Chocolate-peanut butter cups

December 4, 2011 § 6 Comments

Before we even get to Christmas and Hannukah, we’ve got to attend parties and gift exchanges at work, or at least I do. As we’re capped at a few dollars for the office gift swap, I’ve elected to make food to give away, because who doesn’t love homemade treats? If they don’t, no worries, because ours is a Secret Snowflake-esque swap, and the candy assortment can be traded for a gift card or whatever else it is that my coworkers will be bringing in.

It’s only a week or so till the party, so I’ve already made part of my gift: chocolate-peanut butter cups! Candymaking comes off as being quite difficult to accomplish at home, but as I’ve been making candy for ages — it’s a family tradition to make chocolates to give away for Christmas and Hannukah — I can vouch for many kinds of candies being quite simple to make, even without a candy thermometer, and always popular to give away or enjoy at events you attend or are hosting. This is one such candy; in fact, if you’ve got any kids around, they might be able to make these without much help at all from you (the hot melting chocolate part, of course, requires parental assistance and/or total takeover, so please be cautious with melting things and heat sources as always).

My homemade take on the chocolate confection that rhymes with Smeese’s, courtesy of a recipe I tweaked from the always-fantastic Nigella Lawson, is perfect for an almost-last minute gift (you do have to let the chocolate set before wrapping up for transport unless you don’t mind smeared chocolate), but they can also easily be made up in advance from pantry ingredients, assuming you consider a well-stocked pantry to be one that includes two kinds of chocolate, peanut butter, butter, two kinds of sugar, and sea salt. Ok, and some nifty little paper wrappers, they’ll make gifting these so much easier. Essentially, if you can stir and you have access to a heat source, be it stove or microwave, you can have these ready to go in about an hour.

This recipe is pretty flexible with regards to the ingredients; I used chunky peanut butter to add some textural contrast to all the smoothness, but I suppose if you’re feeling more traditional, you could go for smooth peanut butter. (I will, as my holiday gift to you, resist the urge to lecture on the tragedy that is creamy peanut butter.) Additionally, I think if I weren’t gifting these, I’d use only dark chocolate, but most prefer some milk chocolate included, so I do what the people demand; adjust to your recipients’ preferences as needed.

The only change to the chocolate-peanut butter cup standard I consider essential is to sprinkle over a teensy tiny bit of sea salt. It adds the slightest hint of holiday glitter for that certain festive je ne sais quoi, but more importantly punches up the contrast between nutty base and sweet, rich chocolate topping.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I need to wrap up the box, because without the defenses of holiday paper, there may not be any more chocolate-peanut butter cups left to gift in ten days.

Chocolate-peanut butter cups

Adapted from Nigella Christmas

Makes about forty-eight candies


For the peanut butter base

  • 1/4 cup (four tablespoons or 1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • One cup plus two tablespoons chunky peanut butter (I used Skippy reduced fat and it worked fine, but don’t use the natural non-mixed stuff, though I suppose if you are going for a more traditional peanut butter cup, you could use the heretical smooth peanut butter about which I promised not to rant)
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • One and 3/4 cup confectioners’ (powdered) sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon sea salt

For the chocolate topping

  • One and 1/4 cup (about eight ounces) milk chocolate, chopped, or in chip format
  • 1/3 cup (about four ounces) dark chocolate, again chopped, or in chip format
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground sea salt (for sprinkling)

1. Line mini muffin tins with forty-eight liners (alternatively, place them on a cookie sheet, but it is easier to fill them later on if they have some support from the mini muffin tins).

2. Mix together peanut butter base ingredients, either by hand or with a standing mixer. I found it easiest to mush everything by hand, as the spoon and the handheld mixer clogged up too easily; a stand mixer should be able to handle it.

3. Meanwhile, melt the chocolate. There are two ways of melting the chocolate; the first is to make a bain-marie on the stovetop, which requires two pots, one that fits snugly inside the other, without the bases completely nesting. The other requires a microwave, and optionally a countertop bain-marie setup, again with two bowls, one of which sits snugly on top of the second.

For the traditional bain-marie, heat some water in a deep pot (about 1/3 up the side of the pot). Once the water has begun to simmer, turn off the heat. In another heatproof bowl, mix together the chopped chocolate. Place the chocolate-filled bowl on top of the hot water and stir until the chocolate melts.

Alternatively, melt the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl in short bursts of about thirty seconds until the chocolate is melted (about one to one and a half minutes. I then usually fill another bowl with hot water from the tap and then rest my chocolate-filled bowl on top, to keep the chocolate warm.

4. While the chocolate is melting, break off one-teaspoon-sized peanut butter base bits and smush them into the paper wrappers. Then, once the chocolate is melted, let it cool for about a minute or so before working with it (you can continue smushing peanut butter into wrappers at this point too).

5. Once the chocolate is melted and has cooled a bit, spoon chocolate over top the peanut butter base. Sprinkle over the reserved sea salt very lightly — you will most likely have some salt left over, and we’re aiming for a tiny pop of WOW and not “salty chocolate”! Let cool completely, and then box up and give away, or serve at a party, or revel in chocolate and peanut butter joy, as needed…


Lawson, Nigella. “Chocolate-peanut butter cups.” Nigella Christmas. New York: Hyperion, 2009 (25).


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§ 6 Responses to Chocolate-peanut butter cups

  • thewhitedish says:

    I’ve made caramels dipped in chocolate with sea salt sprinkled on top…they turned out good. However…this sounds great! Thanks for posting, I hope I get to try this some time!

    • k.m. says:

      Oooh that’s a good idea, to make these with caramel. I’m out of dark chocolate or I’d make them right now.

      I hope you enjoy the peanut butter cups!

  • What a great idea. The cut off is always so low, which is good on one hand, that it can be hard to find something cool. Homemade is way better.

    • k.m. says:

      If I didn’t bake/cook, I have NO IDEA what I’d get…I worry it’s going to be a gift card swap mostly! I guess it’s the spirit that counts or something :)

  • Diane says:

    These look very yummy and we love Smeese’s at our house. Do you store them in the refrigerator or can they be left out? I think you work to make a homemade gift is much better than a gift card. Most people buy what they want, but everyone doesn’t make their own treats. Even if they did, they too would appreciate the work. I’ve gotten many “teacher gifts” and the 2 that I think about the most are homemade caramels and some delicious cookies.

    • k.m. says:

      We had no problem keeping them out for a few days (I think three to four?). They can be kept in the refrigerator if you like, though I recommend letting them warm up to room temperature before enjoying, as I find the refrigerator mutes the flavors a bit.

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