These little balls are a lot like Christmas: forever in the making, over in a trice, and oh, so worth all the prep and stress and drama. They are devilishly good. Pretty much any truth in this world can be blown all out of proportion, I’ll grant you, but the heart-stopping yumminess of miniature spheres of sweetened peanut butter dipped in chocolate isn’t one of them. They are beatific. Bewitching. Over-the-moon delish. I make anywhere from 800 to 1600 every Christmas and it still isn’t enough to keep up with the demand. You know how the average American gains 5-10 lb between Thanksgiving and New Year? Well, now you’ve got a good excuse. (Better make that 15 while you’re at it.)
So here’s the recipe, along with some tips to hopefully save you from any kitchen theatrics. (I’ve had mine.)
1 lb salted butter
4 cups peanut butter (not chunky and definitely nothing that claims to be healthy, organic, or granting eternal life)
A generous splash of vanilla extract (I like to use my mom’s homemade magic: vanilla beans steeped in vodka)
3 lb powdered sugar (buy three 1-lb boxes instead of trying to guestimate 3 lb out of a 4-lb bag; who needs it?)
One batch makes about 400 1″ balls
1. Soften the butter in the microwave and dump into your best and biggest mixer. I really, really, really hate to use anything except my mom’s Bosch, but a KitchenAid will do in a pinch; you’ll just need to halve the recipe because even the giantest of those KitchenAids can’t handle this much awesomeness without either overheating or volcanoing gooey PB globs all over the counter or both.
2. Add the peanut butter and vanilla to the softened butter and mix thoroughly. This should look like peanut butter soup but should not be eaten as such.
3. Add the powdered sugar, one bag and a time, and mix till the dough is all one big peanut butter family. Use the toughest mixing paddles you have; the dough will warp those little spindly whisk things. If you’re stuck with a KitchenAid (i.e., no lid), wrap a towel around the whole machine and hang on for all you’re worth while the dough goes round and round. It won’t really keep the powdered sugar from poofing out everywhere, but at least you can say you tried. (The moral of the story: go buy a Bosch!)
You know you have the right amount of powdered sugar when the dough no longer looks wet. Take a little wad and roll it around between your palms. If it balls nicely, perfect. If it smears peanut butter into all your eensy skin creases, it’s too wet, so add more sugar. If it crumbles and refuses to cooperate, it’s too dry, so add a tiny bit more peanut butter and butter. By the way, it’s easier to add powdered sugar than to add peanut butter and butter, so err on putting in too little powdered sugar the first time. But if you measure everything right, it should be just ducky.
Rolling & Melting
Now you’re ready to shape the balls. (Yes, all 400 of them.) Pinch off a bit, palm-roll into a ball, and place on a cookie sheet or pie plate–basically, anything flat that won’t explode in the freezer. Place the balls close together (like, two millimeters apart), but don’t let them join at the hip or they’ll be frozen that way. Working your way through 400 balls takes a while, no way around it, so turn on some Christmas music (I like the Trans-Siberian Orchestra crashingly loud) or let the Nutcracker movie play in the background to keep you company. (If you have toddlers hanging on both knees, that’ll do.) Resist snacking too much, by the way. The dough is divine, but you’ll sweeten yourself out super fast and the best part hasn’t even come yet!
Once your pan is full of balls, skewer each ball with a round toothpick, right through the top–just like the earth’s axis, only not tilted. And yes, use round toothpicks. Those flat things snap all the time and are vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes.
Place the pan of skewered balls in the freezer for about an hour, or until you can squeeze a ball without leaving fingerprints on it. (I mean that loosely; don’t go dragging out your magnifying glass or buying FBI fingerprint powder.) While they freeze, you can keep shaping more balls, and you should also get that chocolate melting, so here’s how:
3 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips (I use Nestle) to start with, but you’ll need more before you’re done
1 T of salted butter to start with, but yes, you’ll need more before you’re done
Set up a double boiler (or stick a heat-proof bowl over an inch of water in a soup pot like this) to melt the chocolate. I always use the makeshift bowl-over-pot method, but it’s vital not to let the water touch the bottom of the bowl. Don’t let it simmer or boil, either. Too hot or too touchy and your chocolate will seize up and can’t nobody help you now.
Dump in as many chocolate chips and as much proportionate butter as your bowl can hold, then heat the water gently (just above low heat) and stir the chocolate chips occasionally until they’re creamy. (Barely creamy = thicker chocolate, because it doesn’t drip off the balls as much. Soupier chocolate = thinner chocolate = not cool.)
Done right, this’ll take about 30-45 minutes. It really doesn’t pay to rush things. Rigor mortis in chocolate is the same as in humans: it means your chocolate has snuffed it. Just throw it away. Or break off chunks and eat it like a candy bar, but not right now or you’ll have no room for peanut butter balls.
Once the chocolate is melted and the first batch of balls is frozen, it’s time to dip.
Take a frozen ball by the toothpick, submerge it in the melted chocolate, pull it out, and gently tap the toothpick on the side of the bowl until most of the extra chocolate has draped off. The less you tap, the thicker your chocolate will be, so easy does it. After the last tap, gently twirl the toothpick and you get that nice chocolate swirl around the side of the ball.
Place the ball onto either a cookie sheet or a cutting board covered in wax paper. And…repeat. You’ll want to place the chocolate-covered balls close together but not touching, obviously.
Once your cookie sheet/cutting board is all filled up, place the balls in the fridge until the chocolate has hardened. (The last batch I made, it was -10 degrees outside and probably -9 in my garage, so the garage worked just dandy and kept the peanut butter balls from hogging all my fridge space.)
Then melt more chocolate and move onto the next pan of frozen peanut butter! Better stock up on that Nestle; I think it takes two of those big Costco bags to cover all 400 balls. And if you don’t have time to get it all done in one day (who does, I’d like to know), you can leave the naked PB balls in the freezer for up to 24 hours before they start to taste like freezer burn.
After the chocolate is hard (I refer you to the fingerprint rule), pull the toothpicks out (yes, there will be a hole in the top of each ball), and store the balls in airtight containers or ziplock bags. If your house is toasty, they should go back to the fridge or garage until about 15 minutes before you’re ready to serve. You can also double-bag them in heavy-duty Ziplocs and hide them away in your freezer year-round, if you want.
It pays to have good eschatology when you make peanut butter balls. It’s a lot of already-not yet, a lot of juggling steps, a lot of repeating the same rolling and stabbing and dipping and tapping. But with enough practice, you’ll get this down to a science, and with even more practice, you’ll figure out that your kids should do it instead (which is why my mom hasn’t made these for the last 10 years).
And never forget the big goal: eating your first peanut butter ball and feeling your eyes roll back in your head. Your first–but definitely not your last.