I roast chestnuts every year, partially out of masochism and partially because they’re so beautiful when they’re fresh. We have some old, lovely chestnut trees in the Willamette Valley, and I always love it when I see a basket full of chestnuts that someone has collected for market. No, not horse chestnuts, sometimes called buckeyes, which you can’t eat and are recognizable by their palmate leaves and distinctive nut cases, but regular chestnuts. But most often, I buy Korean chestnuts at an Asian market, where they’re almost always fresh because of the high turnover, or the Italian chestnuts Market of Choice stocks in November.
Chestnuts in December, however, are a rather dicey proposition, because they’ve been sitting for a while, and probably have begun to dry out and mold inside their tender little shells. You can still roast them over an open fire, but you may not get what you want.
Every year, I try to figure out ways to prolong chestnut season, or at least mitigate some of the pain of peeling the stubborn shells and the even more stubborn inner fuzzy skin. The photo above was part of my campaign to compare nuts frozen in their shells and then roasted (top nut was frozen: the outer shell was fine but the inner skin stuck like glue). The picture below shows a somewhat more successful experiment to sprinkle the shells with water before roasting (easy to remove part with water on it). I haven’t yet tried soaking then roasting, but I can report that boiling didn’t work very well.
I can also report that I own a chestnut scorer, perhaps the only single-purpose gadget I own. It doesn’t even work that well — you can’t just press an X with the thing in one or two punches. You have to make four little cuts. A knife is faster. Then again, you don’t slice your finger with the chestnut scorer.
Perhaps the only easy way to eat chestnuts is a non-chestnut product made famous around Christmastime by many a happy housewife. We used to call peanutbutter balls half-dipped in chocolate ‘buckeyes’, because they look like buckeye nuts, which look like horse chestnuts, which look like real chestnuts. Following my line of logic here? No? Well, that’s ok. My point is that you should make these easy candies called buckeyes as part of your Christmas cookie repertoire.
I’ve been searching for a recipe like the one we used to make in the Midwest, but they’ve all been weirded by adding healthy things like real peanut butter and malt and god knows what. Look, if I’m going to eat something crappy, I’m going to eat something crappy. Especially if it’s named after a poisonous nut.
Finally, at the Food Preservation Associates holiday sweets class a couple of weeks ago, I tasted what I had been searching for. Buckeyes! Most people called them peanut butter balls and completely enrobed them in chocolate, but I turned mine into that half-dipped memory. Sure, you can drizzle them with more chocolate, but then you’ll just be adding to the confusion. Whatever you do, though, don’t use the nasty shelf-stable dipping chocolate for the coating, unless you were one of those people who ate wax soda bottle candy for fun. Who am I to ruin your childhood experiences?
Either way, enjoy.
Adapted from our FPA class recipe, source unknown. Makes about 35 candies.
- 1 cup creamy peanut butter
- 6 tablespoons butter, softened
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 12 oz. or more chocolate for melting (chips, chunks, or “chocolate-flavor candy coating” if you must)
Line a tray with parchment or waxed paper. Mix together peanut butter, butter, and powdered sugar, with a fork. The original recipe suggests using your hands if the mixture resists. Taste, and add a bit of salt, if necessary. Chill until easy to handle, then roll mixture into balls about 1.5 inches in diameter and place on tray.
Once balls are rolled, in a large bowl, melt chocolate chips/chunks at 15 second intervals in the microwave (follow instructions on bag if you are using the waxy stuff). Once melted, dip the peanut butter balls in the chocolate about halfway up the side of the ball, then let harden on the tray. Other options are to drizzle chocolate on the uncovered portions, or dip the entire ball in chocolate, as pictured.
Store in the refrigerator or freezer until gone.