The only thing better than a good recipe? When something’s so easy to make that you don’t even need one. Welcome to It’s That Simple, a column where we talk you through the process of making the dishes and drinks we can make with our eyes closed.
I made it through all of pastry school without admitting my dark truth: I don’t like chocolate. But there is an exception to every rule. Mine? Chocolate paired with peanut butter. I used to satisfy my cravings through impulse purchases of holiday-themed Reese’s Cups. For the record, Reese’s Easter Eggs have my favorite peanut butter to chocolate ratio (read: a very high ratio). But that was before I came across buckeyes.
Sweet, salty, crumbly-yet-smooth peanut butter balls dipped in dark chocolate, buckeyes are the retro, no-bake confections that taste like peanut butter cups and look like semi-nude chocolate truffles. Dress ’em up, dress ’em down, they’re better than Reese’s and require no baking or special pastry skills.
The buckeye candy originated in Ohio (a.k.a. the Buckeye State). According to legend, sometime in the 1960s, Ohio resident Gail Tabor invented buckeyes while trying to dip peanut butter balls in chocolate. She noticed that her partially-dipped confections looked just like buckeye nuts, which are shed by Ohio’s state tree and resemble chestnuts: dark and shiny dark brown, with a lighter brown top. Tabor brought her buckeyes to Ohio State–Michigan football games for years, to great acclaim. The recipe eventually got out, much to Tabor’s dismay, and now we can all enjoy these tasty treats.
To make a simple batch of buckeyes, get your set up in place. You’ll need wooden skewers and a cooling rack set in a rimmed baking sheet that’s lined with parchment paper (this will catch the chocolate drippings).
Mix together 2 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar, ½ cup plus 1 Tbsp. peanut butter (not natural, which has a higher oil content and can separate), 5 Tbsp. melted unsalted butter, 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract, and ½ tsp. kosher salt. The final texture will be a little crumbly but hold together when squeezed.
Scoop a tablespoon of the peanut butter dough into your hand. Squeeze or roll the dough between your palms to form a 1″ ball. Repeat. They don’t have to be perfect. Cover the peanut butter balls and chill for at least one hour, or overnight.
After the peanut butter balls have fully chilled, melt around 8 ounces chopped dark chocolate (between 58% to 70% cacao) in a small bowl until smooth, stirring frequently. You want to use real semisweet chocolate and not chocolate chips. Chocolate chips contain emulsifiers and will not harden properly.
Buckeyes dipped in plain melted chocolate and simply left to harden taste great. Ever the pastry chef, however, I like to glow up traditional buckeyes by tempering the dark chocolate. This process will make your chocolate extra glossy, with a satisfying “snap” when you bite into it. You can easily temper dark chocolate in the microwave: Melt ⅔ of the chopped dark chocolate (here, that’s about 5 ⅓ ounces) to 114 to 118° F on an instant-read thermometer. Then “seed” the melted chocolate with the reserved ⅓ chopped unmelted chocolate, a small handful at a time, stirring constantly until all the chocolate is melted and the temperature reaches 88 to 89° F.
Whether you temper the melted chocolate or not, skewer the top of each peanut butter ball and dip it most of the way into the chocolate, leaving the top exposed.