Did you ever — say when you were seven — trick your babysitter into buying you a whole bag of individually-wrapped Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups at the grocery store? (“My mom always lets me get them…”) I’m not talking about the miniature foil-wrapped ones, I mean the full-sized cups with the orange paper wrappers. And after you got them home, did you wait for the babysitter to start cooking dinner and then quietly sneak into the living room with the bag? And did you hide underneath the grand piano and eat every single one of them? And as you finished each one, did you stuff the wrapper up into the underside of the piano, where there were all sorts of nooks, and crannies, and ledges? And when you were done did you wander away from the piano in a sugar-induced haze, erasing the entire incident from your mind until — several years later — you were moving to a different house and the movers arrived to pack up the piano? And when they tipped it onto its side, did a flurry of orange wrappers and crumpled up brown paper cups come raining down out of the piano? Just wondering…
Perhaps it will not surprise you to learn that Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are my absolute favorite candy. To my mind, they are a perfect creation put on this earth by a loving God who wants us to experience true joy every time we eat one. And we do. Oh, we do! Because they are so peanut-buttery and a little tiny bit salty and then also so sweet and chocolatey. Yes. Yes. Yes! I have loved them for so long that I cannot even remember the first time I ate one. Yet now that I'm too big to fit comfortably under a piano and have gotten just a little bit wiser, I’ve realized that they are made from ingredients that probably aren’t even really chocolate and peanut butter but are actually specially-flavored plastic and corn. Of course that makes them no less delicious, but I decided it might be good to try to make my own peanut butter cups using ingredients that I could pronounce. So, I figured out how to do it, and it’s not really that hard. In fact, I like doing it so much that I think you should do it too.
Even though it’s April Fools' Day, I’m not going to lie and say this recipe is foolproof and takes five minutes to make, because it doesn’t. But all things considered, it really is not that involved and (assuming you don’t eat them all first) when you give homemade peanut butter cups to people they’re so impressed by the results that it feels worth the time and mess. So, c’mon let’s make some!
Here’s what you’ll need:
For the filling:
-1 cup peanut butter, at room temperature (I usually go for a brand that’s not overly sweet like, Peanut Butter & Company. And I use smooth, but if you like crunchy better, go for it. )
-1/3 cup honey
-2 tablespoons powdered sugar
-1/2 cup dried/powdered milk (Kind of a weird ingredient but it works! You can usually find this in a box in the baking aisle of the grocery store.)
-1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
-1/4 teaspoon salt
For the coating:
-Chocolate. If you want to be traditional, you should use milk chocolate, but if you want to be fancier/more grownup use any kind of dark chocolate you like. The amount you need will depend on what size of baking cup you use (see below). For small cups, you’ll need 1 lb. For medium cups, you’ll need 1 ¼ lbs. For large cups, you’ll need 1 ½ lbs.
For the wrapper:
-Baking cups. You'll need to decide what size will work best for you. I have three sizes here as an example:
The large one is just a standard sized baking cup that you’d use to make muffins, cupcakes, etc. So those should be easy to come by. The medium one is called “mini baking cups” and are1 ¾” sized. You might be able to find these in your grocery store. The smallest one is 1” sized, and I got them at a baking supply store, but you can always buy them here. Obviously depending on what baking cup you use, you’ll end up with different sized candies. So just go with whatever you prefer/is easiest to obtain. In case you’re curious, this recipe will make about 45 small cups, 30 medium cups, or 20 large cups.
Here’s what you do:
1) Make the filling.
Combine the peanut butter, honey, powdered sugar, dried milk, vanilla, and salt in a bowl, and mix it together until it’s well-combined. You can use a hand-mixer if it makes it easier, just be careful not to mix it longer than necessary or the texture starts to get weird. Taste the filling, and if you feel like you want it a little bit sweeter, add more honey in a teaspoon at a time until it tastes perfect to you.
2) Roll the filling into balls.
For the smallest cups, use a teaspoon to measure out globs of filling and then roll them into little balls. Line up all the balls on a cookie sheet and then press them down a little bit. For medium cups, do the same thing except use 1 ½ teaspoon sized globs and press them down more so they're like cylinders. For large cups, use 2 teaspoons worth and press the balls so that they’re much flatter, more like discs. Chill the filling for at least an hour or as long as overnight.
This is what the three different sizes should look like: large discs, medium cylinders, small circles.
3) Temper the chocolate.
This is basically melting the chocolate in a controlled way, and it’s not always the easiest thing to get right. But it’s necessary to ensure you don’t have goopy/melty chocolate. Here is an excellent explanation of what tempering is and how it’s done. The least complicated way to do it is in the microwave, which I’m going to explain here, but if you don’t have a microwave or want to get really fancy, the seed method works well.
So, ready to temper in the microwave?
-Start by chopping all of your chocolate up into very tiny pieces.
-Working in batches is best, so put half the chocolate into a microwaveable bowl. Zap the chocolate for 30 seconds, and then stir it around. Then zap it for another 30 seconds and stir again. Keep doing this in 30 second (or less) increments until the chocolate starts to look a bit mushy but still holds it shape. It will vary depending on your microwave and how finely you chopped the chocolate, but today it took me 1:30 to get my dark chocolate to the right stage of meltiness. You really don’t want to overheat it, so it’s better to err on the side of taking it out too soon. You can always go back later and nuke it for a few more seconds if you have to. Once you've got it looking mushy, stir it around (and heat more if absolutely necessary) until all the chocolate is melted. It will start to firm up fast, so you need to work quickly from here on out. Also, be sure to use up your first batch in step 4, and then when that runs out return to this step to temper the second batch.
4) Make the peanut butter cups.
I’ve found it’s less messy if you lay out your baking cups first on a cookie sheet. Then spoon a bit of tempered chocolate into several baking cups, just enough to cover the bottom of the cup.
-Now take a peanut butter ball/cylinder and set it into the cup on top of the chocolate. You can push down the peanut butter a bit more if it seems like it needs it.
-Then spoon more chocolate on top of the peanut butter until the ball is covered and the baking cup is full. Except in the case of the large baking cups, where you only want to cover the peanut butter, not fill the cup (because that would be an INSANELY large peanut butter cup).
-Repeat this process (tempering the second batch of chocolate at some point) until all the peanut butter balls have been made into cups. Note that this whole step is a total mess. There’s really no way to avoid getting chocolate all over your hands, and possibly your counter. So just be prepared and go with the flow! Also, don't stress about every cup looking perfectly flat on top. Reese's only look that way because they're made in a factory, and the whole point of making these yourself is that they're not made by a machine. So, swirls or a bit of lumpiness will only add extra charm.
6) Let the chocolate set up.
Now you just set the cups aside and the chocolate will firm up on its own, assuming it’s been properly tempered. If you find that the chocolate hasn’t set up after a few hours, it probably means that the room is too warm or humid or something went wrong during tempering. That is a tiny bit sad, but all is not lost. Just stick the cups in the refrigerator. The chocolate will stay firm, and the candy will still taste just as good. You just won’t be able to keep them at room temperature without things getting more messy. But I promise no one but you will notice/care.
That’s it! That wasn’t too bad, was it? And now you have made your own very impressive and delicious candy. Grab a spot underneath the nearest piano — or I guess on the couch if you want to be a real grownup about it — and eat as many as you can!!