Romanian Lion Bars

Here's something weird: being home in during this cross-section of April and May. For the last three years I have gotten to travel in Romania, two weeks each time. Meaning I've spent a total of six weeks in Europe...meaning that being here in Virginia with the humidity growing and the daffodils finishing and the leaves easing from baby-to-teen feels strange. I keep driving with my windows down and smelling Romania. I keep feeling a certain type of breeze and thinking surely I ought to be strapping on my sandals for walk into downtown Arad, not heading to work in Suffolk. I keep standing on a street-corner and thinking if I just imagined hard enough, I would be in Timisoara or Bucharesti or climbing the steep drive to Peles Castle, not crossing cobbles in Downtown Norfolk, headed to my habitual coffee shop. The team is going back this year but I'm not with them and it makes me...well...sad.

In short, I'm homesick.

So the thing to do when you're homesick, dear friends, is to cook something that reminds you of home. That's why I figured now was the perfect time to bring out and share the recipe I developed for our favorite Romanian candy bar: Lion Bars. The best way to describe Lion Bars, as near as I can tell, is that they're somewhat of a cross between a Hundred-Grand bar, a Twix, and a Milky Way. First there's the vanilla sugar wafer ensconced in chewy caramel. Then it's rolled in crisped rice cereal, then dipped in milk chocolate (for the purpose of personal taste, I dipped mine in dark chocolate this time). I know that eating the homemade version of a mass-produced European candy bar isn't exactly tres chic or the most authentic way to remind myself of being on the ground in Arad, but hey. Chocolate is comfort. And I've been harboring this secret recipe of mine for a while, waiting for a good moment to launch it into your laps.

Here's another thing: I have friends I severely miss in Romania. But I also have friends in America and some of them are extremely talented. Meet Arielle Bacon (I crack no jokes about hosting her on this food blog): the photographer behind today's recipe and an inspiring, creative boss-lady in her own right who not only wields the camera and Photoshop with authority, but was also playing something positively cinematic on her second-hand white baby grand (I kid you not) when I rang the front doorbell, loaded down with chocolate and caramel and rice cereal. This girl is a quiet tower of strength and I felt so relaxed after an afternoon spent kerbobbling around her kitchen eating tacos and melting chocolate chips. I hope to collaborate again sometime soon because let's face it: these are what you call real photos.

So they basically look like ugly little adopted pugs in candy bar form but MY WORD are they good. You won't believe me till you try them, but you're going to love them. It's like, I don't know...all the best parts of all the best candy bars rolled into one little nugget of goodness. Excuse me while I mournfully flip through last year's trip photos on Facebook and weep into my keyboard.

Lion Bars
(makes app. 18-24)

1 small package vanilla sugar wafers
1 package of caramel squares, unwrapped
2 cups crisped rice cereal
2 1/2 cups milk or dark chocolate chips
1 Tablespoon shortening (for thinning chocolate)
waxed paper
cookie sheets

1.) Line cookie sheets with waxed paper and pour rice cereal into a shallow dish or pan.
2.)  In a double boiler, melt unwrapped caramels until smooth and very loose and creamy. Working quickly so the caramel won't harden up, hold wafer by one end and dip into caramel as far as you can go without hurting your fingers, then transfer to the rice cereal, turning to coat.
3.) Once all wafers have been coated, if desired you may touch up the bare ends of the wafers by coating with a spoonful of caramel.
4.) Allow to chill in freezer for 1/2 and hour or until caramel is hard.
5.) In double boiler melt chocolate chips and shortening. When glossy and smooth, remove wafers from the freezer and dip in melted chocolate via the same method, transferring again to freezer to harden chocolate.
6.) Store in fridge, freezer or other cool dark place. WARNING: if you do freeze the Lion Bars completely, allow to thaw before eating...your dentist will thank you.

There we go: authentic Romanian Lion Bars for your enjoyment. As a side-note, when I say "caramel squares" I mean "caramel squares" and I do not mean "caramel ice cream sauce" or any other sort of "this would be easier than unwrapping and melting caramels" caramel. M'kay? Just thought I'd warn you.