It's a pretty exciting time of year, you guys. The holidays are here and I'm celebrating because Ohio State, as of this writing, is still undefeated and headed to the Big Ten Championship game. And yes, I realize that I live deep in SEC country and my friends tease me at work daily, but I'll never stop loving the Buckeyes.
When football season comes around, homesickness for me is usually at its worst, as there are just so many Ohio traditions that come with the fall. And contrary to popular belief that Ohio's most recognizable state food is McDonald's, we actually do have a few things that are indigenous to "The Buckeye State." One of these culinary delights just so happens to be a type of chili that Deadspin ranked at number "51" in the Great American Menu, state by state. I guess we would have been "50" except the author gave that number to "being hit by a car" because he figured it was slightly better than eating a bowl of "Cincinnati Chili." Ouch. The guy who wrote the article obviously never had a proper, homemade buckeye.
The Ohio State Buckeye is not a lion or a tiger or a bear, or even a fighting Irish man or a macho boiler maker. The buckeye is a poisonous nut. Don't laugh, for we Buckeyes are proud of our poisonous nut! And when football season meets the holidays, we like to turn those poisonous nuts into glorious bites of chocolate and peanut butter. What other team can say that?
And even though I am now a New Orleanian, buckeyes are still my most requested recipe even down here in the South. Even people who hate OSU will still eat these and love them. Even Michigan fans. They might say they hate them, but they don't. They're just jealous that wolverines don't make good candy. Whenever I bring these things to a party, they disappear. And my husband always asks when I'll make them next. They were even a favor at our wedding: a buckeye for Ohio and a praline for Louisiana.
So if you have a midwesterner in your life, help him or her feel less homesick with buckeyes. Or even if you just love peanut butter and chocolate and want people to love what you bring to Christmas parties. Or if you want to "win friends and influence people," seriously you don't have to read the book. All you have to do is make buckeyes!
Here is my ultimate buckeye recipe, with a few ingredients that are up to you.
Here's what you need:
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3 cups of creamy peanut butter (Jif is best. Store-brand Jif is just fine too, but don't use the natural stuff because the texture will be off.)
1 2-pound bag of powdered sugar
2 bags of semi-sweet chocolate
Half a bar of edible paraffin wax (stay with me here)
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste, you could add less or a little more. It balances the sweetness.
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I'll go with Ina Garten here and say to use the good stuff.)
Instant coffee crystals
You'll also need tooth picks and a double boiler or a pot/glass bowl combo. The last three or four ingredients are completely optional and not in traditional recipes. When omitted, the recipe will make perfectly heavenly buckeyes, but they are the ingredients I've found that really bring them to the next level of awesomeness.
Here are all of my secrets, tried and tested over the years and perfected.
Start off with two sticks of softened butter in your biggest bowl.
Glop in 3 cups of peanut butter. I used the Best Choice brand from Rouses here.
Blend those two things along with the vanilla and salt with your hand mixer. You can use a stand mixer as well.
Gradually add in your bag of powdered sugar. If you add it all at once, you will end up with a white puffy cloud of sugar in the air and your kitchen will then be covered in a thin layer of powdery dust.
You'll end up with an ultra-sweet peanut buttery dough. Don't worry about it being too sweet though, because it will be balanced with the slightly bitter semi-sweet chocolate later. Put a towel or plastic wrap on top and let it firm up in the fridge for a few hours, or overnight.
Next is the more tedious part. I like to park in front of a good movie or turn up the radio in my kitchen and roll the peanut butter dough into little balls. Lay them out on sheet trays lined with parchment paper or silpat mats. You should make them up to about an inch in diameter. I like to make them a little smaller, but around the end you get tired of rolling tiny balls and they gradually get bigger. Just try to keep them uniform in size but don't worry about making them perfect. Real buckeyes from the tree are never perfectly round after all.
When you're done, throw these back in the fridge to firm up for an hour or so as they will have warmed and softened a little.
Next is double-boiler time! You don't need anything fancy. Here I have some water simmering in a pot with a glass bowl on top. Just make sure the water doesn't touch the bowl. Steam is all you need.
Now for the wax. I know it sounds weird, but it won't kill you. It's entirely edible. If you have no problem eating chicken nuggets then you should have absolutely no problem with edible wax. You'll either find it in the baking aisle or with canning supplies. The recipe calls for half a bar of wax per batch, but you can use less if it creeps you out. I always melt one bag of chocolate chips at a time so I use about a quarter of a bar per bag.
This makes the buckeyes stable at room temperature in order to sit out at parties or send as gifts and such, otherwise you'd have to store them in the fridge at all times or they'll melt. Sometimes people will also use Crisco to make them more stable.
I chop the wax up in tiny pieces and let the pieces melt in the glass bowl. The wax will also help to keep your chocolate from seizing up on you. I promise, it's okay. Just don't chop up your Glade candles for this.
Next up is your chocolate. Semi-sweet. I've used all kinds of brands to see what is best and I can never tell a difference, so just use whatever you like.
Pour a bag in your glass bowl and stir every so often until it is melted. Like I said, I melt one bag at a time, but you can do two if you like. I just hate having too much chocolate leftover to clean up, so I adjust as I go along. I also sometimes make half a batch one day and the other half the next day if I'm low on time.
Next up is my secret ingredient; a kitchen spoon of coffee crystals. It's a nod to my grandma who always put coffee in her chocolate cake. She said, for some reason, coffee makes chocolate taste even more chocolaty and she was an amazing cook, so I believe her.
The coffee part is entirely optional. I just like it because I do think it adds a little depth of flavor and a very subtle texture to the chocolate. Honestly, Ohioans reading this will probably think it's crazy, but it's just what I like to do.
When everything is melted, get out your toothpicks and start dipping the peanut butter balls in the chocolate, leaving a little part naked on top to mimic a buckeye. This works best while the balls are still cold and firm otherwise they'll fall off the toothpick and get lost in the chocolate.
It's easier to dip the balls when there's plenty of chocolate in the bowl, so when you get low just add some more chips and a little wax as you go along.
After dipping, put right back on the sheet tray and back in the fridge to let them set and firm up.
When ready, take out toothpicks and serve. You can fill in the tiny holes, but I hardly ever bother with that. The buckeyes are beautiful as is.
You can store them in an air-tight container in the fridge or you can freeze them, though I will warn you if you keep them in your fridge you will be tempted to eat one every time you pass by. I like to give them away as gifts in cute bags or Christmas Chinese-like takeout boxes.