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The Story of Empire Biscuits

The story of empire biscuits

As you probably know by now, at Graham’s we’re big fans of traditional baking classics as well as the latest culinary leaps of innovation from the likes of our friends Flora Shedden and Three Sisters Bake. The humble (or noble?) Empire Biscuit is a particular favourite of ours and we heartily recommend that you try James Morton’s Empire Biscuits recipe on our site.

However, as well as being a biscuit of two layers, it’s also a biscuit of many names, so we thought it was time to start doing some digging on our double shortbread biscuit buddy.

What are the origins of the Empire Biscuit?

It seems that the Empire Biscuit owes its origins to Central Europe and, in particular, Austria in the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. That’s because the earliest biscuits with a similarity to the Empire Biscuit seem to be Linzer Biscuits, named after the Austrian city of Linz. Rather than the plain shortbread we think of though, these biscuits are made with flour that includes ground almonds.

Sandwiched between the two biscuit layers is a jammy centre, as you’d expect, but the difference is that in the Linzer Biscuit the centre of the top layer is cut out, revealing the filling. That means that the Linzer Biscuit isn’t just a forerunner of the Empire Biscuit but also of the Jammy Dodger too!

So where did the name Empire Biscuit come from?

With origins in a German-speaking Central European country, the Empire Biscuit started life in the UK being known by names such as the Deutsch Biscuit or, more commonly, the German Biscuit. Unfortunately, the outbreak of WWI meant that all this was to change. Britain found itself facing both Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the war, so Deutsch, German and Linzer Biscuits all suddenly felt like unpatriotic names.

Because of this (bear in mind this was still in the days of the British Empire), the more patriotic name of Empire Biscuit was born.

And it’s not the only example of a foodstuff being renamed because of World War I. Did you know that during that war American food producers renamed sauerkraut as Liberty Cabbage?

Is Empire Biscuit the only name in use now?

Although Empire Biscuit remains the most common name in Scotland, it still has a few other names. You’ll occasionally hear the simple ‘Double Biscuit’ used, while the term ‘German Biscuit’ still remains popular in Northern Ireland.

Look further afield and the situation becomes even more confusing. New Zealand’s connections to the British Isles mean that the biscuit is also popular there. What do New Zealanders call it though? Well, brace yourself; they ask for a Belgian Biscuit. Why? Apparently, because the icing on the top echoes the topping on a Belgian Bun.

We’ll stick with the name Empire Biscuit but whether you want to munch on a Double Biscuit, German Biscuit or even a Belgian Biscuit, we hope you’ll be doing it washed down with a tea or coffee made with your favourite Graham’s milk.

Our foodie friend, James Morton, makes the perfect Empire Biscuit and we have been lucky enough to get his recipe which can be found here.