Today’s sweet treat is a cross between the classic American snack, puppy chow, and one of many special cookies that my mom makes every year for Christmas. The happy marriage happened quite by accident.
When my dad was in town, he went over to my aunt’s for her famous chop suey, which she always tops with crunchy chow mein noodles. Always the hostess with the mostest, she sent my dad back to my house with ample leftovers, including a huge bag of the chow mein noodles.
Now, while chow mein noodles aren’t particularly nutrient rich, this brand is vegan and not horribly unhealthy either. Not one to waste food, I put my thinking cap on to transform them into a quick and easy snack, rich enough that one or two at a time will do you just fine.
My mom’s Christmas haystack cookies are named as such because they include chow mein noodles bathed in peanut butter and melted butterscotch chips, resulting in a small heap that looks just like the perfect home for a needle. My intention was to replicate these—one of my favorite holiday treats she makes—the Fresh Formula way: vegan.
There may be vegan butterscotch chips out there, but regardless, I didn’t have any on hand. Just a couple of days before inheriting the chow mein noodles, I stocked up on some 85% dark chocolate in bulk. I never tasted it when I bought it; the bitter smell alone told me that this chocolate was meant for melting and repurposing. Thus, the idea for dark chocolate haystacks—or as Nolan calls them, “spiders”—was born.
You can substitute any nut butter and any meltable chocolate to make this recipe your own. You can also substitute any cereal—Chex is used in traditional puppy chow—crackers, pretzels, nuts, or chips for the chow mein noodles if you aren’t set on your heaps looking like hay. As long as the combination tastes fantastic, the shape and appearance of the clusters doesn’t much matter.
The reason these treats ended up a cross between the haystacks and the puppy chow was because the 85% dark chocolate was much bitterer than I anticipated. I enjoy 70% dark chocolate regularly and thought that 15% wasn’t substantially higher…but no, it is! Even though, according to the ingredients listed on the bulk bin, there is sugar in the chocolate, I could barely taste it and practically puckered when I bit into the first haystack. Travis thought of puppy chow and suggested I toss the haystacks around in powdered sugar to compensate for the lack of sweetness. It worked enough for me—I’m so used to dark chocolate now that I don’t need my desserts oozing with sweetness—but Nolan said he would like “new spiders” with a little more sugar. 🙂 Lesson learned for next time.
This is the type of formula where having a kitchen scale really comes in handy. I am getting better and better at eyeballing amounts and weights, but being precise is generally preferred in any recipe. Using a simple kitchen scale, you can easily measure out the ingredients for today’s haystacks.
Secondly, a roll around in powdered sugar is optional and I wouldn’t have done it had I not selected such a bitter chocolate that I made the mistake of not tasting first. Oops! If you like your desserts extra sweet, by all means, make it snow! Just make sure to make your own powdered sugar (I use turbinado); remember, white, refined sugars are typically white as a result of bone char from cows. Not vegan. 🙂
You could also toss your haystacks in or top them with chopped nuts, sprinkles, or any other garnish that would add to the appearance or flavor.
You’ll love these yummy treats! Assuming your little ones aren’t irked by spiders, they are bound to dig in, too!
FORMULA BASE: HAYSTACKS
Yields 24 haystacks
- 7 ounces unsweetened/minimally sweetened crunch (i.e. cereal, crackers, chips, pretzels, nuts, etc.) –> I’m using chow mein noodles.
- 12 ounces vegan chocolate (chips or bars) –> I’m using 85% dark chocolate bars.
- ¾ cup nut or seed butter (nuts/seeds only) –> I’m using a combination of peanut and sunflower.
- ¼ cup garnish (i.e. powdered sugar, sprinkles, chopped nuts/seeds, desiccated coconut, etc.) (OPTIONAL) –> I’m using homemade powdered sugar.
Using a double burner*, melt your chocolate and nut/seed butter together over medium high heat, stirring occasionally.
Once melted, pour the mixture over your crunch element and stir to combine. If the combination seems too runny, you can always add more crunch.
Use a spoon to dollop small heaps of the mixture onto baking sheets lined with silicone baking pads or parchment paper. They will eventually solidify if left on the counter top, but the process is expedited in the fridge or freezer.
Once solid, you can top your haystacks with or toss them in a garnish, if you wish. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.
*Don’t forget to protect yourself from steam that might escape your double burner. I wear gloves start to finish in the process of melting chocolate and don’t remove them until I’ve poured the chocolate out of the melting vessel. 🙂