A Few of My Favorite Things: Peanut Butter Buckeyes

December 21, 2009

 

Categories:
Cookies, Dough & Desserts, Fall, Holidays, Recipes, Seasons, Winter


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Until my Aunt Lorraine brought buckeyes into our home, food was just food. Discovering the finer flavors in life doesn’t usually come via a plate of peanut butter and chocolate, but this is precisely how it went for me.  As a child, I lusted for the simple, forbidden things: Lucky Charms; McDonald’s chicken nuggets; Charleston Chews. Mostly, I dreamed of Reese’s. I loved poking holes through the center, eating them frozen, nibbling the rippled edges of thick, milk chocolate then seeing how long they would sit on my tongue before any shred of self restraint dissolved into chewing and swallowing. But to a kid, candy is just about the last thing possible to recreate. If it weren’t, I would have concocted it and devoured it and grown cavities all day long.

Good thing I was too short to wield a spatula and bowl, or to maneuver the heft of a double boiler, because I could have eaten my weight in peanut butter buckeyes. One year, I did. But Aunt Lorraine only made these once—twice, maybe—though a single, lusty occasion stands out prominently in my mind. Mostly because it involves that raw, sugared ache of a kid who has had too many Christmas cookies on the 24th and drifts gleefully to sleep on the couch, knowing that gifts and more cookies wait patiently at the other end of the somnolent tunnel.

For some reason, I was in a decidedly unfoodie phase that year, which may be why the flavors stood out so much. All I had eaten for several days prior were peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I had to fix them for myself—no fruit lumps, no thick smears of peanut butter allowed. My sandwiches were smooth, not too sticky, with perfectly soft bread. Come to think of it, perhaps this was evidence of a budding gourmande. Certainly, it was my first foray into asserting myself via food and appetite. Suddenly, the grown ups had no say. I could refuse what I wanted, fix what I wanted. My Grandmother did not approve of this 7 year-old self-expression. Though clearly, I was prime for peanut butter buckeye appreciation.

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On the snowy afternoon of December 23rd, my Aunt Lorraine and Uncle Mickey unloaded their Buick from Buffalo, full of Styrofoam trunks bearing sausages, tree-shaped butter blocks, cheeses, authentic Pierogi, special varieties of Polish mushrooms and several cookie tins. My “Hellos” were perfunctory. I slinked around, waiting for a peak inside the sugary treasure troves. Finally I saw the buckeyes, peeping up at me, winking with their brown pupils, so perfectly shiny, so perfectly bite-sized. I could practically feel how they would cleave between my teeth. My mouth watered, my lips quivered. I was rabid with desire.

I coveted those buckeyes all day and into the night. They were the only thing that seemed even remotely capable of measuring up to the sweet, savory, rich, chewy flavor of a perfectly smooth PB & J. Could they possibly taste as good as they looked? My belly ached for them—still does.

Christmas Eve rolled around and after much sleeve tugging and pleading I finally found a soft spot in my uncle’s heart and he dropped a little ball into my palm, well before dessert time. I stuck it into my mouth all at once and fled behind the tree to bask in the sensation of melting chocolate and warmed peanut butter. It was almost too good: richer, deeper, stronger than any Reese’s I remembered. I wasn’t sure I could stomach another serving. The doubts proved unfounded.

Needless to say, my grandmother pouted through the entire meal after I refused her mushroom soup, her breaded fish, her pan seared Polish pierogi. I sat politely as plates were passed (at least this is how I remember it) then fled to the kitchen to make my ceremonial sandwich. I had a strategy for climbing up the counter: as long as I was barefoot, my feet were soft enough to grip the knobs so I could hoist myself to the peanut butter and jelly stockpiles. My grandmother complained that I was “finicky,” my mother came to my defense. I remember being vaguely pleased that I could inspire a Christmas spat.

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I ate my sandwich at the Christmas table, endowing it with the flavors of a buckeye ball. I had a straight shot at the cookies, which sat on the dessert table at the back of the dining room. I imagined that silky chocolate, almost choking me, sliding down my throat. I imagined the dense, firm texture, the peanut butter ball breaking between my teeth. It was sexual, violent, delicious, all at once. All of my early appetites converged on that single, Cyclops cookie. I had to have it.

I didn’t understand why the women had one—half of one. “Maybe just a bite.” The loss of appetite that took place in adulthood would never happen to me, I vowed, even if I was temporarily fixated on one certain type of sandwich. This is the first year I’ve made buckeyes, and I’m ashamed it took so long: ashamed I haven’t fed that little girl inside, begging for those weighty little balls of happiness, considered little ‘sins’ to the typical, self-restrained grown-up.

This Christmas, let’s forget it. Let’s eat those buckeyes, one by one, in a row. However many we want, until we feel perfectly full, perfectly satisfied, perfectly childish again. Bring on the butter, the peanut butter, the pounds of sugar, the chocolate. I’m a grown up: I want to eat it proudly, front and center, in the middle of our yard, or on our snowy rooftop, shouting, “Buckeyes, I LOVE YOU. You are as good as food can be.” No more sneaking behind the tree to get my fill. Maybe I’ll make a double batch. This reunion has been a long time coming.

Peanut Butter Buckeyes

1 ½ cups smooth peanut butter (one small jar)
1 cup butter, softened
½ teaspoon vanilla
5 cups of confectioner’s sugar
4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted (you won’t use all of the chocolate, so be sure to have ice cream Sundaes at the ready…)

In a large bowl, mix peanut butter, butter, Vanilla and sugar until well blended. Dough may be slightly crumbly, but go ahead and roll it into 1” sized balls anyhow. It will work, I promise.

Prick a toothpick into each ball and chill in the freezer, on a lined baking sheet, for 30 minutes.

Melt chocolate chips in a double boiler (I use a bowl set over a pot of simmering water)—stir until smooth.

Dip frozen balls into chocolate, turning the ball around in the chocolate, leaving 1 cm. of naked peanut butter.

Return to the cookie sheet and store in the refrigerator until chocolate has hardened and you are ready to serve. After you remove the toothpick, gently smooth the tiny hole with your finger. No one will be the wiser.

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