Buckeyes

It’s that time again, boys and girls, to combine the wonder of holiday desserts with the hilarity of shitty photography.  Buckeyes are candies consisting of peanut butter, powdered sugar, and chocolate. They are easy to make and difficult to screw up, and one batch of ingredients makes enough for pretty much everyone you know. I like to make a batch this time of year and mail them to friends, family and well-wishers around the country. Unless you’re my father or my Festivus victim, though, you won’t be getting any of mine — so I’m going to teach you how to make your own. Here’s everything you’ll need:

Ingredients!

Peanut butter, powdered sugar, butter, chocolate chips, and vanilla extract. Gulf Wax is a type of paraffin wax you can find in the baking aisle of your supermarket. It is basically candle wax, but don’t worry — it’s tasteless and perfectly safe. Each box contains four huge blocks of wax, and you only need a very small amount for this recipe. Honestly I think we’re still chipping away at the same box we bought four years ago.

The first step is to make the peanut butter filling. The measurements look something like this:

  • 1 1/2 cups peanut butter
  • 2 lbs. powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 stick softened butter

The reason you’re seeing two sticks of butter in my shot is because we made two batches of buckeyes.

All of this goes into a big bowl, like so:

TOO MUCH BUTTER

The reason you’re seeing two sticks of butter in my bowl is because I’m stupid. I went ahead and fished one of the sticks out before getting serious about mixing. I’m not really sure what would have happened if I’d left it in, but that’s kind of the beauty of buckeyes: you cannot mess this part up. What’s the worst that could happen? Your dessert treats are too buttery? Or too peanut buttery? There’s no such thing as the wrong kind of delicious.

Mixing implements are for chumps. Roll up your sleeves and get to work.

Mixing!

The yeti arms return!

I recommend you clip your fingernails before doing this, because getting peanut butter up under your fingernails feels hella damn weird.

When everything is properly mixed, your filling will be dry and crumbly, but uniformly solid. It won’t tend to clump together on its own, but you should be able to easily shape handfuls of it. If it feels too gooey to you, add a bit more sugar. If it doesn’t seem like it wants to hold a shape, throw in another glob of peanut butter. Feel free to taste it at this stage, too. Feed some to your dogs while you’re at it.

If you want to add a little something extra like shaved coconut or crushed walnuts, now’s the time. Nobody’s going to stop you. You’re a grown-up.

All rolled up!

If your filling is properly mixed, you will have no problem rolling it up into little one-inch blobs like this. I find it easiest to grab a huge handful of filling and smoosh it together, then pinch blob-sized chunks off and roll them up. In the past I’ve used melon ballers and measuring spoons to great effect, as well. Set the round-ish globs on a cookie sheet covered in wax paper and stick a toothpick in each one. It’s okay to put them relatively close together; they’re not like cookies, which will expand while baking. This makes perfect sense, considering we’re not going to be baking these at all; we’re in fact going to be doing the opposite! Once you have a tray of balls, each adorned with a toothpick, slide the whole thing into the freezer and leave them there until they’re rock solid. This will take between twenty and forty minutes, depending on how manly your freezer is.

We had enough mixture for about a tray-and-a-half of peanut butter balls. The larger you make them, the harder they’ll be to work with later, but again, there’s really no wrong way to do this part. Something to keep in mind, though: you can control how much peanut butter goes into each buckeye, but you’re going to get about the same amount of chocolate coating no matter what you do. It might behoove you to decide on your peanut butter-to-chocolate ratio now, and try to keep your ball size uniform.

Bigger balls turn out uglier, but are no less delicious. I usually send the small, pretty ones out and keep the large ones for myself. So far nobody has complained about this.

This is not a double boiler.

Okay, now, pay attention, because you CAN screw this part up. The next step is to melt your chocolate. I like to make two batches: one using semi-sweet chocolate chips, and one using white chocolate chips. (Some people like albino buckeyes.) The reason you have to pay attention is, unlike with the filling, the chocolate can be irrevocably damaged.

The easiest way to melt chocolate chips is to use a double boiler. A double boiler is basically two pots that fit together like LEGO blocks; you boil water in the bottom pot, which heats the contents of the top pot. I have one that works real well, but my mother doesn’t, and I forgot to bring mine over to her kitchen today, so we had to construct one using an old Crock Pot and a saucepan. This probably isn’t the safest contraption we’ve ever designed, but it got the job done. A saucepan and a metal bowl works just as well.

The concept is simple: never allow your chocolate to come in direct contact with your heat source. If your chocolate scorches to the bottom of the pan it is game over. If this is your first time doing this step, I recommend buying an extra pack of chocolate chips in case you screw the first one up. You can always use them in cookies or vanilla ice cream later.

Here’s an interesting property of chocolate chips you probably never considered: they are purposely designed to hold their shape! I mean, think about it. These bad boys are supposed to sit in 300+ degree cookie batter for half an hour, and still come out shaped like little chips. The agent in the chocolate that achieves this will cause the chocolate to seize if you apply heat too quickly, or too unevenly. You’ll know your chocolate is seized because it will clump together in a smeary mess and remain solid forever. It’s much easier to seize white chocolate than milk or dark chocolate. Seizing is just as bad as scorching; nothing you can do but pitch it and start over.

“Brick! This sounds hard! I’m real nervous!”

Relax. Follow these cardinal rules and your chocolate will come out smooth as silk:

  1. Never allow your chocolate to come in direct contact with your heat source. I’m repeating this because it’s super-duper double-plus important. You can’t melt chocolate directly in the pot, nor can you submerge any part of your pot in the hot water below. Use enough water in your bottom pan to supply heat, but not enough that the top pot is actually touching it.
  2. Do not boil your water. Let it come to a simmer and then reduce the heat. You want nice, even heat… but boiling water is too hot. The chocolate will try to melt unevenly, and chocolate hates that. It’ll get its revenge by burning or seizing, thereby making itself useless to you.
  3. Stir frequently. You want to melt the chocolate as evenly as possible. You don’t have to hover over the pan stirring obsessively; just giving it a couple good folds every couple minutes should do the trick.
  4. Patience. Everything you think you know about chocolate will tell you that the chips should dissolve into sauce within a few minutes. They won’t. First they’re going to get wet and shiny. Then they’re going to start smearing along the sides of the pan. The chocolate is going to seem, at first, to be way too thick to ever dip anything in. Don’t worry! As long as you’re not burning it and it’s not starting to get flaky, you’re in good shape.

Wax!?

Once your chocolate starts to melt, shave some wax into it. This part’s easy; just grab a block of wax and use a butter knife to slice some shavings down into it. This will serve two purposes: it’ll help your chocolate stick to your peanut butter balls later, and it will give the chocolate that nice familiar sheen you’ve seen on candy bars and Hershey’s Kisses.  I always just shave wax until it “looks like enough”. It’ll melt about evenly with your chocolate.

If you don’t mind slightly trickier and somewhat sloppier buckeyes, you can skip this step entirely. The end result will be no less delicious.

Melty!

Eventually your chocolate will form a very attractive dipping sauce. It will probably look like a few stubborn chips refused to melt; just stab at them with a spoon and they’ll smooth out. Remember, chocolate chips are designed to hold their shape, even when thoroughly melted, so you may have to coax a few renegades into their pseudo-liquid form.

Dipping!

Once your peanut butter balls are thoroughly frozen, and your chocolate is thoroughly melted, it’s time to dip! This part is pretty self-explanitory: pick the ball up by the toothpick and swish it around the chocolate unil it’s mostly covered. Not rocket science. You can set the dipped balls right back on the cookie sheet they came out of the freezer on. Once all the balls have been dipped, put them back in the freezer to cool.

For this part you’re sort of working against the clock. If you have a sufficiently large tray, you may notice your balls starting to thaw towards the end. Keep a spoon handy in case a toothpick comes loose and you have to rescue a ball from the hot chocolate sauce. A salvaged buckeye will come out looking ugly, but it will still be every bit as delicious as its more attractive bretheren.

As the sauce starts to dwindle, it will get harder and harder to get a nice, even coat of chocolate. You can fend this off for a short time by tilting the pan and scraping the sides down with a spatula, but your last few buckeyes are probably going to have to settle for a manually globbed-on chocolate coating. If you run out of chocolate before you run out of peanut butter balls, you can always just melt some more.

Done and delicious!

Once the chocolate coating has hardened, your buckeyes are all done! The toothpicks will slide right out if you give them a slight twist, and you’re ready to enjoy your festive confections!

I’ve never had a problem shipping buckeyes. I usually wrap them individually in wax paper before sending them off, because they tend to stick together otherwise, but remember: two stuck together buckeyes are just as delicious as two individual ones.

That’s really the beauty of this dessert: if you can melt chocolate properly, you absolutely can not screw this up. I suggest keeping in practice throughout the eary by endulging in other chocolate-dipped treats, so when buckeye time rolls around each year you’ll be ready to bring your A-game.

Enjoy the buckeyes, everyone!

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