Buckeyes, The Perfect Kid Cooking Project
I grew up in central Ohio before moving to Minnesota over a decade ago. One of the many things I discovered about my new home state—tornadoes! paying with checks for everything! the accent is a myth!—was the significant number of fellow Ohio ex-pats here. I suspect much of the draw comes from similarities like reasonably priced housing, decent schools, and the culture of nice.
So I should not have been surprised last December when my Minnesotan friends (and not just the Ohio ex-pats) exclaimed in excitement when I said I was making buckeyes, the no-bake chocolate-dipped peanut-butter confection, not the inedible tree nut. Clearly there was a Minnesotan demand for buckeyes. And I was happy to create a supply. Growing up, buckeyes were usually a treat at the holidays. But I see no reason to limit their deliciousness to once a year. Why not make them as a rainy-day cooking project with the kids? Or as an indoor, AC project to escape the heat! It’s a great way to pass on a little Ohio spirit to the next generation.
When I made buckeyes in the early 90's, I had to make a special trip for a box of Gulf Wax paraffin. Discovering that wax was a key ingredient in the holiday staple of my childhood was disturbing, as was the pound of margarine and three pounds of powdered sugar the original recipe called for. I followed the instructions anyway. The buckeyes turned out as I remembered: super sweet and a novelty, but not necessarily crave-able in a grown-up way. Also, my note of "FLAMMABLE!" next to the paraffin discouraged me from trying it again.
Now, though, I had Baked: Explorations by Renato Poliafito and Matt Lewis in my hands. Their update of the buckeye recipe was so tempting the author of the food blog Smitten Kitchen tried them and added her revisions too. It was clearly time to revisit buckeyes.
Once I did, I discovered a great recipe for making with kids. There's no baking involved, and since we used neither paraffin nor the stove, no fire hazard. I melted the chocolate in the microwave on 50% power. (I have a double boiler. Kitchen purists would say I should use it, but the microwave is much more kid-friendly, with the buttons and beeping.) My boys, who are five and seven years old, liked rolling the peanut butter mixture into balls, and LOVED dipping them in chocolate. The results weren't uniform or smooth. They were, however, delicious. Even if you're not from Ohio, I think you'll like them.
Adapted from Baked: Explorations and Smitten Kitchen
Makes 36 to 42 tablespoon-sized candies
1/4 cup (2 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups salted smooth peanut butter (The Baked book warns against using natural peanut butter; I used East Wind in bulk from my co-op and had no problems)
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 9 graham cracker rectangles)
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks or 5 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
12 ounces dark chocolate (60 to 72%), coarsely chopped (use Rogue or B.T. McElrath if you want to made an even more decadent, local version.)
1. 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 the cloud dissipates, then increase the speed until 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.
2. Make the coating: Melt the chocolate either over a double boiler, stirring until it is completely smooth, or in a microwave in 30 and then 10-second increments, stirring before you start it again until mixture is completely smooth. Let it cool to tepid (about 100 degrees) while you shape the peanut butter centers.
3. Assemble the candies: Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Scoop out about one tablespoon’s worth of filling and use your hands to form it into a ball. (We found we had to squish the dough in our palms to make it roll-able. This increased the fun factor.) 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 coated, leaving a small circle of the peanut-butter ball showing. Play around with a few practice pieces; I found it easiest to stick the skewer in the side, angle the bowl I was using toward 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, and the hole can be pinched shut with your fingers once the chocolate is set.
Chill the buckeyes until set, about 30 minutes.
Store buckeyes covered in the fridge up to a week. If they last that long.