I grew up in Ohio and every Ohioan has a recipe for Buckeyes. The buckeye tree is the state tree but their nuts are poisonous to humans. So, instead, Ohioans decided to make a candy resembling the nut but made with chocolate and peanut butter. Because, you know, chocolate and peanut butter go oh-so-well together and won't poison us.
But... if you are not from the great state of Ohio, then you may refer to these as "chocolate covered peanut butter balls," as I've heard non-Ohioans call them. That's ok. You can call them whatever you like. But in Ohio, they're Buckeyes. And they are beloved by all.
In a mixing bowl, mix together the peanut butter, butter, and vanilla extract until smooth and creamy. Add the powdered sugar (sifted if you so choose) and mix well. Mixture should be creamy but stiff. Roll into 1-inch balls and place on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Refrigerate for one hour. Melt the chocolate chips and shortening in a double boiler set over hot simmering water. Using a toothpick, dip the balls into the chocolate and then place back on the wax paper. Refrigerate at least another hour before eating.
One of the best gifts to give (or receive) during the holidays are the ones we actually make ourselves. Candy is not difficult to make and it is quick. In under an hour, you can make a pound of candy to put in a tin, tie with a bow and give to a friend.
I make this particular candy every year because it never lets me down and makes people happy. I mean, who doesn't want toffee, almonds and chocolate? I got the recipe from an older cookbook, Rose's Christmas Cookies. I'm not sure the cookbook is still in print since I've had it for close to 20 years.
And one more thing ... adjust candy temperatures for high altitudes. For every 1000 ft above sea level, reduce temperature to which candy cooks to by 2ºF.
Mahogany Buttercrunch Toffee
from Rose's Christmas Cookies
Yield: 1 pound
Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Place almonds on a cookie sheet and bake them, stirring occasionally for 10-12 minutes or until golden. Cool completely.
In a food processor, pulse the almonds until they are chopped very fine but not powder fine.
Sprinkle half of the almonds over a 7x10 area on a cookie sheet. Place near the range. Also have the baking soda and vanilla near the range as well.
In a heavy, medium-size saucepan, preferably with a nonstick lining, combine the brown sugar, water, and butter. Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a boil. Stir often to prevent burning and cook until mixture reaches 285º on a candy thermometer. Immediately remove the saucepan from the heat because the mixture will continue to rise to 290º. Add the vanilla and baking soda. (Work quickly!) Pour toffee over the nuts. Immediately scatter the chocolate pieces over the hot toffee. Press the chocolate lightly with your fingers so they start melting. After about 5 minutes, the chocolate will be soft enough to spread with a long metal spatula in an even layer over the surface of the toffee. Dust the chocolate with the remaining chopped almonds. Cool completely and break into irregular pieces.
There are so many caramel recipes floating around the internet. In fact, I've tried many of them. Some are great. Some - not so great. But this recipe is one that I have had for many years. In my vast treasure trove of recipes that are currently sitting in a box waiting to be organized, I have several recipes from my grandmothers. This is one such recipe, straight from my Grandma C, who died last January at the age of 98. I know - 98!? She called these English Caramels and I remember eating them at Christmas time when I was very young.
The caramels are chewy and soft and once you eat one, you simply cannot stop. The recipe is basic, so you can vary up the flavorings (like use peppermint or other extracts) or even add a little sea salt on the top (you know, for "sea salted caramels").
Also... as with all candy making, if you live at a higher elevation, you need to adjust the cooking time/temperature. Here's the basic rule of thumb for candy making at high elevations:
For every 1000 feet above sea level, reduce candy temperature (the temperature to which the candy cooks) by 2ºF.
Grease a 13x9 metal baking pan. Place near the stove.
In large saucepan (3-4 quart), combine the butter, sugar, corn syrup, cream, condensed milk, and vinegar. Stir over medium heat to dissolve the sugar. Stop stirring and bring to a boil. Cook until the temperature reaches the firm ball stage, approximately 248ºF. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
Cool for 15-20 minutes and then cut into squares with a sharp knife. It is easiest to remove the caramel from the pan and cut it on a lightly oiled cutting board. Wrap the individual squares in wax paper.
Note: This recipe makes a lot, so you can cut it half it easily. We had a family production line going with my husband cutting squares of wax paper, me cutting the caramel and the kids wrapping the pieces.