Vaguely Viennese Whirls

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Vienesse Whirls are a British treat thought to be inspired by Austrian pastries.  The biscuit is normally piped in a pretty swirly shape (as seen on Mr Kipling packets) and then filled with buttercream and jam.  My piping went completely wrong, so I used a cookie cutter to make little shortbread biscuits with the mixture instead (hence renaming them Vaguely Viennese Whirls!)  This was much easier and the result was still absolutely delicious – sweet, creamy and crumbly.

If you have never made shortbread before it really is straightforward, and if you don’t have cookie cutters you can use the top of a glass to cut out the biscuit shape instead.  Try and eat the Vienesse Whirls when they are still slightly warm as not much beats that.  If there are any left then keep them at room temperature as the fridge ruins them!

Thank you to Mary Berry for the recipe.

Vaguely Vienesse Whirls (tricky to say how many this makes – around 16 small ones)

For the biscuits

250g unsalted butter, softened (I do this in 20 second spurts in the microwave)

50g icing sugar

250g plain flour

For the filling

100g unsalted butter, softened

200g icing sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract/essence

Raspberry or strawberry jam (1/2 a jar is more than enough – with pips in is best but not essential)

For the biscuit dough, preheat the oven to 190C/170C Fan/Gas Mark 5. Line 3 baking sheets with baking/greaseproof paper.  Measure the butter and icing sugar into a bowl and beat until pale and fluffy ( a couple of minutes should do). Gradually add the flour and beat a little more, until thoroughly mixed.  Put in the fridge for at least 15 minutes until the mixture is still soft but firm enough to roll out.  With a rolling pin start to roll out the dough until it is about as thick as a £1 coin.  It helps to press lightly and ensure both the surface and rolling pin are floured to prevent sticking.  You can use your hands to help press it out too if you like.  Use a cookie cutter or top of a glass/cup to cut the dough in to circle shapes (any size you like as long as they are all the same size – but not too big).  Carefully place the biscuits on the lined baking trays, ensuring about 2 inches between them so they don’t expand in to each other.

Bake the biscuits in the oven for 10—15 minutes, until a pale golden-brown, very carefully turning over halfway through.  Leave to cool a little on the baking sheets (it’s okay if they are still a little warm but not too much or the buttercream filling will melt).
For the filling, measure the butter into a bowl and add the icing sugar. Add the vanilla extract and beat with a fork or whisk until slightly lighter (about 1  minute). Spoon the buttercream on top of a cooled biscuit then spoon a little jam onto that, then sandwich it together with another biscuit.  Repeat this until all the biscuits have been used.  Eat alongside a cup of tea!

Mince pies of course!

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This was my first attempt at mince pies, and they turned out really well, in a chunky homemade sort of way! The recipe uses homemade pastry (which, if you have never made before, is surprisingly simple), shop-bought mincemeat and a sprinkle of orange zest. The pastry lids are finished off with a pinch of sugar, as suggested by my oldest son. He also suggested we use chopped pecan nuts as an alternative topping for a couple of them, which was a rather excellent idea.

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My oldest felt his sugar and pecan suggestions were enough input, so my youngest actually helped with the making. He rolled out some of the pastry, cut the lid shapes with cookie cutters and put them on top. Hence the interesting array of shapes! Don’t worry if you don’t have cookie cutters – use the rim of a glass or a bowl instead (make sure they are slightly bigger than the muffin tray holes to allow for covering the sides too).
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If you want more sophisticated mince pies then aim for thinner pastry, as since the pies are quite small it is easy to end up with more pastry than filling. Don’t worry if you have some leftover pastry, just make sure it is rolled out flat, put it in a freezer bag and freeze. You could use it to make something else another day (I made cornish pasties!)
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For the mince pies you will need a muffin tray, cookie cutters or glasses and a straw.

Mince pies (makes 12)

For the pastry

125g butter, melted (I do this in the microwave for 20 second bursts – takes about 1 min)
250g plain flour
2-3 tbsp water

For the filling

Approx 1/2 jar (220g) mincemeat
Zest of 1 orange
Optional – white/light brown sugar for sprinkling

To make the pastry, mix the butter and flour together with a spoon and your hands if necessary, add the water and squeeze in to a ball. It shouldn’t be too sticky. Flour a surface and lightly flour a rolling pin. Roll the pastry out (in two lots if short on space) until it is about 5mm (1/4 inch thick). Don’t press too hard with the rolling pin as it may stick, and use more flour on the surface and rolling pin to avoid it sticking if necessary.

Use a large cookie cutter (around 10cm) or the rim of a similar sized glass or bowl to cut circles out, and gently place them in the muffin tray holes, ensuring they cover the sides too. Add around 1 tsp mincemeat and a sprinkle of orange zest to each pie (avoid overfilling or it might overflow in the oven). Cut smaller circles/cookie cutter shapes for the pie lids, pierce a hole in the middle with a straw and place on top of each pie. Sprinkle each pie with a pinch of sugar if you like.

Bake the pies on gas mark 5/190 degrees for 15-30 minutes (this will depend on your oven), until lightly browned. Check every few mins after 10 mins to avoid burning. Once cooked leave to cool a little – they are nicest when still warm! Will last a couple of days in a sealed container.

Speedy Hot Chocolate

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This creamy, silky hot chocolate recipe is a big treat and takes the edge off the suddenly very cold weather!  It only takes a few minutes to make and can be enjoyed by both kids and adults.

To make it extra special top with marshmallows or whipped cream; for an extra kick go Mexican and add a pinch of chilli powder; for a boozy drink add brandy; and for alternative flavours try substituting the cinnamon with ground nutmeg or ground cardamom.

Speedy hot chocolate (serves 2)

600ml semi-skimmed milk
142ml tub double cream
100g chocolate, broken up (use milk chocolate or dark chocolate, depending on your taste)
Optional – 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Pour the milk, double cream and broken chocolate into a pan. Bring gently to the boil, whisking or stirring until smooth. Pour in to a flask or mug and drink!