Once upon a time, when I was probably no older than in grade school and sadly, not a whole lot shorter than I am today, a friend of a friend of my mother’s presented her with a bag of peanut butter and chocolate candies that my mother and I, chocolate and peanut butter fiends, went ballistic over. Here in this plastic bag (that we kept in the freezer, a history of hiding foods I have no self-control around in the freezer long predates this site) were all of the awesomeness of Reese’s peanut butter cups but, a) larger and b) homemade. We had to have the recipe.
No, we really had to have the recipe. We asked. We might have begged a little. But we were shut down, because this friend of a friend was writing a cookbook, and needed to save the recipe for future publication. Now, I don’t think my mother is especially one to hold grudges, but I tell you, it’s probably been more than 20 years since then and I mentioned chocolate peanut butter balls to my mother this week and she said, flatly, “I am still waiting for that cookbook.” You could say it’s kind of a running joke.
Of course, the joke is on us, as it turns out we were two states away from them, the whole time. A few years ago, I was watching one of those travel programs on the Food Network and Mark Summers spent a whole segment these chocolate and peanut butter bonbons, famous especially in Ohio where they are dipped in a way to resemble the nut of the buckeye tree.
The classic recipe — which I suspect anyone from or near the state of Ohio has been making since they were tall enough to reach the kitchen counter — uses an avalanche of sugar, as all good candy should. In the new cookbook from Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, the guys behind the Baked bakeries in Brooklyn and Charleston and a first cookbook that I suspect you are as obsessed with as I am, they re-engineer the buckeye for modern tastes — half the sugar, some graham cracker crumbs for sturdiness, a slip of cream cheese but keep most of the butter intact. Thank goodness for that. The result is the candy my mother and I ate straight from the freezer in record time back then, now calling out to me from mine until I can find some hapless victims to hand them off to.
Oh, and about that: Earlier this week I made a batch of candy (a different one; would it be inappropriate for me to ask you to do some crunches on my behalf this weekend?) that I was certain would flop. Instead, the opposite happened, they became a danger to themselves and others who inhabited this apartment and I demanded my husband bring them to work to share with coworkers. They went over better than I expected and my husband emailed me several times that day, asking if I’d share the recipe. Which I can’t. It will be in my cookbook, you see, and they’ll just have to wait.
More of this: Since Halloween week in the Smitten Kitchen is always equated to some format of peanut butter or rice crispies (and two years ago, also from Baked, both) I obviously had to make these this week. But if this is not the peanut butter confection you were looking for, I have just the new category for you.
Adapted, just a little, from Baked Explorations
Yield: 36 to 42 tablespoon-sized candies; I made 64 with a #70 (1/2-ounce) scoop and got 64
The classic recipes for buckeyes I’ve found on the web use up to twice the amount of powdered sugar (yes, 6 cups) and two full sticks of butter for the same amount of peanut butter. This variation is less aggressively sweet, with a little tang from cream cheese and warm flavors from the graham crumbs. The only thing I wished it had was salt — perhaps a quarter teaspoon? Maybe a half teaspoon of something light and flaky? I think that salt really brings out the flavor in a peanut butter candy (try just the peanut butter portion of a Reese’s peanut butter cup alone if you don’t believe me), especially against a chocolate coating.
1/4 cup (2 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups peanut butter (smooth, but you can use chunky if you are looking for more texture)
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (from about 14 graham crackers)
Salt (optional, see note up top)
3 cups confectioners’ (powdered) sugar
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks or 5 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
12 ounces dark chocolate (60 to 72%), coarsely chopped
Make the filling: In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and peanut butter together until combined. Add the graham cracker crumbs and beat for 10 seconds. Add the sugar and butter, and mix on the lowest speed until it stops floating off everywhere, then increase the speed until the ingredients are combined. Scrape down the whole bowl well, then mix again. The mixture will be quite sturdy and a little dry — perfect for shaping. Set it aside while you prepare the coating.
Make the coating: Melt the chocolate either over a double boiler, stirring until it is completely smooth or in a microwave in 30 then 10 second increments, stirring before you start it again until it is completely smooth. Let it cool to tepid (about 100 degrees, though I’d go a little cooler next time for a thicker coating; I had a few ounces of chocolate leftover) while you shape the peanut butter centers. [Alternately, you can temper the chocolate (fairly simply instructions here) for a perfect showy finish.]
Assemble the candies: Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Scoop out slightly more than one tablespoon’s worth of filling (their suggestion; I used a scoop that made them a little smaller) and use your hands to form it into a ball. Place the ball on the prepared sheet and repeat the process until all of the candies have been shaped. They can sit close to each other but make sure they are not touching.
Using a fork or large skewer, dip each ball into the chocolate and roll it about so that almost the entire candy is coating, leaving a small circle uncoated. Play around with a few practice pieces; I found it easiest to stick the skewer in the side, angle the bowl I was using towards it and make sure it became submerged as I rolled the candy around. But don’t fuss too much; even the “ugly” ones won’t go to waste.
Chill the buckeyes until they are set, about 30 minutes.
Do ahead: Buckeyes will keep in the fridge for what the book says is 3 days, but I’d say at least a week, should you keep them in a lockbox and hide the key.