Some treasured family recipes are showstoppers, like a lasagna that takes 10 hours of prep and just the right know-how, or a Jell-O salad with 85 individual rainbow layers. But then there are family recipes that exist on an almost subconscious level, ever-present and sustaining as a heartbeat. We take their presence on our tables for granted and might only notice them in their absence. For my family, one such recipe is the humble Scotcheroo.
Once again, in trying to learn more about the dishes that have kept me alive (and blissfully happy) since childhood, I have found that the internet has little to offer. Scotcheroos—our family spells it Scotcharoos, but we appear to be in the minority on that—have a thin Wikipedia entry, the bulk of which simply states:
Scotcheroos are dessert bars with chocolate, butterscotch, peanut butter, and Rice Krispies. The recipe was originally printed on the Rice Krispies box in the mid-1960s. They are popular in the Midwestern United States.
There’s no citation for the claim that the recipe was once featured on the Rice Krispies box, but that would make sense, since it is the apotheosis of cereal-based desserts. (Kellogg’s also produced a Scotcheroo variety of its prepackaged Rice Krispies Treats bars around the dawn of the 21st century.) This list of regional desserts describes the Scotcheroo as “a staple in Iowa.” Whatever its origins, it’s a simple treat composed of only five ingredients, and my family gatherings have never once gone without them. It feels fitting and lovely that a search for Scotcheroo-related news stories brings up a number of obituaries, in which the deceased is remembered for their popular bake sale contributions. Meanwhile, over on Twitter, search for “Scotcheroo” and you’ll find young Midwesterners coming to the panicked realization that no one on their college campus knows about this quintessential dessert.
Many Scotcheroo recipes online call for six ingredients, including a blend of both white granulated sugar and corn syrup in the base. My family’s recipe cuts to the chase and goes all-in on the corn syrup, a fact that fills me with an unexpected pride. My aunt’s recipe card is a delightful blend of excessive detail and glaring omissions, so you will want to rely on instinct as much as the instructions as you make these. But as any online recipe will tell you, one thing is non-negotiable: you must use corn syrup. Its ability to sweeten, thicken, and, well, gloopify desserts is essential to the success of your Scotcheroos. And who are you to defy the wisdom of our Midwestern elders, who have proven time and again that they can make miracles happen with as few pantry staples as possible?
I went a little light on the chocolate. Don’t do that in your own batch. Lay it on thick.
For the base:
18 oz. peanut butter
16 oz. Karo light corn syrup
1/8 cup butterscotch chips
6-8 cups Rice Krispies cereal
For the chocolate topping:
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips
Coat a large rimmed cookie sheet or jelly roll pan (approximately 12 by 17 inches) with cooking spray.
In a large pot on the stove, melt the peanut butter, corn syrup, and butterscotch chips over medium heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, until combined. Turn heat to low; working quickly, add the Rice Krispies 1 cup at a time, stirring until the cereal is completely coated in the peanut butter mixture. (You might not use all 8 cups of cereal; stop adding cereal when the mixture resembles a slightly denser version of Rice Krispies Treats. You want plenty of peanut butter binding the cereal together.) Take the pot off the heat, dump the contents into the prepared baking pan, and using a sheet of wax paper or plastic bags to protect your hands from the still-hot mixture, press it into an even layer. Set aside.
In a small bowl, heat the chocolate chips and butterscotch chips together in the microwave for 30 seconds, then stir. Continue microwaving in 15-second increments and stirring until the mixture is smooth. Spread it evenly on top of the cereal base with a spatula or frosting spreader, then chill in the fridge for approximately 15-20 minutes. (If you chill it too long, the chocolate on top might crack.)
Remove from the fridge and slice into bars. Store in an airtight plastic container at room temperature, with wax paper between each layer.