The Crispety, Crunchety Peanut Buttery Snack That Is Way Better Than a Butterfinger
On Dana Cree's Nutterbuddies and The Cave Singers' "Leap"
Dana Cree's Nutterbuddies
Ten years ago today I married the best human being on the planet.
His name is Robby and he is great, but more on that later because right now I want to talk about food.
Of course, our wedding day included cake — two cakes, actually, both from Seattle’s Macrina Bakery — and there was also a gorgeous array of cookies from Austin Hicks, then the pastry chef at Oddfellows Café + Bar. (His whoopie pies were ridiculous; somebody please give his whoopie pies a James Beard award.)
My favorite part, though, was the Nutterbuddies. Upon arriving at the venue, every guest got their table assignment via Nutterbuddy, a dense, flavor-packed little square of caramel-covered glory created by pastry chef Dana Cree.
Cree served the Nutterbuddies at Poppy, Jerry Traunfeld’s former restaurant on Capitol Hill in Seattle. They were one component of Poppy’s popular dessert thali, a sharable platter of your choice of desserts presented alongside tasting-sized bowls of caramel corn, candied nuts, and/or pâtes de fruits. Yes, it was as amazing as it sounds.
In 2010 I interviewed Cree for Seattle’s alt-weekly The Stranger and demanded to know everything there is to know about the Nutterbuddies, then called nutter butters. Even then I couldn’t help myself from gushing about how good these fancy lil’ fuckers are.
From the article:
Then there are those nutter butters. Oh, the nutter butters.
"The nutter butters will never leave," Cree promises when I visit her in Poppy's kitchen a few days later.
The bottom layer of the nutter butter is made with feuilletine, she tells me, a small and crispy flake that tastes a lot like a sugar ice cream cone. It gives the nutter butter its crispy, Butterfingery character, but the flavors are much more complex—it's salty and sweet, and dense yet still flaky. And it's topped with a thick layer of white chocolate salted caramel ganache, which is probably the creamiest caramel I've ever eaten.
"The texture comes from the white chocolate," says Cree. "The longer you cook a sugar molecule, the more fragmented the molecule becomes, so we cook it as long as we can. Once you shatter it, the flavor is a lot more complex. It gets bitter—so much so that you have to treat it like you would coffee, by adding sugar and cream. So we add white chocolate back into it, which by itself is nauseatingly sweet."
After years of eating dozens — hundreds? — of Nutterbuddies, I moved to Nashville in 2015. Poppy closed in 2019. Goodbye forever, Nutterbuddies.
A few years ago I took a chance and did a search for Cree’s recipe. I had a craving and she had just released her beautiful ice cream recipe book Hello, My Name Is Ice Cream. I wondered if maybe, just maybe those peanut buttery candies made it in. And they did! Sort of. Her Nutterbuddy Ice Cream features components of the Nutterbuddy with crunchy chocolate and peanut butter chunks and a caramel swirl, but it wasn’t quite the same. (She recently shared the recipe for the Nutterbuddy Ice Cream with Epicurious here.)
Still, I was not deterred. Honestly, I began to search for Cree’s email address or other contact info so I could just ask/beg/offer to pay hundreds of dollars for the recipe. A few more clicks further into Google and there it was, the recipe for my beautiful wedding day Nutterbuddies in a post on award-winning food blog Lottie + Doof.
I sat on the recipe for years — it looked too daunting for a leisurely day in the kitchen, what with a double boiler and fancy French shit — but this week I made the Nutterbuddies to celebrate a decade of being married to the best human. I am so happy to report that not only are they as wonderful as I remember, but they’re also surprisingly simple.
(Unlike marriage, amiright, folks? Ba-dum-tss.)
To make the bottom half of the bars you melt together peanut butter, milk chocolate, cocoa butter, cocoa nibs, and salt over a double-boiler. It just takes a few minutes for everything to come together and the cocoa butter makes it look and feel like silk. Then you pour in the feuilletine flakes, spread the mixture into a pan, and chill. That’s it! You’re halfway done already.
(An aside: If you’re intimidated by feuilletine flakes, don’t be. They are your new best friend. They are fragile, glassy shards of very thin caramelized crepes, basically, and they keep their crispiness in fat-based liquids and batters. They’re not readily available in stores so buy them in bulk online1 and use the extra in your favorite recipes. Cookies! Brownies! Buttercream! Pies! They will bring an impressive texture to pretty much anything.)
The caramel layer is also a breeze. It includes six common ingredients — white chocolate, salt, cream, vanilla bean, sugar, and butter — and takes about 15 minutes to make. Here, heat and a little patience do all the heavy lifting by, as Cree explained in 2010, breaking down the sugar molecule (burning it, basically) and making the caramelized flavor so much more complex than your average caramel.
It sounds scary to burn sugar, right? We’ve been told all our lives not to burn things, especially sugar! Listen to Cree when she says, “Don’t be afraid, it will be delicious.”
And it is. The caramel, fattened up with butter and cream, is deep, smooth, and glossy. It pours beautifully onto the crispy chocolate base and, after a night in the fridge, the two components become the most delicious study in contrasts.
You just have to be willing to add a little heat to make a little magic.
(A lot like marriage, amiright, folks? Ba-dum-tss.)
“Leap” by The Cave Singers
Our wedding day was a mess.
We overslept, we left too many errands — like writing and printing out our vows?!? — for the last minute, and it was raining the kind of wet and unsatisfying drizzly rain that instantly and completely drenches your entire physical form the moment you step outside. We lost the liquor license we needed to hang at the venue, we miscounted the number of chairs that would fit at each table, and my dear friend Patty had a bad allergic reaction to a hidden almond and got all goofy and doped up on Benadryl.
Our wedding was perfect.
Most of the day comes to me in swift five-second bursts. When I try to recollect something specific, my brain just fills with scattered moments that flash by like they’re stuck in a slide projector set to supernova.
Still, I can recall the exact moment I heard the gentle opening notes to The Caves Singers’ song “Leap.”
Robby and I didn’t know what we were doing when the song first started. We were supposed to walk together to the front of the room, through a gorgeous old bathhouse on a beach in Seattle filled with friends and family, but we didn’t rehearse it at all. We barely even talked about our plan. We just assumed we’d, you know, figure it out when the time came, so when the time came we just started meandering through the room in different directions like a couple of bumbling idiots.
Then I remember taking a deep breath. I remember the gentle, repetitive guitar setting the pace and singer Pete Quirk’s voice urging me to slow down. I remember locking eyes with Robby, reaching for his hand, and seeing only him. My entire chest and stomach were fluttering with nerves, but the good kind of nerves, the electrifying kind of nerves that make you feel like you were just brought back to life with a bolt of lightning.
I still feel that electricity when I hear this song. It still makes my heart feel lighter in my chest.
I interviewed The Cave Singers for The Stranger in 2009, and about “Leap” I wrote:
"Leap," brings to mind fireflies fluttering in tall grass at dusk—the air is still humid, but the breeze has cooled enough to leave goose bumps when it kisses skin. Or you might be far out in the woods, rays of the afternoon sun dancing on the ground through a thick canopy of evergreens. Or maybe there's a swimming hole for you to jump into. For Quirk, the songs remind him of the East Coast where he grew up.
"I was thinking about where I'm from—New Jersey and the Jersey Shore, and kids swimming at night and going pool hopping. I was there until I was about 21; the songs are inspired by little cinematic things that I remember from being there."
Little cinematic things.
That’s how I recall November 12, 2011. In little cinematic bursts. Robby’s smile. Cake. Twinkling lights. Cookies. Peonies. Robby’s smile. Nutterbuddies. Pumpkins. Happily running outside after the ceremony to hide out from the crowd, in the rain, for just a few minutes of quiet. Friends laughing in the photobooth. Mud on my dress. Buying fancy heels but wearing sparkly pink Converse instead. Robby’s smile. Someone taking away our dinner plates before we could eat anything. Ordering a pizza when we got home to make up for it.
It’s all little moments, beautiful and messy cinematic things that flash by like they’re stuck in a slide projector set to supernova.
Just like marriage.