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Visions of sugarplums: homemade treats good for gifting

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Black Friday and Cyber Monday have passed and the list of this years' wishes has been shortened. Still, there seems to be something missing from the stack of electronic gizmos and Barbie accessories. It might be time to head into the kitchen and create some holiday cheer with a treat or two.

Yes, despite the hectic nature of the holidays, there are several traditional treats that are quick to make and always welcome. Many of these are kid-friendly as well, requiring little to no cooking but lots of hands-on intervention. Expect a mess and a lot of "quality control" sampling.

The first of these is the buckeye, or peanut butter ball. This no-cook treat combines two of America's favorites - chocolate and peanut butter - into a melt in your mouth delight. True buckeyes have only about 2/3 of the center dipped in chocolate; these resemble the nut of the buckeye tree, or horse chestnut. However, it's perfectly fine to coat the entire center in chocolate. Be sure to use real butter in these; its melting point is just about body temperature and this creates the creamiest texture for the centers.

Candy purists may choose to use real chocolate for coating their buckeyes. This adds some complexity to the recipe, as real chocolate should be tempered before using as a coating, a process that is time consuming and has to be precise. Candy melts or chocolate chips melted gently in the microwave or using a double boiler and warm water produce a consistently good dipping chocolate with less opportunity for error.

Buckeyes
1 c. creamy peanut butter
1/2 c. butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 c. sifted confectioners' sugar
1 1/2c. milk chocolate chips, melted, for dipping.

Using a stand mixer or food processor, cream together peanut butter, butter and vanilla extract. Add confectioners' sugar 1 cup at a time, blending between additions.

Line two baking sheets with parchment or waxed paper. Using a small ice cream scoop or tablespoon, scoop peanut butter mixture, roll each scoop into a ball, and place on paper-lined baking sheets. Chill centers for at least 20 minutes

Use a toothpick or small fork to lift center and twirl in melted chocolate. Replace onto waxed paper. Repeat until all centers are coated. If the tops have been left uncoated, gently cover the small hole in the buckeye using the toothpick to shift some of the center over it. Allow chocolate to harden before packaging; store at room temperature. Makes 60.

Thursday: Peanut brittle

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