When I was first learning to bake, long before I became a food writer or cook, and while I was still a barrister, I signed up for an adult education course. Every Thursday, I would put my wig and gown into my wheelie suitcase, along with a piping bag, bars of chocolate and boxes of eggs; case files were nestled alongside Tupperware’s containing carefully weighed out amounts of icing sugar and flour.
I’d cart them around whichever court I was due in that day, raising eyebrows at the security check on my way in, before scurrying off to west London at the end of the day to learn about pastries and pies, cakes and canapés. The first week, I learnt how to make Viennese Whirls.
A lot of the bakes were wonderfully retro: I learnt about genoise through Black Forest gateau, sponge through batten berg, choux pastry through gougerès – and, of course, biscuits through these Viennese Whirls.
Viennese whirls are piped, buttery biscuits made from equal parts butter and flour. The name is misleading, as they are British in origin. They’re a perfect introduction to baking and biscuits, because they are that baking sweet spot between delightful to eat and straightforward to make.
This is adapted from a Mary Berry recipe – who else would you go to for slightly retro bakes? You can sandwich two of the same shaped biscuits together with buttercream and jam, a little like a crumbly jammy dodger – but because I like to pipe lots of different shapes, I prefer to dunk them in dark chocolate. These biscuits have a low proportion of sugar to other ingredients, so combined with the dark chocolate they actually taste deliciously grown up. And they’re really, really good with a cup of coffee.
Dark chocolate Viennese Whirls
Makes: 10-15 biscuits depending on size
Takes: 20 minutes
Bakes: 15 minutes
110g butter, soft
40g icing sugar
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon vanilla paste
70g dark chocolate
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C and line two baking trays with non-stick parchment paper.
2. Beat the butter in a mixing bowl until it is very soft and pale, and then beat in the icing sugar. Add the vanilla paste, sift in the flour and baking powder. Stir through.
3. Place the mixture in a piping bag with a large, star-shaped nozzle. You need to be able to squeeze the mixture out of the bag so that it will flow into a shape, but it should be firm enough that it will retain the striations from the nozzle: you may need to manipulate the mixture in the piping bag with warm hands to get it to the right consistency.
4. Pipe the mixture into swirls and lines: I do fingers and whorls, spirals and fingers. Space the biscuits well apart as they will spread as they bake.
5. Refrigerate for 15 minutes, as this will help the biscuits keep their form as they bake.
6. Bake for 12 minutes, until golden. Don’t touch the biscuits when they first come out of the oven, as they will be too soft to handle.
7. Once the biscuits are cool, melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl balanced over a small pan of boiling water.
8. Dip each of the biscuits in the chocolate and return to the baking paper until set.