How To Make the Best Buckeyes (Without All the Mess)
There’s been a substantial number of Midwestern treats coming out of our kitchens this holiday season (see: uber-nostalgic Muddy Buddies and St. Louis-inspired Gooey Butter Cake Cookies), and no one is happier about it than me. It only seems fitting to add to the collection with these best-ever buckeyes, which hail from my home state of Ohio.
Just like a bowl of Cincinnati chili or a pint of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, buckeyes are one of Ohio’s best (and most popular) culinary contributions. The chocolate-dipped peanut butter balls are named after Ohio’s official state tree, and are designed to look like the nuts that grow on them. (The shape and color of the nuts resemble a deer’s eye, hence the name buckeye). But you don’t have to travel to the Midwest to get your fix. Buckeye candies are incredibly easy to make at home — and you certainly don’t have to be from Ohio to do so.
This Holiday Season, Add Buckeyes to the Cookie Swap
I’ve been making buckeyes with my family for as long as I can remember. Growing up, my sisters and I would bring them to our teachers as year-end gifts, and during winter break in college, I’d pack them in cookie tins and send them to my roommates. If you stopped by my house today, my mom would likely send you home with both the edible version and a real buckeye from our buckeye tree in the front yard — which you’ll want to stick in your pocket because they’re thought to be good luck.
Though you’ll find buckeyes served in Ohio all year-round (especially at Ohio State parties and tailgates), we always made the two-bite treats during the holidays, because one afternoon of buckeye-making will yield enough candies to give to pretty much everyone you know. They’re a fun way to break up the onslaught of cut-out cookies and thumbprints, and the whole family can get involved in making them.
Needless to say, I’ve mixed, rolled, and dipped a lot of buckeyes over the years, so I’m sharing my smartest tips and a foolproof recipe that will help even first-timers make the very best ones.
Everything You Need to Know About Buckeye Ingredients
- Use the full jar of peanut butter. Skip the sticky measuring cups and scoop the peanut butter directly from the jar into the mixing bowl. You’ll want to opt for the non-natural kind, like Skippy, but the choice of creamy vs. crunchy is up to you. Creamy is more classic and it’s what I prefer, but a little crunch in the filling can be nice (it’s why you’ll see some versions made with Rice Krispies).
- Cream cheese and graham crackers keep sweetness at bay. At its most basic, a buckeye is a chocolate-dipped ball of peanut butter, butter, and powdered sugar. Easy, yes, but also tooth-achingly sweet. Thanks to a few tips from Deb at Smitten Kitchen (who adapted her recipe from the cookbook Baked Explorations), I’ve cut back on sugar and swapped tangy cream cheese for some of the butter, which helps balance out the sweetness (as does a heaping teaspoon of salt). A cup of crushed graham cracker crumbs firms up the filling (making it easier to roll) without the need for more powdered sugar.
- Chopped chocolate (or wafers) + coconut oil creates the snappiest shell. A buckeye done right boasts a thin layer of chocolate that snaps when you bite into it, unveiling the creamy peanut butter center. Melted chocolate chips firm up too quickly (creating too thick of a dipping sauce) and those trays of microwavable dipping chocolate barely taste like chocolate at all. The best chocolate to use is chopped chocolate or chocolate wafers, which, thanks to their high cocoa butter content, stay smooth and silky when melted. Adding a tablespoon of coconut oil is the secret to a shiny finish, and gives the chocolate that snappy texture. Canola oil can be used in a pinch, but it won’t give you quite the same snap.
4 Smart Steps for Picture-Perfect Buckeyes
I’ve dealt with my fair share of frustrations when dipping buckeyes: peanut butter balls falling off the toothpick into the chocolate, excess chocolate pooling around the bottom of the balls on the sheet pan, those pesky little toothpick holes that just won’t smooth out. These techniques make for an easy, foolproof experience.
1. Refrigerate the peanut butter balls before dipping. Once you’ve rolled the filling mixture into tablespoon-sized balls, chill them until they’re very firm, at least two hours. This keeps them from sliding around and/or falling off the toothpick as you’re dipping.
2. Dip the balls in batches. If you remove all 72 balls from the refrigerator at once, they’ll return to room temperature before you can coat each of them in chocolate. Instead, take 12 out at a time, and only remove the next batch when you’re ready to dip.
3. Dip, drip, and twirl. Think of dipping buckeyes as a three-step process. You’ll dip the ball into the chocolate (leaving a small opening at the top), let the excess drip off, then twirl the toothpick so that the very last drip wraps around the buckeye and blends in with the rest of the chocolate. (I’ve included more details in the full recipe below). Use a second toothpick to gently nudge the buckeye off the toothpick without smudging the chocolate.
4. Chill the buckeyes before smoothing over the toothpick hole. If you attempt to smooth over the hole created by the toothpick right away, your buckeye will be sliding all over the baking sheet. Instead, chill the buckeyes so the chocolate can set, then proceed with the smoothing.
Storing and Serving Buckeyes
This recipe yields six-dozen buckeyes, so you’ll want to make them with a distribution plan in mind. Bring them to a cookie swap, set them out at a holiday party, or bundle up a few for stocking stuffers. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, or frozen for up to three months. In fact, they’re arguably even more delicious straight from the freezer.
- 4 cups
- 1 (16.3-ounce) jar
creamy peanut butter (not natural), such as Skippy (about 2 cups)
- 10 tablespoons
unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 4 ounces
cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1 cup
graham cracker crumbs (from about 8 graham crackers)
- 1 1/4 teaspoons
- 12 ounces
chopped semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate (not chocolate chips)
- 1 tablespoon
refined coconut oil
Stand or electric hand mixer
rimmed baking sheets
Medium heatproof bowl
Place the ingredients in a bowl. Place the powdered sugar, peanut butter, butter, cream cheese, graham cracker crumbs, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. (Alternatively, use an electric hand mixer and large bowl.)
Beat until combined. Beat on low speed until just combined, then increase speed to medium and beat, stopping often to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, until the mixture is smooth and holds together when squeezed in the palm of your hand, 2 to 3 minutes.
Form into balls. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Form the mixture into tablespoon-sized balls (you should get about 72 (1/2-ounce) balls) and place in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Refrigerate until very cold and firm, at least 2 hours.
Melt the chocolate. Melt the chocolate with the coconut oil in a double boiler, stirring until smooth. Alternatively, melt in the microwave in a medium heatproof bowl in 30-second increments, stirring between each, until the chocolate is mostly melted (continue stirring after you remove it to melt the rest of the chocolate). Let cool 5 minutes.
Dip the balls. Line a second rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer 12 of the chilled peanut butter balls onto it. (Keep the rest in the refrigerator to keep them chilled and firm.) Insert a toothpick into the center of one of the peanut butter balls (don’t let it poke all the way through) and dip it into the chocolate, leaving a small opening (about 1-inch across) at the top of the buckeye.
Shake off the excess chocolate. Lift the buckeye out of the chocolate and turn the toothpick horizontally so that you are holding it at a 90° angle to the bowl. Gently shake your hand up and down so that any excess chocolate drips off the buckeye and back into the bowl. (You want to remove as much excess chocolate as possible so that it doesn’t pool around the bottoms of the buckeyes.) When the dripping has stopped, twirl the toothpick so that that very last drip wraps around the buckeye and blends in with the rest of the chocolate.
Remove the toothpick. Turn the buckeye upright and place back onto the baking sheet. Use your finger or a second toothpick to gently push the buckeye off the toothpick (you’ll cover up the hole it leaves later). Repeat with the remaining buckeyes. Transfer 12 more peanut butter balls from the refrigerator to the baking sheet with the finished buckeyes and continue dipping until all the buckeyes are dipped. If, at any point, the peanut butter balls begin twirling around on the toothpick as you dip, making it difficult to control, return to the refrigerator until chilled.
Smooth over the toothpick holes. Use your thumb and forefinger to gently pinch the peanut butter filling where the toothpick has left a hole, then use your finger to smooth it out. (You want to wait until the chocolate is set up enough to do this so the buckeye doesn’t slide around.)
Refrigerate until the chocolate is set. Refrigerate until the chocolate is hardened, at least 10 minutes.
Coconut oil substitute: You can use canola oil in place of coconut oil, but the chocolate won’t be as “snappy.”
Storage: Buckeyes can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, or frozen for up to 3 months.