My Iowan cousin, visiting Washington for the first time, once told me that our town made him feel claustrophobic because he could not see the sky. That was the first time that I ever looked at my hometown with the eyes of a visitor, and yet I knew exactly what he meant: our sky comes out in slices between trees, above mountains, foothills and islands, but even then, it is hidden (for most of the year) behind clouds.
What he felt was probably akin to the feeling that I have when I go back to Iowa, where the sky is so big and open, touching the horizon on every side, that I feel a peculiar lightness, as though I might lift off into it at any moment. That feeling terrifies me, but it is not unpleasant.
Still, visiting our family in Iowa always feels a little like going home, and though the changing geography inspires me to a sort of awe, the food inspires in me a comforting nostalgia. I may not care for certain casseroles, but eating them reminds me of where I am: not in my hometown, where food is a god both of health and of artistry, but that I am, instead, in the kitchen of my aunt and uncle’s house, drinking soda and joking with cousins.
We are eating because it is time for supper. We are eating because we are together.
There are few dishes that followed my mother from Iowa to Washington, but buckeyes is one of them: few people here know what they are, I’ve found, unless their family comes from elsewhere (Mitch’s family does, for example, but they’re from Missouri).
The following recipe was born out of necessity, when my attempt, a few years back, to tweak the original recipe produced more peanut butter filling than I could possibly roll into buckeyes. This version borrows the crust from Ashley of Not Without Salt and the filling from Smitten Kitchen. I just took the components and pieced them together (and ate them later, with relish–but not the pickle kind, mind you).
For the crust:
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla
- a pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
For the filling:
- 1/4 cup cream cheese, softened
- 1 1/2 cups peanut butter
- 1 cup graham cracker crumbs (from about 14 graham crackers)
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
For the ganache:
- 1/2 cup (4 oz.) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 Tbl. agave or corn syrup (optional)
Preheat oven to 400*. Coat a fluted tart pan with butter or cooking spray.
Combine sugar, salt and vanilla in a medium bowl. Add melted butter and stir well. Add flour all at once and stir until just combined, taking care not to overwork the dough. Wrap in parchment paper and refrigerate until ready to use.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and peanut butter together until combined. Add the graham cracker crumbs and beat for 10 seconds. Add the sugar and butter, and mix until the ingredients are combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl, then mix again. Set aside.
Remove tart dough from fridge. With a sturdy cheese grater, grate dough into prepared pan and press into shape, taking care to fill the fluted edges. Be sure to press lightly: the crust bakes up nice and crunchy if you leave some air between the grated pieces, so if it still looks kind of flaky by the time you get it into the oven, don’t worry. Alternatively, you can roll the dough out on the counter and lay it in the pan, but I prefer the grating method (also courtesy of Ashley), because it seems to improve the texture of the crust.
Bake in preheated oven for 5 minutes, then lower the temp to 350* and bake for 12-15, until golden brown. If you see any bubbles as the crust bakes, tap them lightly with your finger until they settle back down.
Remove from oven and cool completely.
Fill crust with peanut butter mixture. The filling will be fairly thick, so I like to drop it into the crust in spoonfuls and then pat it down. (If you happen to have extra filling, which I didn’t, roll them into balls, dip halfway into melted chocolate and enjoy! You’ve just made buckeyes.)
Lastly, prepare the ganache: place chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Slowly warm cream in small saucepan until bubbles appear around the edges of the cream and steam begins to rise. At this point, I test the cream with my finger to make sure that it’s good and hot. If it gets too hot, the ganache will separate, which does not look pretty (I know, because it just happened to me), so watch the cream closely as it warms.
Once the cream is hot enough, pour it over the chocolate, and tap the bowl on the counter once or twice, allowing the cream to settle into the spaces between the chocolate. Let it sit for a minute or two. Starting in the center of the bowl and working out, whisk thoroughly, until chocolate is completely melted and ganache looks good and thick. At this point, I like to add a bit of agave syrup to make the ganache nice and shiny, but that’s optional: the tart still looks lovely either way.
Pour over peanut butter filling and let sit for a few minutes, until the ganache is set. Cover and store at room temperature, or eat right away!