Buckeyes

We all love peanut butter in my house, especially Reece’s peanut butter cups.  Not overly keen on the chocolate though, sorry!  These are very similar to a peanut butter cup, but homemade and – well, nicer chocolate too!

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I’ve seen buckeyes around on the internet for a few years now and they are traditional in Ohio as they resemble the buckeye tree nut – basically just like a conker.  They are traditionally served around Christmas time, so I thought I would have a go and bring buckeyes to the UK.

They are really easy to make and take no time at all to make a batch.  I have a double recipe here, which makes practically a whole tree full, but you can halve the recipe, or halve the dough, freeze it and make some another time.  They are really rich and indulgent, so you wouldn’t want to eat too many anyway, but great for a crowd.

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I have used a mixture of dark and milk chocolate, but you could go all dark to offset the sugar a little if you wish.

Ingredients:
500g smooth peanut butter – I used Skippy
120g softened butter
pinch of salt
1tsp vanilla extract
450g icing sugar – seived
200g dark 70% chocolate
100g milk chocolate

Method:
Beat the peanut butter, butter, salt and vanilla in bowl until smooth. I use my stand mixer with the paddle attachment, but this is easily done by hand.

On low speed (and with a towel wrapped around the mixer) beat in the sugar until combined. You are looking for a fairly stiff and mouldable mixture that you can easily roll into balls without getting in a mess. If it looks too sticky, add in a little more icing sugar. Similarly, if it is too dry and turns into crumbs, add another spoon of peanut butter. Its a very simple mixture, you can’t really go wrong.

Taking around a tablespoon of mixture for each one, roll into balls and place on a non stick liner, or waxed parchment. Skewer each one with a cocktail stick and chill, or freeze until firm.

Buckeyes

When you are ready to dip, break the chocolate into small pieces and melt in the microwave, stirring the last few lumps in the residual heat to completely melt.

I like to transfer to a smaller bowl at this point as you want to dunk the balls to coat them.

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Dip each ball into the molten chocolate and let the excess run back into the bowl and place back onto the non stick liner. As the peanut butter balls are so cold, the chocolate will set immediately and leave you with a nice, thin, crisp shell.

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Finish coating all of the balls, tipping the bowl as the chocolate runs out and leave to set.

Pull out the cocktail sticks and leave the chocolate to completely set, before smoothing out the hole with a clean finger, or the back of a teaspoon.

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I prefer them kept refrigerated, but you can place them into little paper cases in a festive box and give them as gifts.

Peppermint Patties

These are very delicious and always very popular, but so easy to make. Only 4 ingredients are used in this recipe (minus sprinkles) and I really like them kept in the freezer for an icy cool, peppermint treat!

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I have kept the recipe fairly traditional and used some good dark chocolate to dip the peppermint candies in, but white chocolate works really well too, or you could use a mix of dark and milk if you don’t like bitter chocolate.

Some people like to add a little green food colouring to the peppermint filling, especially when using white chocolate to cover, but I prefer the icy white centre, covered with dark chocolate.

If you are in the mood to decorate, Christmas sprinkles or crushed candy canes are all good here.

For the ones I have made here, I have left some plain, some ruched with a fork and some with sprinkles. I think plain are best, but the children love the sprinkles!

I like to use a non-stick baking liner for my peppermint patties, but parchment will work well too, or oiled foil. Just don’t put them on a baking rack to drain off the excess chocolate, as they will stick to it.

This recipe uses a whole can of condensed milk, so makes a lot, but you can wrap the peppermint filling in cling film and freeze, ready to cut off sections for smaller batches whenever you fancy making some.

Ingredients:
1 x 397g can of sweetened condensed milk
5½ cups icing sugar, sieved (around 680g)
1 tablespoon peppermint extract (add a little more if preferred) – I used Nielsen-Massey
200g dark good quality chocolate – at least 70% cocoa solids
Sprinkles, or crushed candy canes to decorate (optional)

Method:
Place the sieved icing sugar, condensed milk and peppermint extract into a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, wrap a tea towel around the bowl and mix on low speed until mixed. Taste to check you have enough peppermint.  Mixing can also be done with a wooden spoon of course.

The filling should be fairly stiff, but quite pliable – like play dough.  If you think the filling is a little wet or overly sticky, add another half a cup of icing sugar in.

Roll small amounts of the mixture into balls and flatten out on the baking liner. Roll any you are not using right now into a log, wrap in cling film and freeze.

Peppermint patties with sprinkles

Leave the candies to air dry for around an hour, before freezing them for at least 30 minutes. This will make dipping much easier!

When you are ready to dip the candies, break the chocolate into small pieces and microwave in short bursts, stopping to stir every 10 seconds. When only a few lumps remain, keep stirring as the residual heat will melt the rest of the chocolate. Leave it to stand for a few minutes to cool a little.

If you are using sprinkles, get them ready as you will need to decorate as you go because the chocolate will solidify as soon as you take the cold candy out.

Drop a candy into the melted chocolate and using a fork, gently lift it out, tapping on the side of the bowl to drain any excess chocolate. Place onto the non-stick liner and either drag the fork across to top, decorate with sprinkles or crushed candy canes, or just leave plain before moving onto the next one.

Peppermint Patties

You can give these as gifts in little clear bags, or a pretty box, but I do think they are best stored in the refrigerator, or even better, in the freezer!

Wild Mushroom Vol-au-vents

I always look out for wild mushrooms at this time of year, as they are so good and abundantly available.  I wouldn’t ever go foraging on my own, despite owning several mushroom books, as I don’t have enough knowledge, but I’d definitely be up for an organised foray with an expert.

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I picked up some really nice wild mushrooms early this morning at the market. My selection included oyster, shiitake, maitake and a few field mushrooms, but creamed mushrooms would be good with any selection of fresh, earthy wild mushrooms.

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I think its best to eat mushrooms as soon as possible, they go slimy and pretty nasty if you keep them for too long.  I don’t like to leave them wrapped in plastic either, a paper bag or basket is best.

I made creamed mushrooms with my batch and mushrooms on toast is the perfect quick supper for this time of year.

Wild mushrooms

With the rest of the mushrooms, I decided to make retro mushroom vol-au-vents.  My prawn and avocado vol-au-vents recipe is actually my most viewed post, so I thought I would have to do the other vol-au-vents that I remember from the family Christmas parties from all those years ago.

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The mushroom vol-au-vents were one of the first things to go from the buffet table (unlike my poor Grandma’s prawn ones).  They were always made from those creamed button mushrooms from a can and placed into frozen pastry cases.  I was never a fan, but I thought it was time to bring back the retro mushroom vol-au-vent and use fresh, wild mushrooms, thyme and home made cases (I did buy the ready-made puff pastry though!)  The result was a really nice, seasonal treat that makes the most of the wild mushrooms that are around right now, but would also be great on a Christmas buffet table as a tasty nostalgic reminder.

Mushroom vol au vents

Ingredients:
A selection of wild mushrooms – I used two punnets
Knob of butter and a little splash of olive oil
1 onion or a couple of shallots, finely chopped
Small bunch of thyme, leaves picked
1tsp Dijon mustard
2-3tbs cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 sheets of puff pastry, or you could use frozen cases
1 egg, beaten

Method:
Pre-heat the oven to 190°C/375°F
Cut out the bases for the vol-au-vents and place on a lined baking sheet or parchment.  I got 12 bases from one sheet.  Then cut out another 12 from the second sheet of pastry and cut holes out of the second set with a smaller cutter.

Brush the bases with beaten egg and place the rings onto the bases.  If the pastry warms up and becomes difficult to handle, place it in the freezer for 5 minutes to firm it up.

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Brush the tops with the egg and bake for 12-15 minutes or until they are golden, crisp and all puffed up.  You can also brush the ‘holes’ with egg and bake those alongside the pastry cases.  Leave on a cooling rack while you make the filling.

Tear up the mushrooms or roughly chop and strip the thyme leaves from the stems if they are woody and give them a chop too.

Heat the butter and oil until foamy and add in the finely chopped onion with a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper.  When they are translucent, add in 1-2tsp of thyme leaves and then the mushrooms.  Cook them until they are nice and golden and then stir through a little cream and check the seasoning.

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At this point, you can serve the creamed mushrooms on some toasted, buttered sourdough, or fill the vol-au-vents.  I had enough for both!

Mushrooms on toast

For the vol-au-vents, I simply press down the centre that rises up as they bake (I don’t bother docking the raw pastry with a fork) and fill with the creamed mushrooms, sprinkle over a little more thyme leaves.

Serve as a canapé with or without the lids depending on how retro you want to be!

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These are really good in a larger pastry case too, served with a green salad as a first course or a light lunch.