Anatomy of a Classic

Benne Seed Peanut Butter Balls

Benne seeds and chile-kicked chocolate raise the bar on a traditional party-time treat

photo: Johnny Autry


It’s no surprise that the peanut announces its presence with authority in Southern sweets. In shelled form, the goober stars in brittles and pies. Ground into butter, it becomes a reliable and inexpensive friend of the Southern home cook in recipes that favor economy and taste over aesthetics. Brandon McGlamery, an Athens, Georgia, native who now lives and cooks in Winter Park, Florida, has a fondness for peanut butter confections nurtured by a childhood filled with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups—a commercial cousin to the no-bake peanut butter bonbons often passed around at holiday parties throughout the South this time of year. “A Reese’s is the perfect combination of creamy and crunch, salt and sweet,” he says.

When it came to making a peanut butter dessert for the holidays, McGlamery collaborated with his chef de cuisine, Derek Perez, who grew up in Ohio, where chocolate-covered peanut butter balls dipped so they resemble the nut of a buckeye tree are as common as snow in a Midwest winter. “Being from the South, a lot of my roots are tied into the things I grew up with,” McGlamery says, “but I also take a little something from all the chefs I admire.”

With additional help from the pastry kitchen, McGlamery “Southerned” the buckeye, adding benne seeds from Anson Mills (you can also substitute sesame seeds) to the peanut butter, and then dipping the entire ball into an ancho chile–spiked chocolate glaze that pays tribute to the Latin influence present in Southern restaurant kitchens.

“We’re always kind of looking for something that is original but that also respects tradition,” he says. “These are a fun way to do that.”


Ingredients

  • Benne Seed Peanut Butter Balls

    • 8 oz. creamy peanut butter

    • 4 oz. butter, softened

    • 12 oz. powdered sugar, preferably 10X

    • 1¼ tsp. benne or sesame seeds, lightly toasted

    • Ancho chile-chocolate glaze (recipe below)

  • Ancho Chile–Chocolate Glaze

    • 4 cups semisweet chocolate chips

    • 1¾ tsp. ancho chile powder

    • ¼ tsp. salt


Preparation

  1. Combine peanut butter and butter, and mix until smooth. Add sugar and benne or sesame seeds, and mix well.

  2. Using a melon baller, scoop out peanut butter mixture and roll into small, smooth balls in the palm of your hand. Place balls onto a cookie sheet and chill in the refrigerator until firm. Use a toothpick to dip cold peanut butter balls into ancho chile–chocolate glaze. Set on a sheet pan to let harden until firm.

  3. For the glaze:
    Melt chocolate over a double boiler. Add chile powder and salt, and mix well.

Meet the Chef: Brandon McGlamery

Current restaurants: Luma on Park and Prato, Winter Park, FL
Hometown: Athens, GA
Beloved kitchen tool: Red-handled poultry shears that his former boss Thomas Keller insisted he order because he was always borrowing the chef’s pair.
Off-duty hobby: Fly fishing for tarpon. “They can destroy and humiliate your ego in a second flat. They make you feel like a little boy.”
Favorite things about eating at home: His wife’s pork tacos and cooking on his Big Green Egg.


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