I recently talked my roommate through her first vegan baking experiment. Illusions were wiped away as Cassie made her first horribly botched batch of caramel, followed by a gooey pot of melty perfection. Some important topics were covered, some myths were cleared up. Among other things, we learned:
- caramel seems mysterious and tricky but is actually easy to make
- junk food can be totally vegan (and totally junky)
- not every vegan recipe calls for obscure and intimidating “replacement” ingredients
It all went down last weekend, as I was doing some awfully daunting work on my computer, with papers, folders, and cups of tea spread across the kitchen table in a sprawling mess. Cassie announced that she wanted a snack, then decided since the house baker was busy, that she wanted to bake.
“What should I bake?” she asked.
“I don’t know, but it should be vegan,” I answered.
I offered to let her use any of my pantry items, as well as anything of mine in the fridge. She gave me the run-down on the ingredients she had on hand, and decided (based on the availability of cinnamon graham crackers, peanut butter, pretzels, brown sugar, margarine, and chocolate chips) to whip up these simple, sticky-sweet treats.
The final product is a pan of individual amalgamations of some of the best snack foods known to man: graham crackers, peanut butter, caramel, pretzels, and chocolate. They’ll go fast once they’re cooled—Cassie’s first batch was polished off before I went to bed that night. The graham and peanut butter get toasty, and the caramel and chocolate stay soft. The squares are easy to make, require minimal measuring, and there’s nothing funky in these treats: most people probably already have the ingredients laying around.
Cassie’s Casstastic Snack Squares
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup margarine
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¾ cup peanut butter (approximately)
- 8 cinnamon graham crackers
- pretzels, about one snack-sized bag
- 1/3 cup chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine brown sugar and margarine, stirring until the margarine in melted and the mixture is smooth. Lower the heat and let the mixture sit and bublle, stirring occasionally, while you prepare the rest of the recipe.
- Spread tinfoil over a cookie sheet and spritz with cooking spray—things will get sticky.
- Break the graham crackers in half, making squares. Arrange them in a single layer on the cookie sheet. There may be an extra half of a graham left. Spread some peanut butter on it and eat it.
- Spread peanut butter evenly on each of the squares, and replace on the sheet.
- Break up your pretzels into large pieces and arrange on the squares, sticking them in the peanut butter.
- Returning to the stove, turn the heat under the saucepan back to medium. Let the mixture boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in 1 teaspoon of vanilla.
- Pour (or glop) the caramel over the pretzels. Try to make sure that each square gets an equal amount of caramel.
- Pop the pan into the oven and bake for 5 minutes. Remove and let the squares cool.
- In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the chocolate chips and 1 tablespoon of peanut butter. Once melted, let the mix cool for a moment before scooping into a baggie. Snip a corner and squeeze in attractive squiggles over the squares.
These are best after they cool, so you don’t singe your mouth with hot caramel and molten chocolate, but you can dig in as soon as you like.
The reviews of the final product:
“They’re cinnamony and peanutbuttery and pretzely and good.”
“It’s like a Take-5 PLUS.”
“Can I have another one?”