I know it’s almost Christmas when I am checking the weather every hour hoping for snow and I start the annual plea for a Christmas tree with BF. Fall has officially gone the way of the dodo bird for this year and the blustery streets of the financial district are making me wish for those hot humid days of this past summer.
Christmas is also a good excuse to cook, and I cook everything, well it feels like it. Growing up we used to have what was called a “dipping party” at a friend’s house. There was a big group of local women who hand made, rolled, and dipped roughly 1500 chocolates to give away for the holidays. My mom, my sister and I always went – I hung out with friends and avoided the dipping of chocolates, my sister was meticulous, and all of the adults laughed alot and drank a bit. It was always a lovely evening this one night that really set Christmas off, it was usually the last day of school before the holidays and all of us kids were far too rambunctious so we were bundled and sent outside to play in the snow, it was delightful and almost always ended in tears (mine, mostly).
But I still remember the chocolates, I remember coming back inside tearstreaked and cold to the warmth of the kitchen and the smell of melted semi sweet chocolate and paraffin wax and knowing that everything would be alright. I would then grab a freshly dipped candy with chocolate still melty and pop it in my mouth before a parent saw, they always did. Those chocolates were the best too- Peanut Butter balls, Needhams, Rum Balls, peppermint patties, they were Christmas in a coat of chocolate. As I licked the melted chocolate off my fingers I always grabbed an undipped candy and went back outside; renewed and fortified to be picked on by my older sister and her friends.
These Peanut Butter balls are Christmas to me in the way very few things are. With one bite of these little gems I feel like I’m in a time warp and I’m 11 again, the youngest of five kids trying to all fit on one long tobaggan and falling off because I was made to sit on the back. We weren’t really a family of holiday tradtions, sure we put up a christmas tree and trimmed it; me demanding that my ornament (this really terrible thing covered in pink and opalescent netting) be on the highest branch it could be. But this candy is what makes it for me. The smooth Peanut Butter center, if you make it with crunchy peanut butter it isn’t christmas – it’s just candy, enrobed in the rich semi-sweet chocolate. But it’s not just the flavor and texture of the candy it’s the process, watching Christmas movies and rolling Peanut butter balls or dipping the chocolates and leaving drops on the kitchen floor. It’s messy and it’s totally wonderful.
Peanut Butter Balls
Note: When I made these I was actually short about 3/4 of a cup of Peanut Butter so I subbed in some Hazelnut Cream (like Nutella but no chocolate) and they are fantastic. I also went a little bit lighter on the Conf sugar (I said it was for sweetness but more accurately they were dry and sweet enough already).
This recipe halves very easily so have at it (pun intentional). Otherwise plan to give these away as gifts, makes about 10 doz.
1 Cup (2 sticks) soft butter, (very soft butter like you can whip it into delicious peaks soft)
4 Cups smooth Peanut Butter, In my most recent batch I added 1/2 cup of organic PB which gave great texture to the PB Balls
2 Tsp Vanilla
1/2 Tsp salt (less if your butter is salted)
3-4 Cups of Conf sugar
1 12-oz bag Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips (I get the Ghirardelli 60% Cocoa)
2-3 shavings of food grade paraffin wax
Cream together the peanut butter and the butter until everything is even and smooth, I find that you will get a few chunks if you heat it a little bit (about 20 secs) everything will soften and you’ll have a much easier time of mixing it. Add 3 cups of confectioners sugar and mix in completely, if your dough is crumbly (and it will be) it’s ok add up to 1 cup more conf sugar depending on how sweet you want your PB Balls to be (I like 3 1/2 cups). Add the vanilla to the crumby conf sugar, pb and butter mixture and knead it a little bit. Your hands will be covered in the mix but it will all sort of magically come together (this can be done with a dough hook as well but try not to use the flat paddle as it will over-aerate things). Stick this pb dough in the fridge to firm up. After 3-5 hours in the fridge your dough should be firm. Using a teaspoon scoop out bits of dough and roll them into balls (I suggest a line up of Christmas movies to watch, my favorites were always the stop-motion Rudolph the Reed Nosed Reindeer and A Walt Disney Christmas) . If you want yours to be larger then do them larger (a small cookie scoop works well), I like them as single bite snacks. Put the balls back into the fridge once they have been shaped and leave them to sit overnight or for at least 4 hrs.
In a double boiler (I use a ceramic bowl set over a pan of water) melt the chocolate and the paraffin until it is smooth, takes about 5 minutes. The chocolate will run off the spoon in a steady stream when it’s ready and will look a little bit thin. Dip your cold PB balls into the melted chocolate using either a toothpick in the top of a fork (I’ve recently been of the fork mindset, it’s better for the environment and its less work), shake them briefly (to remove excess chocolate) and then put them on waxed paper in a cool place to harden (takes about an hour). And eat them. Like popcorn. For three days. Then give the rest away as you realize you have eaten 5 doz peanut butter balls and there’s still 5 doz more left. Nom.