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  • Writer's pictureCaroline Head

Christmas Traditions: Empire Biscuits

Growing up in a family with Irish and Scottish roots, shortbread is a dessert staple. The best shortbread consists of three ingredients - butter, sugar, and flour - so it is easy to whip up a batch any time during the year. However, for Christmas, my grandma would make empire biscuits. Empire biscuits, known by other names throughout Europe, use a classic shortbread recipe to create shortbread sandwiches with jam and icing.

Empire biscuits take several steps to assemble the final product. As with most cookie sandwich recipes, it takes twice as long to make the cookies as you need two halves for each sandwich. My grandparents hosted an annual Christmas party for the extended family, so Grandma would often start baking her empire biscuits in November and stashing the finished product throughout the house. As a child I knew that once cookie tins of empire biscuits appeared under the china cabinet and in the closets, Christmas was only a few weeks away.

As I grew up and helped out more in the kitchen, I would help roll out the dough and cut out the individual biscuits using the scalloped cookie cutter. After the biscuits baked and cooled, we pressed two halves together using raspberry preserves. The final step was the icing and maraschino cherry. The secret to proper empire biscuit icing is to mix powdered sugar and milk together to create a runny icing that will firm up before eating.

The recipe below is from All Recipes, though you can substitute your own shortbread recipe for the biscuits. If you do not have a scalloped or circular cookie cutter, you can also use a cup to cut out your biscuits.

Ingredients and materials

  • 2 cups butter

  • 1 cup white sugar

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour (sifted)

    • You will need additional flour to roll out the dough

  • 1 small jar raspberry preserves

  • Maraschino cherries, halved (about 24)

  • 8 cups powdered sugar

  • 1/2 cup milk, or as needed

  • Scalloped cookie cutter or similar

  • Baking sheets

  • Parchment paper

  • Large bowl

  • Rolling pin

  • Medium bowl

  • Spoons

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F

  2. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together.

  3. Incorporate the flour into the butter and sugar mixture, about a cup at a time.

  4. Roll the dough out onto a floured surface, until the dough is about 1/4 inch thick. Use the cookie cutter to cut out the biscuits.

  5. Place the biscuits on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. The biscuits will not spread in the over, but be sure to give them space to bake evenly on the sheet.

  6. Bake each sheet of cookies 8-10 minutes in the oven. Your finished biscuits should be crisp and golden, not burned. Allow the biscuits to cool completely before moving on to the next step.

  7. Using a small spoon, create the sandwich biscuits with about one teaspoon of raspberry preserves per sandwich. The jam should be visible on the sandwich, but not drip down the sides.

  8. In a medium bowl, mix the powered sugar and milk together to create the icing. Drizzle the icing on top of the biscuit sandwiches.

  9. Press one half of a maraschino cherry on the top of each biscuit sandwich.

  10. Allow the icing to set before serving.

Enjoy your empire biscuits with a cup of tea or coffee. This recipe yields about 48 empire biscuits.

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