spoon. Once everything is mixed, shape the treat with plastic wrap or parchment paper to prevent your hands from getting sticky.
Mardi Gras baby: A surprise baby in a cake? Where do you get one of those? Though you could use a small plastic figurine or toy, other options include candy, a piece of chocolate, or even sprinkles. Depending on what you use, the candy and chocolate might melt yet it will still tinge the Rice Krispy Treat. For sprinkles, press the sprinkles into the middle of a small amount of the treat and gently roll it into a ball. Stick the ball into the cake.
Frosting: White chocolate can be difficult to work with and it’s sweet, but it’s also a blank palate to color. When using white chocolate, pick a high-quality chocolate, use a double boiler (or a metal bowl with high sides over a pot filled with a quarter full of water), make sure no steam reaches the chocolate, and keep the heat low. Some people swear by the microwave. I’d suggest using half power and microwaving for 10-15 second increments if you use the microwave. If you go the route of white chocolate, I’d suggest drizzling it instead of applying a thick layer- it’s quite sweet on sweet. It’s much easier to make a simple icing, the traditional king cake topping. A simple icing is much more forgiving than white chocolate and it’s much easier to get it to drizzle consistency without ruining the taste. But you can also skip it and go straight to decorating.
Decorating: My kids are all about sprinkles. You can forgo the frosting and just use sprinkles or cover a third in mini M & Ms, a third in chocolate chips, and a third in chopped nuts. The traditional cake colors are purple, gold, and green. You can certainly follow the traditional colors or you can freestyle it. My kids wanted to add sprinkles on top of the frosting, which meant we veered from the traditional colors. With the white chocolate debacle, we would have been better off forgoing the chocolate and using only sprinkles. Kids don’t care about traditional colors. Go the easiest route that makes both kids and parents happy. You can eat the cakes from early January to Fat Tuesday (and beyond) so decorate them for a holiday with whatever colors you have on hand. Or top the cake with candles.
Mix-ins: There are lots of king cake flavors: cream cheese and cherries, almond, praline, apple, and chocolate. You can make an almond Rice Krispies Treat by adding almond extract. Or, you can add some chocolate chunks, M&Ms or red hots.