A few years back, I was really ambitious about the concept of the holiday cookie exchange. I accepted every invitation that came my way, spent eight hour days in the kitchen trying to outdo myself with every batch, adding edible glitter to the tops of sugar cookies, stuffing chocolate cookies with nubs of soft caramel (more on that later) and generally trying to secure my place as the baker with the best cookie at the party.
Well, that gets tiring. My forearm was killing me from clicking the cookie scoop hundreds of times a day, I can't tell you how much Tupperware has gone missing after I loaned it to other cookie exchangers who were short a container, and once I saw my much-hyped cookies were tossed into a tin with a dozen other cookies - all destined to go stale and untouched long before St. Nick tumbles down the chimney - I decided to throw in the towel. Or apron. Whichever.
One year, I thought it would be a good idea to make buckeyes instead. I had never made them before, but it seemed pretty straight forward - just peanut butter, butter and enough powdered sugar to glue it all together, all tucked into a little chocolate cup, like a sexy version of a Reese cup. It was only a few minutes into rounding out each ball that I realized I hadn't done myself any favors in the scooping department, but I forged on. It wasn't until the super-soft balls of fudge began slipping off the skewer and sinking to the bottom of the bowl of chocolate only to fall to pieces during a botched rescue attempt did I realize this was not a positive alternative solution to cookie baking.
A third of the way through that fateful batch, I scooped what was left into a plastic tub, handed it off to my brother's then-girlfriend and told her it was just peanut butter fudge. I'm pretty sure I showed up with lemon poppyseed muffins to the cookie exchange the next day since I had the ingredients in the house, but I also brought a hefty dose of shame with me that year. I haven't attended a cookie exchange since then, I don't have the time or the endurance these days, but I still bake Christmas cookies - only one kind. Last year it was monster cookies because they are everything right about a cookie all in one, and the jury is still out this year. Maybe coconut macaroons, or chocolate toffee cookies, or maybe this new version of buckeyes.
I think most buckeyes, and fudge in general, are entirely too sweet. If you can feel the cavities developing as you chew, it might be time to downgrade on the sugar content. These buckeyes do the trick - a bit of cream cheese adds a gentle tang to the candy and a scoop of warm, toasty graham cracker crumbs give the candy a little bulk and chew against the creamy-sweet peanut butter fudge center. With a little chocolate jacket wrapped around each one, I think these candies are a sweet relief to the hoards of cookies this year.
Adapted from Baked Explorations
1/4 cup cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
12-16 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped*
* The standard recipe calls for 12 ounces of chocolate, but I got halfway through the batch and I was out of chocolate and had to melt a few ounces more to finish the job. If your candy dipping skills are as sloppy as mine, you'll end up needing more chocolate. In hindsight, I didn't melt the chocolate well enough and I had a thicker coating - not altogether a bad thing, but if you like a thinner coating, heat the chocolate a little further and it will give you more bang for your buck.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and peanut butter together until it's smooth and creamy. Add the graham cracker crumbs and mix until just combined. Starting on the lowest speed, add the melted butter and confectioners' sugar and slowly increase the speed as the powdered sugar is absorbed into the mixture. The mixture will look a bit crumbly and dry, but that's just how it should be.
Using a small cookie scoop [or you can just eyeball it], roll the peanut butter filling into balls. Place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and set aside while you make the coating.
Melt the chopped chocolate in a deep, microwave-safe bowl, stirring every 30 seconds until it is smooth and completely melted. Using a large skewer or a fork, dip each ball into the chocolate and roll it enough to coat most of it, leaving a small amount of peanut butter filling peeping through at the top. I was really lazy with this - each of my buckeyes had a tiny hole in the top from the skewer, but when you're dipping 60 pieces of candy, you shouldn't aim for perfection.
Chill the dipped buckeyes for about 30 minutes or until the chocolate is set. Kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator, they will last about a week.