Growing up, I rarely saw my mother's side of the family. Most lived in different states, liked their space, and valued limited amounts of family time. Regardless of their preferred distance from each other, every summer my mother’s parents would drive cross country from Northern California to my grandfather’s home state of Indiana, stopping along the way to visit their kids and grandkids. My mother and I tagged along for these summer family reunions-on-wheels from the time I was five until I was 14. I loved these trips; it gave me three weeks of uninterrupted time with my grandparents. I found it fascinating because I knew little about them and they knew little about me.
During one of these summer road trips when I was nine, we stopped to visit my grandmother’s entire family in Illinois, where I met several of my mother's extended family for the first time. One person in particular who fascinated me was my mother’s cousin. She was queer, openly out, and not a single person in the family avoided acknowledging who she was. It was so accepted that they were even disappointed that her partner was not able to attend the reunion due to work commitments.
I was enamored, unconsciously drawn to her. I had this feeling of deep connection that I could not explain at the moment. I just wanted to observe her, feeling slightly uncomfortable for reasons I didn’t understand at the time. At this point in my life I knew I was different, but I had no words to explain that different meant gay. I just had a gut feeling that it was going to be hard for a lot of people to understand and respect one day.
One night, after being there a few days, we had a big family dinner followed by a bonfire in the backyard. My not-so-outwardly-loving grandmother and I sat around the fire where she showed me how to make s'mores. Between the steps of putting together the perfect s’more my grandmother, out of nowhere, simply explained to me how my cousin was no different than anyone else. That being queer was okay and that they have every right to love, happiness, and respect. I just smiled, nodded and said “okay.” She leaned over, kissed my cheek and we ate our perfectly constructed s’mores together around the bonfire surrounded by our big family. I felt calm, knowing that when the time came to acknowledge my authentic self, my mother's family would love me no matter what; plain and simple.
My grandmother’s openness and warmth was an unexpected acceptance that I didn’t know I needed at the time. Her taking the time to talk to me one-on-one meant so much. She knew before I did that I was gay, and she wanted to make sure I knew that is was going to be okay. To this day, every time I eat s'mores I reflect on how lucky I am to have a family that created a space for me to be my authentic self when I was ready. This recipe takes all the good parts of s’mores—gooey toasted marshmallows, rich chocolate, and graham crackers—and serves them in a non-traditional way. They’re just as good, only slightly different.
Tips for Making S’mores Cereal Bars
Toast your marshmallows for that classic campfire taste. The best part of making s’mores is roasting marshmallows over the open flame to get that perfect charred to gooey center ratio. Sprinkle some marshmallows on top and toast them with a kitchen torch for that beloved campfire taste s’mores are known for.
Stir the ingredients with a wooden spoon. After a few stirs, the mixture will get more difficult to mix from the melted marshmallow cooling. Using a wooden spoon adds additional strength and stability while mixing together the cereal and melted marshmallow and ensures the additional toasted marshmallows and chocolate chips are distributed evenly and not clumped together.
Cut the bars with a hot, sharp knife. To get the perfect squares, cut the sticky bars with a warm, sharp knife. Run the knife under hot water for a few seconds, dry with a towel, and cut, repeating as needed. The hot knife will yield perfectly cut squares without getting stuck or dragging the sticky marshmallow mixture.
Any chocolate chips will work. You can use any type of chocolate chips: milk, semisweet, dark, or a mix of all.
S’mores Cereal Bars
- Cooking spray, for the pan
- 2 (10-ounce) bags mini marshmallows, divided
- 1/2 cup (113g) unsalted butter
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 9 cups graham cracker cereal, like Golden Grahams
- 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips, divided
- Optional special equipment
- Kitchen torch
Prepare the pan:
Lightly spray a 9x9-inch cake pan with cooking spray. Set it aside.
Melt the butter and marshmallows:
Set 1/2 cup marshmallows aside. You will use them to top the treats later.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Then, add the remaining marshmallows and use a wooden spoon to stir continuously until melted, with no visible clumps. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the salt.
Add the remaining ingredients:
In a large bowl, add the graham cracker cereal. Scrape in the melted marshmallows and stir until evenly combined. The mixture should have cooled just a bit. Stir in 1 cup chocolate chips. They will melt a little, but that’s okay!
Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan. Use your hands to press it into an even layer. Sprinkle the 1/2 cup marshmallows on top, and if you’d like, use a kitchen torch to lightly toast them: Ignite your torch. Hold the flame about 4 inches from the marshmallows. Move the flame across the surface of the marshmallows until they get toasty and brown.
Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup chocolate chips on top. Cool for at least 30 minutes then cut it into square bars.
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