Chocolate. Peanut butter. And wait for it… graham cracker (gluten free, if you like).
Do I have your attention? I hope so!
The holy trinity of flavors in a dessert can be yours in this no-bake, easy to assemble* holiday treat inspired by my Iowa roots!
*Disclaimer: several wooden spoons were broken while attempting this recipe in my childhood. More on that later.
The recipe is straight out of the midwest, but it’s been modified to make it a little more... accessible.
Accessible? I thought you said this was an easy recipe??
Allow me to explain.
The original recipe couldn’t have been more midwestern if it tried, unless perhaps it somehow worked in gobs of ranch dressing or 8 kinds of cheese.
It's incredibly practical (read: no bake) and makes massive quanitities. Ah, the essence of the heartland.
Many times growing up we made the full recipe which required at least 8 arms and a few hours to churn these delicious treats out.
Call it a labor of love over an afternoon. At least that's what I remembered.
Until I spoke with my mom on the phone and learned that ingredients were required by the pound and box.
Needless to say, I thought it might be appropriate to work out a recipe that required a smidgeon less than 2 lbs of peanut butter and powdered sugar… each.
Here’s a little secret if you’re not from the midwest: Texas gets all the credit for liking things BIG, but the midwest is right there with the longhorn state.
Many times while reading through this recipe I’ve imagined whose creation it was.
I’ve named her Joann and decided she was in a pinch to make a snack for her son’s entire varsity football team.
She reached into her gargantuan pantry (we midwesterners like to be prepared — you know the weather in the prairie lands can kill you with tornadoes, flooding, and brutally cold winters), grabbed enormous quantities of flavors everyone likes, and got to work.
"Oh, teenage boys, you just never know how much they’ll eat!” Joann says to herself in a thick Wisconsin accent as she stirs her giant mixing bowl of ingredients and starts rolling the mixture into balls.
Of course she made them no-bake, because, oh gosh, who has time to deal with 14 dozen cookies coming in and out of the oven?
So, thanks Joann, wherever you are, for your practical yet delicious contribution to the dessert world.
The buckeye tradition runs deep in my family.
And no, I am NOT talking about Ohio State. My family is Iowa and Illinois bred and has a healthy dislike for those red and white uniforms that trot onto the field ready to crush the dreams of all the other Big Ten teams each fall.
I'm talking about sweet treats and their origin: the buckeye nut, which is a type of chestnut, as it turns out.
My grandfather had a cut crystal bowl full of buckeyes that I remember running my hands through whenever we visited.
The nuts are round and incredibly smooth to the touch with a chocolate brown exterior, except for the very top where it turns abruptly into a shade of tan.
Carrying a buckeye in your pocket brings good luck and helps to soothe your nerves as you calmly run your fingers over it. Think of it as a fidget spinner meets lucky rabbit foot.
After my grandfather passed away, my dad kept one in his pocket, and on the day I got married, he passed one of the remaining buckeyes to my husband.
I don’t think Chris really knew the full meaning and value of this gift in my family, but it was truly a warm welcome.
As to the actual dessert, we made buckeyes around Christmas most years growing up.
We used the biggest bowl in the house, which happened to be a seafoam green tupperware beauty.
We called my dad in to mix the super stiff peanut butter/powdered sugar/graham cracker mixture with a wooden spoon, which he promptly broke in half. He finished the job by mixing the rest of the dough with his hands.
The next year, we repeated the same scene, slaying yet another innocent wooden spoon.
After that, we got smarter and just used our hands.
When my high school years rolled around, my best friend Sara and I took over the buckeye-making duties for a few years, splitting our spoils between families and friends.
Sara and I miraculously both ended up in the Seattle area after we had gone to separate colleges, and we carried the tradition on by making our beloved buckeyes or at least talking about the good times we had making them.
Sara passed away from a brain tumor over Christmas in 2015, and in the fall leading up to her passing you better believe that I made buckeyes and brought her some.
Buckeyes are now a firmly cemented tradition that I’ll carry on for years to come, as a way to remember her, my grandfather, and my midwestern family and heritage.
So please enjoy a part of my upbringing in all of its delicious glory… slightly modified to feed less than a hungry varsity football team.
- 3 - 4 cookie sheets
- parchment paper to line the cookie sheets
- mixing bowls
- wooden spoon
- 1 saucepan
- stand mixer, optional
- hand mixer
- double boiler, optional
Prep time: 30 min
Inactive time: 6 - 24 hrs
Total time: 1 day
Makes 50 - 70 buckeyes, depending on how large you roll them!
Honey as a sweetener makes the texture of the buckeyes a bit gooey rather than a little crunchy from the graham crackers.
However, honey is healthier alternative to confectioner’s sugar, which is super refined and super sweet.
For the healthier version, try the honey and add 1-2 cups extra graham cracker crumbs (just add more until your batter firms up). For the original Joann method, use confectioner’s sugar.
If you’re sensitive to dairy, butter is usually the least reactive dairy product out there, due to its low casein and lactose content. However, you can substitute coconut butter to go totally dairy free.
For a gluten free option, try these graham crackers.
Salt in this recipe is pretty variable because it depends on your peanut butter.
I buy my peanut butter unsalted and freshly ground, so I end up adding 2 teaspoons of salt. Just taste as you go along and add more salt as needed!
- 8oz butter or coconut butter, slightly softened
- 1lb honey (about 1 jar) or confectioner’s sugar
- 1lb peanut butter
- graham cracker crumbs*, or about 1 box of graham crackers pulverized in a food processor (find a gluten free option here) (* if using honey, increase to 3-4c.)
- 2 tsp vanilla
- salt to taste (about 2 tsp if your peanut butter is unsalted)
- 1 bag of dark chocolate chips, or 2 - 3 70% chocolate baking bars
Cream butter or coconut butter and sugar/honey in a stand mixer or with a hand mixer. Add vanilla and cream again.
Add the peanut butter and salt and continue to mix in your stand mixer, or mix by hand in a large bowl. The key here is to not get the mixture so warm that the butter melts. We want the butter to stay solid throughout this process.
After the peanut butter is mixed in, add the graham cracker crumbs 1 cup at a time and mix. You might have to remove the bowl from the stand mixer if you’re still using it, as the dough gets very thick.
Once the graham cracker crumbs are fully incorporated, start rolling the dough into small balls, maybe about half the size of a golfball, and place them on your parchment paper lined cookie sheets.
Once your balls are rolled, place a toothpick in each and chill them for 3-12 hours.
You can set them in the garage or outside for a few hours if you live somewhere cold, or you can chill them in your fridge. Once the balls are firm and cold, you’re ready for the next step!
Heat water in a double boiler on medium or make your own by filling a saucepan 1/3 of the way full with water and placing a metal or glass mixing bowl on top. You don’t want the water touching the bottom of the bowl. Once the water is boiling, reduce temp to medium low.
Pour chocolate chips or squares of chocolate into the double boiler/mixing bowl and allow to melt.
Once the chocolate is melted, grab a cookie sheet of balls and dip them into the chocolate, covering all sides and most of the top, leaving a little of the peanut butter mixture showing, just like the nut.
Place back on cookie sheet and continue dipping the balls until the cookie sheet is full of newly born buckeyes. They’ll probably have a little chocolate around the bottom where you set them down on the cookie sheet. Great! More chocolate!
Place the buckeyes back outdoors or in the fridge to let the chocolate cool and harden and grab the next sheet.
Repeat the dipping process until all balls are dipped.
Allow buckeyes to cool until firm (2 hours or overnight), remove the toothpicks, then transfer to containers and store in fridge.