Sweets Swap: Peanut Butter Dreams

I’ve always wanted to do a cookie swap, but I never really think about it until it’s the holidays and everyone is too busy to participate. Mike’s work usually does a food day once a month to celebrate birthdays and quite a few people participate. I’m good friends with a couple of people from his work and had the great idea to pitch a cookie swap to them and see if they’d do it with me and to my delight, seven other ladies agreed to participate! However, we decided to put a spin on it and broaden it from just cookies to sweets of various sorts, like cupcakes and candies. We set it up as at least one treat per person because no one’s ever done one of these before and this seemed like a good way to introduce people to the format. I think if it’s successful, we’ll probably do another one the “correct way.”

Back in January 2011, I started my quest to bake/make at least half the items from the Bon Appetit Desserts book. It seemed like an easy task, but there’s only so many occasions I can bake things for, so many ingredients I can find to make some of the things or it’s just too risky to try them out before a big holiday event (and by before, I mean hearing two days before said event). As a result, I think I’ve only made three or four things out of the book. The sweets swap gave me the perfect chance to add another one to the list. I pondered for days about what to make. I had soooooo many choices–too many choices…..I eventually narrowed it down to about six choices and when I wasn’t able to make a decision, I handed the slip and various recipes to Mike and asked him to choose. He narrowed it down to maple stars and peanut butter dreams. The maple stars sounded yummy, but I wanted to branch out from cookies, so I chose the peanut butter dreams.

The peanut butter dreams were a three whisk recipe, which meant they’d be pretty tough, but I felt up for the challenge. Besides, what fun is it to always pass over a harder recipe you’ve always wanted to try? It doesn’t mean you can’t do it, it just means you’ll have to be patient and willing to try again if something goes wrong. It also means it’s a good idea to buy more ingredients than you actually need so if there is a screw up, you don’t have to run back to the store, or more likely send someone out to pick up more for you while you clean up the massive amount of mess and dishes that suddenly appeared. Don’t try to substitute cheaper chocolate or a different brand of cream cheese (or go for a low fat version). All the recipes in the Bon Appetit were thoroughly tested using various brands of ingredients and what the book lists ensures you’ll end up with a great product.

Peanut butter dreams are kind of a cross between a peanut butter cup and a truffle, with lovely crunchies on the outside. Years ago, I made truffles and they turned out well, and I had made a quick caramel sauce for tatins a handful of times so a candy that combined truffle skills, caramel and dipping seemed like a logical next step.

Helpful hint before starting this recipe: you’ll need your freezer or fridge to chill and set the chocolate so make sure you’ve got room BEFORE you start. We have a side by side model and it’s pretty nice, but it is totally against me freezer-wise. I can’t fit larger cookie sheets or larger containers in there without a lot of Tetris-like reorganizing (grabbing items for dinner that night was quite a trick) and trying to do that and make sure the centers didn’t melt was harder than it needed to be.

My first mishap was making the praline. I am very inexperienced when it comes to working with sugar for candy, and despite following the instructions and looking up extra instructions online, I still managed to seize my first batch of sugar. I was pretty upset, but it was kind of a good thing really. I was able to figure out what had gone wrong (I had sugar crystals around the edge of the pan that contaminated the batch) and what to look for the second time. Transforming sugar for candy is definitely not a process you can rush or squeeze into your day (at least not for the average person) or try when you have distractions (in my case our puppy). While it is a pain to start over, a sugar burn is VERY painful and something you definitely want to avoid at all costs! An easy way to help prevent crystals: keep a cup of warm water next to the stove and use a wet pastry brush to carefully wipe the crystals off/help them dissolve back into the sugar. I even dipped my spatula in the warm water and wiped it off occasionally to make sure I wasn’t stirring any crystals into the sugar and water. If you’re unsure if the sugar is fully dissolved, drop a tiny bit of the mixture onto your fingertips–be careful, the mix is very hot so I wet my fingertips first. If you feel any graininess, keep going! I also noticed when it gets fairly close to being fully dissolved, the mixture looks shimmery.

I’ve been successful melting milk chocolate and dark chocolate, but my first attempt with white chocolate didn’t go so well. I think my burner was too hot so my water was probably more at a boil, melting the chocolate at too high of a temperature, causing it to sort of scorch. Once I kept the water at a low simmer everything went smoothly. I also chopped the chips up a bit. Don’t forget to check how much water you have in the bottom of your pot for your double boiler, too. If you’re making a double boiler with a glass bowl set over a pot, be careful you don’t let any steam or water get into your chocolate. It’ll seize and you’ll have to start over. Using a glass bowl will also allow you to see if you need to adjust the temperature of the burner and if you have too much water in the pot (the water shouldn’t touch the bottom of the bowl).

I also discovered I am pretty awful at dipping candies. I tried the method listed in the recipe: rolling around in the chocolate, lift out with fork, tap and slide off with knife, but when I used the knife to slide it off, I ended up nicking the center and it left a hole. I tried it for a second piece, thinking maybe I just needed to get the hang of it, but I had the same issue. I remembered watching a chef stick a toothpick in the center of a truffle and dipping it with great success so I gave it a shot. I wasn’t as successful. Eventually, I went back to the fork method, but instead of sliding it off with a knife, I flipped it upside down and tapped it off. There was still a hole, but I was able to glob extra on with the knife. When I was all done, I was pretty bummed. They were not attractive. At all. There was no doubt they were handmade by a novice, but my mom said it just gave them character. I like character and all, but when it comes to food, the shallow idea of “pretty looking” would have been more appreciated. I pondered trimming off the excess chocolate with a knife once they were chilled, but to my surprise when they cooled, the chocolate had evened itself off pretty darn well. One of them was even nice enough you might have thought it came from a box of candy you buy at the store. By batch three, I switched over to a two-pronged meat fork and it ended up working the best. There was enough room to let the excess chocolate drip off and when I plopped it on the waxed paper, I didn’t gouge chunks out of the bottom. If you plan on doing a double batch, you will probably have to stop and put the centers back in the freezer or they’ll be so soft the warm chocolate will deform them. Don’t let that issue scare you from trying the recipe: there is an easy fix and no one will know about your troubles or poor dipping skills!

When you coat them in a bit of chocolate before rolling them in the praline, you can smooth out any lumps or bumps (the proof is in the pictures below; don’t forget to click on them to see my extra comments). And whatever you can’t fix that way will be hidden by the chunky bits of praline!! If you’re wondering why there aren’t any pictures of this process…..it’s messy. Very messy. My first piece of candy I dipped and rolled in the praline didn’t go as smoothly as the recipe made it seem. I had chocolate all over my hands, the praline dish and the cookie sheet. I suggest enlisting some help to make the process easier. If you do it alone, or your helper declines like mine did, use a spoon to help you roll it around and tongs to lift it out. Or, if you figure out a way to be successful using the recipe’s directions, please share your secrets with me.

I ended up with 16 instead of 18. I “sacrificed” the two that looked the worst for Mike and I to try. I certainly didn’t want to send something for the swap that tasted bad….They were delicious, even the one that had probably five times as much chocolate on it as it needed. The cream cheese made the centers nice and, well, creamy and helped to balance out all the sweetness. They were worth all the troubles and effort they require. I decided to make a double batch the next day so the sweets swap participants could have more than just two. Two just seemed too small to give for the swap, and I figured if I have to measure everything out and do all the steps once, it’s not that much more work to do it twice.

I was able to coat all three batches of candy with the first batch of praline I made, and still had quite a bit left over. I imagine the ground up batch would be delicious over ice cream. I brought the second batch of unground praline back to Minnesota with me and my mom, aunt and I ate it like candy.

I had taken a huge risk by sending such a complicated, time consuming recipe (printed out, the recipe was two pages), but knew I made the right choice when a few of the swap participants gave the candies excellent feedback. I will no doubt make these again in the future, and I hope it will convince me to be brave and try some other types of candy, but I will definitely look for better tools and supplies. Having the right tools for the job always makes things easier. Nebraska is lovely, but not really the place to look for the majority of the higher quality ingredients or supplies I need. I could have gotten what I needed off Amazon, but that’s not an option when you need them right now. I’m hoping while I’m back in Minnesota, I can hit up Lynn’s Cake & Candy Supply and stock up on stuff, like a block or two of some Callebaut chocolate. And larger candy cups. Some of my candies were a liiiiiiiittle too big for the ones I had!

If you decide to make these lovely little candies or another type of candy, please share your results/issues/questions!

Peanut Butter Dreams (makes about 16-18, from Bon Appetit Desserts)

  • 3/4 C powdered sugar, plus more for dusting hands
  • 1/3 C super-chunky peanut butter (NOT old-fashioned or freshly ground)
  • 2 oz Philadelphia-brand cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 oz high-quality white chocolate, melted and cooled (ex: Callebaut, Lindt or Ghirardelli)
  • 2 T (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 12 oz high-quality milk chocolate, chopped (ex: Callebaut, Lindt or Ghirardelli)
  • Peanut Praline (see recipe below)
  • 18 (about) paper candy cups

Equipment:

  • Double boiler
  • Scale
  • Waxed paper
  • Baking sheets
  • Candy thermometer (optional)
  • Mixer
  • Food processor

Make the peanut praline (about 2 C):

  • 1 C sugar
  • 1/4 C water
  • 1 C roasted salted peanuts

Butter a baking sheet (DO NOT use cooking spray-it will dry long before you get the praline made and poured). Cook sugar and 1/4 C water in a heavy, small saucepan over low heat, stirring until sugar dissolves completely. Increase heat to medium and boil without stirring until syrup is deep golden brown. Mix in peanuts.
Immediately pour mixture onto prepared sheet (be careful-the sugar is very hot and can easily burn you). Cool completely. Break into 2-inch pieces. Using on/off turns, grind finely in a food processor. 

** Can be made 2 months ahead. Cover refrigerate in an airtight container**

For peanut butter-chocolate centers:

Blend 3/4 C powdered sugar, peanut butter, cream cheese, melted white chocolate and butter in a medium bowl. Freeze until firm enough to shape, about 20 minutes.

Line 2 baking sheets with waxed paper. Using hands dusted with powdered sugar, roll 1 T peanut butter mixture into a ball (you can refreeze mixture if it becomes too soft to handle). Place on 1 prepared sheet. Repeat with remaining mixture. Freeze until very firm, about 3 hours.

Stir milk chocolate in top of double boiler over barely simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove from over water. Working quickly, submerge 1 peanut butter ball in chocolate, tilting pan if necessary. Using a dinner fork, lift out candy. Tap bottom of fork on sides of pan, allowing excess chocolate to drip back into pan. Using a small knife, push candy off fork and onto second prepared sheet. Repeat with remaining balls, setting double boiler over hot water occasionally to rewarm chocolate to 115 degrees as needed. Refrigerate candies until chocolate is set, about 1 hour (reserve remaining chocolate in pan).

Line another baking sheet with waxed paper. Rewarm remaining chocolate over barely simmering water in double boiler; remove from over water. Place praline in large shallow dish. Dip half of 1 candy into chocolate, then roll around in palm to cover candy with a light coating of chocolate. Set in praline and roll gently, covering completely. Transfer to prepared sheet. Repeat with remaining candies. Refrigerate until firm. Transfer candies to paper cups. 

**Can be made 1 week ahead; refrigerate in airtight container. Let stand 20 minutes at room temperature before serving**

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Celia Fivecoat
    Dec 19, 2012 @ 01:23:31

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    Reply

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