When I was originally asked to write this weekly column, there were only two requirements.
It had to be about food in some manner, and it had to be true.
Even though every thousand years or so I’ll use hyperbole or exaggeration, the soul of each essay is absolutely true. Whether I come off looking like a hero, or far more likely, a giant dork, from me you always get the straight dope. In print I’ve almost totally lost the ability to suffer embarrassment.
So, here goes.
I like something sweet at night, when I’m in my jammies watching TV or reading. Not a ton, just a couple of bites will suffice (unless it’s Dewey’s birthday cake with extra frosting– there’s an ingredient in it that makes me lose my mind and thus, my self-control). Right now it’s usually exactly 20 plain M&M’s, but it might be a quarter of a cupcake, 5 or 6 bites of cheesecake, or a small piece of a cookie sandwich with extra frosting (I’m sensing a theme here…).
It hasn’t happened for years, but occasionally I’d find myself with no cookies, candy, or anything else with which to feed the beast that is my sweet tooth. In those cases I’d inventory the kitchen and improvise.
One of those ad-libbed confections was something I charitably called “candy”. It was tasty, but a little weird. It was a mixture of peanut butter, brown sugar, and corn syrup; just stirred together and eaten with a spoon.
The other night I tried to convert it from desperate stoner food to a more sophisticated, nuanced confection. I already had something sweet for my bedtime treat, but I’d been thinking that there might be a column in the attempt.
I decided to cook the peanut better concoction on the stovetop into something fudge-like.
Into a non-stick sauce pan I put a big glob of peanut better, a scoop of brown sugar, and a couple of glugs of corn syrup, and broke out my candy thermometer. I cooked it to soft ball stage, then began stirring it, similar to fudge procedure.
It was an unmitigated disaster. It separated, tasted burnt, and was as hard as the heart of a Wall Street banker. Fail.
I went back to the drawing board.
I thought about what I really liked about my so-called candy, and what I wanted to bring to the new and improved version.
The flavor was good; the peanut butter was tempered by the brown sugar to give it hints of caramelized sugar and an almost baked aftertaste. And I didn’t need to cook it because the texture was already fudgy with a silky/dense mouth feel like a Reese’s cup. I really just wanted to make it hand-held, and more respectable looking.
Mother Hubbard peanut butter truffles
2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
2/3 cup light brown sugar
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Big pinch of salt
Mix ingredients with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula until fully incorporated. Portion into 1 tablespoon amounts (a portion scoop makes this much easier). Roll into balls.
You can go into an infinite number of directions here.
Finely chopped salted peanuts
Finely chopped pecans toasted in brown butter
Ice cream sprinkles or jimmies
Powdered sugar spiked with cayenne
Granulated sugar mixed with cinnamon and nutmeg
Granulated sugar mixed with Chinese 5-spice powder
Melted milk, dark, or white chocolate
And so on and so forth…
Place coating ingredients into a steep sided bowl. Roll truffles until coated. Place on parchment or wax paper. Refrigerate until chilled and set, about 90 minutes.
For PB&J truffles:
Warm jelly until it becomes thinned and syrupy. Roll truffles in jelly and chill until set (this will be a messy job, latex gloves will make it neater and easier).
When cooled, roll in ½ cup breadcrumbs that you’ve toasted in a pan with about ½ tablespoon of butter, and then cooled. Place in fridge again until they can be handled without icky stickiness.
Makes about 20 truffles.
Even in desperation and disaster, things can be learned. And no matter how ridiculous I look, I promise I’ll spill about it.
Thanks for your time.