For those unfamiliar with the ambrosia that are buckeyes, they are peanut butter balls dipped in chocolate, like a Reese’s peanut butter cup on steroid and for many years my mother made them every Christmas. She had stopped making the labor intensive goodies well before I left home though, perhaps thinking we’d never miss them. But some of my oldest holiday memories include the making of buckeyes. (Oddly enough I don’t remember eating them.) I remember sitting and watching my mother dip her already rolled buckeyes into chocolate and then carefully stick their toothpicks into a large block of Styrofoam so that the upside down buckeyes solidified into perfectly smooth balls. Once they had a chance to set in the refrigerator, she’d remove them from the Styrofoam and the toothpicks, carefully smoothing over the small hole where the toothpick has been. Her buckeyes were flawless. Mine are not. When I make them, I don’t worry about perfectly round balls. Once mine are dipped in their chocolate coating (for a real chef, this would be enrobing them, for me, it’s dunking), I blithely set them out on waxed paper, causing a flat bottom and occasionally chocolate that has spread like a small lake underneath them. And when they have had the time to harden in the fridge, I do not worry about the toothpick holes. Some of mine even have two holes where they slipped off the toothpick while being dipped and I have had to stab a new spot in order to get them out of their chocolate bath. So even my best attempts look a bit mangled. This year I overheated the first batch of chocolate so that first set of buckeyes is strangely textured rather than smooth. But even imperfect buckeyes taste like heaven. (I know because I eat the ugliest failures myself.)
As for the Tuscan cheese straws, they are a rosemary and parmesan cheese stick that I tried one year for my dad. My mother and grandmother have the sweet tooth gene and so the buckeyes go in their stockings but my dad has always been more a fan of the savory and so I needed something that would become as iconic in his stocking as the buckeyes are in my mom’s and grandmother’s. I no longer remember where I found the recipe for the cheese straws but they were a big hit and I usually make a double batch only to have half of it disappear before Christmas day is even over. My cheese straws aren’t pretty and symmetrical just like my buckeyes aren’t. And as an added bonus, my kitchen is usually covered in a coating of flour (as am I) when I finally finishing making them.
Because these treats are gifts, they happen every year no matter how stressed or short of time I am. And they are never shared. I do my share of nibbling as I make both of these treats but my kids went years before they ever tasted either of them. Normally my parents and my grandmother would share anything in the world with their grands and great-grands. But not buckeyes and cheese straws. And when the kids were old enough to notice, they would hover as I made both of the goodies, hoping that I’d give them a crumbling buckeye or a slightly darkened cheese straw. And from these imperfect tastes, they fell in love with these Christmas treats too. Last year they each savored the one buckeye and one cheese straw their grandparents grudgingly shared with them and even though they begged for more, they did not receive. So for the first time this year, all three of my children added buckeyes and cheese straws to their own lists. Quadruple batches of each of these means that no other baking was accomplished this year but I know a whole bunch of people who will be fat and happy on Christmas day, having received the only Christmas goodies they really care about. And as for me, I’ve already taste tested both sets and they’ve passed muster again this year.
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/3 cup peanut butter (I love crunchy but purists use creamy)
3 cups powdered sugar
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 Tablespoon shortening (you cannot sub butter or margarine or oil here)
Beat butter and peanut butter until blended. Gradually add powdered sugar. Cover and refrigerate about 30 minutes until firm enough to shape.
Shape into 1 inch balls. Poke a toothpick into each ball. Cover and refrigerate an hour until firm.
Microwave chocolate chips and shortening for 1 1/2 minutes. Stir. If needed to completely melt, microwave at additional 15 second intervals. (I actually jury rig a double boiler so I don’t have to work as fast: fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer. Float a small saucepan in the medium saucepan and add chips and shortening to small saucepan. Stir to melt. Keep heat low to keep chocolate liquid and smooth. Turning the heat up to speed the process will result in the chocolate equivalent of curdling and you’ll have thick, lumpy chocolate that makes bumpy, uglier than usual buckeyes.)
Dip each ball into the liquid chocolate, coating 3/4 of the ball. Place on wax paper with the uncoated side of the paper up. Let stand until the chocolate hardens. Store in the fridge.
1 1/2 cups flour
8 Tablespoons butter
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoon dry rosemary, finely chopped (I add extra)
1/4 teaspoon pepper, coarsely ground (sometimes I use a combo of black and red pepper to add a kick)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Add all ingredients into a bowl and blend until a firm dough forms. (Mine never seems to form a dough so I add enough water to get to a consistency I think they might be talking about.) Cover and refrigerate 45 minutes. Roll out dough to 1/4 inch thick on a floured board. Cut into strips 3 inches by 1/2 inch. Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool before serving.