Growing up in Schuylkill County during the 60’s and 70’s meant enjoying Easter, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day candy from Mootz Candies, a fixture on Centre Street in Pottsville, PA for generations.
Not only did I receive chocolate filled elaborately decorated heart-shaped boxes of goodies on February 14th from Mom and Pop, there was many a personalized chocolate decorated Easter egg waiting for me nestled in cellophane grass in my favorite basket Easter mornings for decades.
Mom had a tradition of taking two pounds of chocolate from Mootz’s to the nurses station as a “thank you” to those who cared for my Dad during his battles with Black Lung and heart failure.
A trip to Mootz’s was always a highlight of a “day in the city” for this Coalcracker kid. A popular shop anytime, close to major holidays it became a crowded, bustling center filled with people clutching plastic cards with numbers on them waiting to be called for service.
Having to stand in line was not the easiest thing for me — I was the proverbial “kid in a candy shop” enthralled with the massive selection of sweets displayed on glass cases and perched on shelves in every nook and cranny.
I had my favorites and would never turn anything down from that glorious selection, but by far then and to this day, I adore peanut rolls. Bite-sized morsels of vanilla buttercream centers dipped in chocolate and rolled in crushed peanuts.
I long ago lost count of how many peanut rolls I have indulged in throughout my life, but every one was as perfect as the other. Mootz’s did not have the corner on the market by any means, but they were probably the most well-known locally and they were wildly popular.
In my final years of high school, a candy making supply store opened in Pottsville. One visit to it and I was hooked. I bought my first bag of coating wafers and never looked back.
At first, the candy went to friends and relatives as gifts. I made peanut butter cups, assorted cream-flavored centers, chocolate covered pretzels, my Pop’s favorites of cashew clusters and raisin clusters, and what seemed to be countless pounds of peanut rolls. The day Mom came home after giving some of my homemade chocolates to some friends of hers, my “unofficial” candy making business began.
Orders rolled in for the luscious morsels nestled in festive colored paper cups snuggled together packed in pretty cellophane window boxes. My parents became my assistants as we gathered in our tiny kitchen mixing, rolling, dipping, creating and packing. Pop pretty much became the “delivery guy” and loaded box after box into the car in the weeks before Easter and Christmas to deliver both near and far.
Changes in the wind
After my parents passed away within a very short time of one another, I hung up my candy making on that grand of a scale and only reverted back to making some occasionally for gifts and special occasions.
Once I met my husband, James, I picked back up with it, although still not on the scale it was in the past. The love of my life had a wicked sweet tooth and I adored indulging it with surprise treats during the years he traveled extensively for work. Arriving home weary and exhausted from running through airports with little sleep, the simple things in life brought him great joy. As it did when Mom and Dad were alive, the candy always tasted better when shared with a loved one.
I gathered the ingredients to make peanut rolls today with tears in my eyes. As I sit here looking at them, I find myself wracked with conflicting emotions.
James is not here now to enjoy these and the tremendous pleasure it brought me to create gifts from my kitchen for him, but is now gone, has triggered an ache deep in my heart. But yet, I find myself reaching out desperately for “familiar” — for things that used to be.
As difficult as it is, I need to trust that I will find comfort somehow, someday. Perhaps it will come to me in these simple, well-loved Coal Region peanut rolls. For James.
The homemade touch
Commercially prepared candy centers are usually created with dry fondant, invertase, and flavoring which results in a center with the textured many of us are familiar with in chocolate-covered candy creme assortment boxes. When making my own peanut rolls, I prefer a center created from butter, confectioners’ sugar, cream, and flavoring — usually a good quality vanilla extract.
Use room temperature butter for best results when making these candies. Don’t put the butter in the microwave to attempt to soften it. To speed up the process, cut the stick into small cubes which will then soften faster as they sit.
Roll the balls of buttercream into pieces no more than 3/4 inch in diameter. Once coated in chocolate and rolled in peanuts, they grow in size. Ideally they should be sized right for one or two bites.
Ground peanut meal can be found in candy making shops, but I have long preferred to grind my own and usually choose a top brand nut for best roasted peanut flavor — I prefer a little bit chunkier peanut coating on my own-made peanut rolls.. Place salted roasted peanuts in a food processor and pulse to a fairly fine consistency, but take care not to over process or you will wind up with peanut butter!
My “go-to” when dipping any candy is my 1 cup glass measuring cup. The depth allows the centers to get coated well in melted chocolate, it can go right into the microwave, holds heat, and is easy on my hands because of the handle. I rarely use a double boiler anymore to melt coating chocolate.
Coal Region Peanut RollsCourse: Desserts
1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter, room temperature
4 cups confectioners’ sugar, or as needed
2 Tablespoons heavy cream or whipping cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 or 4 drops coconut extract
- Coating and finishing
1 to 1 1/2 pounds, or as needed, milk or dark confectionery coating wafers or coating chocolate
1 pound or as needed finely ground salted roasted peanuts or peanut meal
- Buttercream centers
- Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or electric mixer), beat the butter until creamy (about 2 minutes).
- Add the cream and extracts. Beat on high until smooth and creamy (about 30 seconds). Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar adding enough to make a filling that can be rolled into a ball without excess stickiness but is still soft and creamy.
- Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and place the buttercream mixture in the refrigerator to chill for at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove chilled buttercream from the refrigerator (you may have to let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes or so to soften). Using a small spoon or scoop, roll the buttercream into balls no larger than 3/4 inch in diameter. Place on lined sheet close together. If the mixture gets sticky while rolling, lightly coat your palms with confectioners’ sugar. Place back in the refrigerator for 1 to 24 hours.
- Coating and finishing
- Place some ground peanuts or peanut meal in a small bowl that is deep enough to roll the candy piece around in.
- Melt the coating chocolate in a double boiler or microwave. To microwave: Add some chocolate wafers to a microwave-safe measuring cup or bowl. Heat in 20-second increments, stirring each time, until chocolate is melted and smooth. Do not overheat or get any water/steam into the chocolate — it will “seize” or burn and become unusable. Allow to cool slightly before dipping the buttercream centers. Reheat gently as needed. Melt more wafers as needed to coat all centers.
- Working one at a time, drop the buttercream balls into the melted chocolate, making sure they are completely covered.
- Using a fork, lift out the chocolate-covered center, tap the fork on the rim 3 or 4 times then scrape the bottom of the fork across the rim to remove excess chocolate, drop the ball into the ground peanuts or meal and roll it around to fully coat with nuts. (Using your fingers to toss, roll, and coax into a round ball shape works best.) Remove the coated peanut roll with a fork or your fingers and drop it onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining buttercream centers. These set up fairly quickly after dipping. You can speed the process by refrigerating the dipped peanut rolls for 15 to 30 minutes.
- Due to dairy content, store candies in the refrigerator in an airtight container.