Off the charts

My first first day of kindergarten was in Armonk, New York, a hamlet of Westchester County. I don't remember that day at all. My second first day of kindergarten, halfway through the school year, was in Moreland Hills, Ohio, and I do remember it, because I thought I was losing my mind.

That morning, we circled up on the rug, and our teacher handed out laminated disks of construction paper. A girl across from me held up her red circle and a kid to my left held up his, which was blue. Okay, a game about colors. Hers was red, and his was blue, and weren't we a little old for this? "PURPLE!" the class shouted, all at once. Purple? My cheeks burned hot. Where? But we were on to the next round, a yellow circle, a blue one: "GREEN!" they crowed. These Ohioans were advanced.We hadn't learned color mixing at my old school. I was five years old, and also, me, so on a scale of no big deal to really quite a very big and stressful deal, this situation was off the charts.

Another source of confusion - though, thankfully, of a less stressful variety - was the buckeye. Someone brought one in for show-and-tell that year, a glossy brown knob with a yellowish circle on top. He said it was good luck. We passed it around and our teacher explained that it was the nut from Ohio's state tree. I slid my thumb along its smooth skin. One day after school sometime after that, a friend's mother offered me a buckeye of my own. I held out my hand expecting one of those lucky nuts, and at first that's what I thought I'd gotten. But the dark part of this "buckeye" was chocolate, and the lighter round bit on top (and inside!) was peanut butter. My mind raced back and forth between buckeye number one - that wasn't candy... was it? - and buckeye number two. There was the twinge of discomfort at something not being what I'd expected, but after giving it some thought and figuring out what was what, I was delighted.

This recipe doesn't take much which, as one year slides into the next, is the kind of recipe I like best. You don't even have to turn on the oven.

Wishing you all good things for these final hours of 2012 and better things still for the year to come. We're cooking at home tonight with friends. There will be bread, and bourbon balls, and the return of a salad. I'm looking forward, very much.

Adapted from another Ohio transplant at Remedial Eating, who adapted the recipe from Saveur.

Please note that this recipe calls for 2 cups of sifted confectioners' sugar, which is not the same thing as 2 cups of confectioners' sugar, sifted. (2 cups unsifted is considerably more than 2 cups sifted; I checked.) So even though it's a little bit of a pain, you'll want to sift the sugar first, then measure it. For the peanut butter, I'd stay away from the natural stuff, here. I think even well-stirred, it could give you trouble. As for the vegetable shortening, I use Spectrum.

2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar (sift first, then measure; see note)
¾ cup smooth peanut butter
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt
8 ounces semisweet chocolate
½ teaspoon vegetable shortening

Put the sugar, peanut butter, melted butter, vanilla, and salt into a mixing bowl. Give it a few stirs with a wooden spoon to get things going, then knead with your hands until smooth. Roll into 1-inch balls, place them in a single layer on a plate, and freeze for 15-20 minutes.

Stirring often, melt the chocolate and shortening in a double boiler or heatproof bowl over a pot of barely simmering water. Remove from heat.

Line a cookie sheet with wax paper and set aside, next to the bowl of melted chocolate. Take a few peanut butter balls from the fridge. One by one, insert a toothpick into the center of each ball and dip into the melted chocolate, leaving a circle of peanut butter showing at the top. Twirl the toothpick to toss off the excess chocolate and place on the lined cookie sheet. Repeat with the remaining peanut butter balls.

Freeze the buckeyes until firm and smooth out the toothpick holes with your finger. Store in the refrigerator. They'll keep for a couple of weeks. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Makes about 30. 


Sylvie said...

Of all the times for you to mention a buckeye and I just finished 'Where the Heart Is' which features a buckeye tree.

Happy new year, these look delicious!

SreeBindu said...

Wishing u a happy and gorgeous new year ahead

Lisa Sanchez said...

Happy New Year, Jess! Buckeyes remind me of my little hometown. And, oh man, I thought kindergarten was really confusing too.

alexandria said...

Good story and good treats indeed. Happy New Year!

Laura said...

Oh my goodness, that story was so sweet. Glad it ended with some happy exposure to such a great treat. I just tried a buckeye for the first time over the holidays, all the way up in Canada too--such a national treasure. Happy new year to you!

Hannah said...

Happy new year Jess! It's buckeye time indeed. Love the story (I would have been equally flustered I think!). Also - if people want to use 'natural' peanut butter, sitting the jar upside down for a few days helps it combine well - I also make a buckeye-type cookie with 365 or Full Circle Organic PB, it has a wee bit of coconut oil mixed in to make it stay blended ... Now: did Mia get to try these, or is this too much of a cookie??

eleanor said...

I should have listened to you about the sugar.

Ashley said...

I think it was last year when I first met a buckeye - the chocolate and peanut butter variety. And although I have no connection to Ohio I love it because of these little treats. I've made them before with a bit of cream cheese, perhaps that's illegal for some but for me it offered I really lovely tang. Happy 2013, friend.

Dana said...

As a West coast dweller, I had never even heard of Buckeyes until I found a recipe in a book. I made them for a yoga retreat that I catered and someone hired me to make a bunch more for a lunch at Starbucks. They are pretty sensational. I love your writing, by the way.