With all the anticipation leading up to and exhausting dénouement from PAX East, it's less than surprising to turn around and see that April is staring us in the face. After a winter that would have appropriate on the continent of Westeros, the prospect of spring seems extra enticing to most New England residents. Though I'm normally not one to devote any particular efforts to the heralding of spring (normally it's "yay more sunshine; boo allergies!"), the notion of indulging in some bright colors and sweet treats after months of frigid darkness and shoveling meters of snow seems well-earned.
In any other circumstances, I'd pass over sweets in favor of something salty but the recipe featured in this post provides a fairly simple way to get that ideal combination of both. Seriously, can you ever go wrong with peanut butter and chocolate? If you can, I don't want to know. Anyhow, around this time of year certain types of candy make their annual appearances on store shelves and in Easter baskets, relish in the confectionary spotlight for a few weeks, then go into hibernation for the rest of the year. Foremost amongst these elusive goodies is the peanut butter egg. Some skeptical/cynical individuals will be quick to point out that you can procure peanut butter cups at any point during the year. Fans of the peanut butter egg will immediately know why their more common siblings are not, and will never be, a viable substitute.
What if I told you that you could have that perfect ratio of chocolate to peanut butter at any point in the year? Now add to that revelation the idea that you could customize this glorious salty-sweet creation to be of any shape, size and color. Bonus: you can have such a thing for almost as much effort as it would take to go out and buy the commercially made version. It's true!
Beginning last October and continuing though…well now I've been tinkering with this recipe and swear on my non-Special Edition copies of the original Star Wars trilogy that it really is easy to do. Is it time consuming and potentially messy? Sure, but difficult it is not. 6 ingredients and four steps is all that separates you from peanut butter chocolate nirvana.
|Mmmm...peanut butter nirvana|
Availability of Ingredients: Most Common
Feeds: 4-8 nerds (about 15-20 eggs)
Time Till Noms: About 60 minutes of preparation and an additional 15-30 minutes of active construction
Required Equipment: 1 medium pot or saucepan, 1 large glass bowl, a large spoon (Tablespoon-sized), a wooden spoon, a baking/cookie sheet or two, a carton of wax paper or parchment paper
Optional Equipment: a cookie scoop, a large pot and a smaller pot that can nest atop or just inside the first pot, OR, if you're really fancy, a double boiler/bain-marie.
1 cup of creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup of unsalted butter
1/4 cup of light brown sugar
1 1/4 cups powdered (a.k.a. confectioner's) sugar
2 cups of chocolate chips (or 12 ounces of chocolate chopped into small pieces)
2 Tablespoons of vegetable shortening or oil
Step 1: Line your baking/cookie sheet with your wax or parchment paper (enough to cover the flat bottom and rise up a little around the edges), then clear enough space in your refrigerator to accommodate those baking sheets.
|Your filling will go from solid to this state in about a minute|
Step 2: Take your peanut butter, actual butter, and brown sugar and toss them into your medium pot/saucepan, then put the pot on your stove and turn the burner to a medium heat. Remain near the stove and keep a sharp eye on the pot as the ingredients warm up. As they come to temperature, the peanut butter will soften markedly and the butter will melt. Once you see this start to happen, begin stirring the mixture until you get a homogenous, creamy liquid, then transfer the whole thing away from the heat source. After you've moved the pot off the heat, begin adding the powdered sugar to your peanut butter mixture in 1/4 cup increments, stirring until the sugar is fully incorporated into the mixture before adding more. The mixture will get exponentially stiffer and more difficult to stir with each addition of powdered sugar. It shouldn't be too difficult to keep stirring until the last 1/4 cup of sugar. If, for whatever reason, the mixture is being uncooperative, return the pot to a low heat and continue stirring. Once all the sugar has been added and successfully stirred in, leave the mixture to cool to approximately room temperature (about 10-15 minutes).
Step 3: Using your large spoon (or cookie scoop), divvy up your peanut butter mixture and place your freshly-scooped spoonfuls onto the paper-coated baking sheet(s). At this point, you can shape the newly-partitioned mixture into whatever shapes you like. The shape you leave the mixture bits in now will be the foundation for the shape of your finished pieces. Once you've divided the entirety of the mixture and sculpted the resulting pieces into the desired shapes place your baking sheet(s) into the vacancy you've made in your fridge and leave them to chill for about 30 minutes.
|First 1/4 cup of powdered sugar|
|3/4 cup of powdered sugar|
|After all 5 quarter cup increments, the filling will look like this|
|They look so cold. Let's give them a coat...of chocolate!|
Step 4 (Easy mode): After your peanut butter shapes have chilled out in the fridge, grab your large glass bowl and toss your chocolate bits and shortening or oil inside. Continue reading if you'd like to proceed on Easy Mode. If you're up for a challenge AND have the optional equipment listed above you can skip ahead to the Advanced instructions. Place the bowl in the microwave and heat the chocolate in 30-second increments, removing the bowl to stir the contents between heating sessions, until all the chocolate is completely melted. Take your chilled peanut butter pieces out of the fridge and toss them, one by one, into the melted chocolate, using a fork or spoon to turn them until each has an even coating of chocolate. Place the newly chocolate-ified pieces back onto the baking sheet(s) and return them to the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes until the chocolate coating has hardened. Woot! You have yourself a clutch of peanut butter chocolatey goodness!
Step 4 (Advanced mode): Fill your large bowl or the reservoir of your bain-marie about 2/3rds full of water and place on the stove. Put your chocolate into the smaller bowl/active portion of the bain-marie and nest this bowl inside the larger bowl/reservoir so it floats atop the water. Heat the water to gentle boil (think the point just before you'd toss pasta in, so some bubbles but not cascades of them). As the water comes to temperature, the chocolate will slowly begin to melt. Stir the chocolate intermittently until it has completely melted. Take your chilled peanut butter pieces out of the fridge and toss them, one by one, into the melted chocolate, using a fork or spoon to turn them until each has an even coating of chocolate. Place the newly chocolate-ified pieces back onto the baking sheet(s) and return them to the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes until the chocolate coating has hardened. Woot! You have yourself a clutch of peanut butter chocolatey goodness!
Does it have to be creamy peanut butter?
It doesn't absolutely have to be, but chunky peanut butter will be a bit more difficult to work with (it will take longer to heat evenly when you're making the filling) and will take longer to chill. If you love the idea of a bit of crunch in your creations, I'd recommend using a blend of both creamy and chunky peanut butter and experimenting with the ratios.
What about all natural peanut butter? Is it ok to use?
You can use any peanut butter you want so long as the inherent oils do not separate easily from the solids. Does your peanut butter have a layer of oil sitting on top? If so, maybe save that for a snack or another project (like peanut butter frozen yogurt). The more liquid the peanut butter, the more difficult it's going to be to work with since you ultimately want it to form solid filling at room temperature.
How about almond/cashew/walnut butter? Can I substitute one of these for the peanut butter?
Definitely. As long as they don't separate easily (see the response to the second question in this section) you can substitute, blend, and otherwise experiment with pastes from just about any nut.
Can I use any kind of chocolate for the coating?
Sure thing. Milk, semi-sweet, or dark chocolate (or any combination thereof) will work just fine. You can even use white "chocolate" if you wanted to do some custom decorating. Baking chocolate probably wouldn't be the best thing to use though, unless you sweetened it during the melting process.
Shortening is gross! Do I have to use it?
It honestly depends on how long it will be between the time your peanut butter creations are finished and when they will be eaten. If that lag time is less than a day or so, you can easily substitute oil for the shortening (I do this all the time, since shortening squicks me out). However, if you're making these in advance and need to store them for a couple days then shortening is probably your best bet. We're trying to maintain a solid shape at room temperature and the best way to do that is by using solids. If you're still nonplussed by the idea of tossing hydrogenated fats into your cooking (can't say that I blame you there), then you may want to procure some baking wax. Yes, it's a thing and a thing you can typically find in the baking section of the supermarket. It's a tasteless, paraffin-based compound that forms a nice solid structure at room temperature. NOTE: under NO circumstances should you EVER use butter or margarine. They melt too easily, do not like to hold a shape, and become brittle if put in a refrigerator or freezer.