Ah buckeyes, my old friend! Sweet peanut butter and chocolate, everything to love – especially served right out of the freezer.
You see, I grew up with buckeyes under a different moniker. My mother called them chocolate peanut butter balls and made them every year for Christmas. She’d whip up a giant batch and keep them on-hand frozen so we could graze on them for months. It was wonderful! All year, we’d look forward to them and I remember them being a special favorite of my older brother. My mom learned the recipe on Andersen Air Force Base on the Pacific island of Guam when my dad was based there in the 80s. He was a B-52 Captain and while he was stationed there, my older brother and I both ended up being born on that tiny little island.
Military families stay pretty tight and take care of each other when deployed. My mom told me stories of how they would often have parties for the crew or deliver cookies to each other just because. The crews just take care of each other like that. The Radar Navigator’s wife Bonnie made the “chocolate peanut butter balls” for parties and my mom always admired them. Bonnie would decorate them with hollies for Christmas or flowers for wedding/baby showers and was gracious enough to share the recipe with my mom.
When I’d bring them to school in my lunch growing up, other kids would call them “buckeyes.” I had never heard of them at the time, so I was like “sure, whatever.” However, I have since learned that the term comes directly from a tree, Aesculus glabra, the Ohio buckeye. If you look at the seeds of that tree, the chocolate peanut butter balls look nearly identical. A lot of recipes have the same light brown dot like the actual seeds have (we prefer the peanut butter to be completely encased in chocolate). But don’t mistake the seed for the candies! The actual seed you would find in the wild is toxic and you definitely wouldn’t want to eat it. Some Native Americans used the seeds to poison water to kill fish. Then they had to boil the fish 3 times in order to make the fish safe to eat. Seeds = bad. Candy = good!
Buckeyes are super easy – mix and dip
Buckeyes the candy, are absolutely delicious. Full disclosure, I love peanut butter and other nut butters anyway. One of my favorite desserts is a big ol’ scoop of peanut, almond, or cashew butter right out of the jar. It is rich and satisfying, and a great cure for hiccups! But back to the buckeyes. Not only are they tasty, they’re super easy to make. Really couldn’t be much easier.
First, combine 1/2 cup (113g) of butter at room temp with 1.5 cups of peanut butter. I prefer natural peanut butter (no added sugar, etc) and when you measure out one of the 16 oz (454g) jars, it ends up being pretty darn close to being perfect, so toss it all in. Also, add 1 tsp of vanilla and 3 cups (300g) of powdered sugar. This is only about ¾ of all the powdered sugar called for in the recipe – we want to leave some room later for adjustments if needed.
Mix it all together with a stand mixer until it is well combined. It should be pretty thick and sticky at this point and we need to add some of the remaining sugar. Add the remaining sugar ¼ cup (25g) at a time while mixing until the mixture resembles cookie dough texture. You should be able to pinch a chunk off and roll it into a ball easily without it being overly sticky. If it is too sticky, add a bit more sugar. On the other hand, it shouldn’t be loose and falling apart. If it is, there is too much sugar and you need to add some peanut butter to bring it back together. Pretty easy fixes either way! Take this opportunity to roll all the dough into balls about the size of a ping-pong ball and set out on a parchment lined cookie sheet.
Now you can start melting your chocolate. Heat a double boiler over high heat until it is boiling, then turn it back to simmering. If you don’t have a double boiler, set a Pyrex or metal bowl over the opening of a saucepan instead. Make sure the water level is low enough that the bowl doesn’t touch. Also, the diameter of the bowl should be slightly larger than the saucepan so it doesn’t touch the bottom. Food 52 has a nice video on Youtube explaining the process easily.
Once all that is ready, drop in one 24 oz (680g) package of almond bark or the same weight of melting chocolate wafers. At the Jaszewski house, we really like dark chocolate, like these from Ghirardelli, but choose whatever you like. Stir the chocolate constantly. Once melted, turn off the heat – the residual heat should be enough time to get all of your peanut butter “dough” coated.
Now it is time for dipping! Take your rolled “dough balls” and lower them into the melted chocolate and roll them if necessary to coat completely. Sure, you could leave a little uncoated spot of you want to be precious, but I’d rather have a consistent chocolate covered experience. There are different candy dipping tools out there for fairly cheap if you want to buy one, but a fork will work just fine too. Who needs extra gear for use once in a blue moon? Anyway, dip, coat, and lay on a parchment paper-lined sheet try. Repeat until you’re all done with dough. You can pour leftover chocolate onto a parchment sheet and reserve for another use (drizzling on ice cream, anyone?). Once the buckeyes cool and harden after an hour or so, you can enjoy …or you can be like me and throw the whole sheet pan into the freezer. Once frozen, nonchalantly toss them in an airtight bag and return them to the freezer to slowly graze on over time. I love eating them 5-10 minutes out of the freezer when they’re still really cold, but pliable enough to not break your teeth. It brings me right back to childhood…
Buckeyes (Bonnie Holly’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls)
Variations and lessons learned
While I grew up with peanut butter balls, you can certainly use alternative nut butters in its place. Cashew buckeyes are just as good as peanut butter ones! There are also tons of ways to dress-up the “dough” to make it even more exciting with different mix-ins. Here are some mix-in ideas for you:
- Chocolate chips
- Chopped candies
- Chopped nuts
- Chopped cookies
- Bacon (fried and then crumbled)
- Candied Maraschino cherries
- Chopped pretzels
And of course, you can decorate the outside in different ways as well. Try pressing in some crushed toffee or other candies for a rustic look. Sprinkles work great here too. Also, decorate with some hollies or flowers of Christmas or other special occasion.
Tried this recipe? Let us know what you think about it and comment below!