Vegan empire biscuits or cookies have been a popular British teatime treat for over 100 years.
Although traditionally, empire biscuits would have been baked with butter these crunchy vegan biscuits have been prepared with plant-based margarine.
These biscuits taste like buttery vanilla and are a melt-in-the-mouth crumbly shortbread experience.
Being Scottish I grew up with shortbread biscuits. Shortbread was always a part of the Hogmanay new year eve’s buffet spread.
It just wouldn’t have been new year without a plate of Scottish shortbread to nibble on throughout the celebrations and singing of Robert Burn’s auld lang syne.
What I love about these vegan empire biscuits is that the recipe can be used to create vegan shortbread biscuits.
Simply omit the icing and jam. Sprinkle the single biscuits with some caster sugar and you have a tasty plate of vegan Scottish shortbread biscuits. So tasty and perfect for Christmas and New Year celebrations.
Celebrate the US fourth of July?
A fun idea is to decorate these vegan empire biscuits with water icing that is the colours of the US flag. The result is a unique, delicious addition to the party celebrations.
The origins of empire biscuits
Shortbread biscuits evolved from a Scottish medieval bread that was baked more than once to create a biscuit like texture. Sugar was dusted onto the crunchy bread.
Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587) was claimed to enjoy shortbread with caraway seeds.
The first shortbread recipe was found in a Scottish recipe book dates 1736.
Empire biscuits are basically shortbread biscuits sandwiched with jam, topped with water icing, and finished off with a halved cherry or jelly sweet.
Empire biscuits are a biscuit with many names.
In Scotland, nowadays these yummy treats are often called Belgium biscuits.
In England, they are generally named empire biscuits.
Although, before those two names empire biscuits were originally termed either Linzer, Deutsch or German biscuits.
But when World War 1 (1914-1918) began the British people were uncomfortable with having a biscuit that highlighted Germany seeing as they were the enemy.
Therefore, the name was changed to empire biscuit.
However, in Scotland when Belgium was invaded by the Germans they somehow decided the name Belgium biscuits was more fitting.
But in Northern Ireland they are still known as German biscuits.
That’s a tad too many names!
Even though I am from Scotland I’ve really only known these biscuits as empire biscuits, not Belgium biscuits, so let’s just get on with the recipe!
Vegan Empire Biscuits (Cookies)
Makes 9 sandwich biscuits.
Enjoy with a cup of tea, coffee or a glass of chilled plant milk.
Or as part of an afternoon tea spread, buffet or party especially as part of Christmas, New Years or Weddings.
It used to be traditional in the Scottish Island of Shetland to crack a decorated shortbread round over the head of a new bride just before she entered her home with her husband!
- Baking tray
- Circle biscuit cutter, I used a 3 inch cutter but depending on the size of biscuit you'd like a smaller or larger cutter can be used.
For the shortbread biscuits:
- 340 grams self-raising flour 2 cups plus 5 tablespoons
- 230 grams plant-based margarine 1 1/4 cup. Or vegan butter.
- 115 grams icing sugar 1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons. Also known as powdered sugar.
- 2 teaspoons vanilla essence
Decorating and assembling:
- 115 grams icing sugar 1 cup. Sieved. Plus 1-2 tablespoons of water.
- 5 whole glace cherries halved. Or 9 individual jelly tots if just using sweets. Use a mix or cherries or sweets for variation. Any vegan sweet or even dried fruit can be used.
- 9 teaspoons jam
- Preheat oven to 140 Fan/ 325 Fahrenheit/160 Celsius/Gas 3.
- Prepare a baking tray with some parchment paper. If your tray is non-stick you may not need the paper.
- Mix the plant-based margarine and icing sugar together until nice and creamy.
- Whip in the vanilla essence until incorporated well.
- Add the flour and mix to form a dough.
- Work the dough into a smooth ball. You may have to flour your hands if the dough is a little sticky.
- On a floured surface, roll out the dough to roughly 1/4 an inch thick. Stamp out biscuit rounds and lay apart on baking tray.
- Bake for about 25 -30 minutes until starting to lightly golden.Baking time depends on your oven. I usually bake these biscuits for 25 minutes with a fan oven.The biscuits will harden up as they cool.
- Leave biscuits on the tin for about 10 minutes before placing on a wire rack to finishing cooling. Or simply just leave on the tin to cool.
- If using as vegan shortbread biscuits dip each biscuit into a little bowl of caster or granulated sugar while still warm.
- Mix the sieved icing with a teaspoon of water. Add a few more drops of water at a time until the icing is a thick but easily spreadable consistency.Don't add too much water to the icing at the beginning as it can easily become too runny and then require more icing sugar to be added to thicken it up.
- When biscuits are cool spread about a teaspoon of jam onto the inside of one biscuit. Add a little dollop of icing to another biscuit and smooth out into a circular shape.Place this biscuit on top of the jammed biscuit.Finish with a halved glace cherry or jelly tot.Continue with the rest of the biscuits.
- Biscuits are ready after the icing has set.For faster setting of the icing place in the fridge.
The following nutritional data is for guidance only and is not a strict analysis as ingredients vary.
Preparing 18 single shortbread biscuits minus the decoration and filling? The following nutritional data is for 18 single biscuits:Prepared one of my recipes? Snapped a photo to share on social media? Tag us! @traditionalplantbasedcooking #traditionalplantbasedcooking
Vegan Empire Biscuits (Cookies) Recipe Notes
- Empire biscuits will keep fresh wrapped in a sealed container for up to 5 days. These biscuits can be stored in the fridge but keep them dry and in a sealed container. Perhaps wrap with kitchen foil to preserve the biscuits crunch.
- Shortbread biscuits, un-iced, can be frozen for up to 3 months. Ideal for batch prepping for the holidays. Wrap up the shortbread well, and add a little piece of greaseproof paper between each biscuit so that the biscuits do not freeze together. Its also easier to retrieve single biscuits this way.
- To prepare single shortbread biscuits rather than empire biscuits: Once the biscuits have baked and while still warm dip each biscuit into a little bowl of caster sugar. This will give each biscuit the characteristic Scottish shortbread appearance.
- Instead of circles, roll out the dough and use a knife to slice out rectangles roughly about 3 inch in length and 1 inch wide, and the same thickness as the empire biscuit rounds. Place these rectangles onto the baking tray and using a fork poke rows of holes down the biscuit. Once baked sprinkle the warm shortbread with some caster sugar.
- A mix of cinnamon and sugar is especially tasty for dusting or dunking shortbread in.
- I generally use glace cherries and jelly tots, which are vegan in the UK, to decorate the empire biscuits. But any vegan sprinkles and cupcake decorations would work. Also chocolate drops/buttons would be a nice touch.
- For special occasions such as the fourth of July make up some colourful icing and get creative. Just add a few drops of colour to water icing to create the colour or follow manufacturers guidelines. However, check the ingredients to ensure your colour is vegan friendly.
- This recipe usually yields 9 filled biscuits and 18 single biscuits. But occasionally there is one extra biscuit. I like to think of it as the bakers prerogative to add decoration to this stray cookie and enjoy it as a bakers bonus after preparing the biscuits. Yum!
Looking for more vegan traditional bakes?
A scoop of this easy and quick vegan Eve’s pudding is the perfect family supper.
Hot cinnamon sponge baked over fresh stewed apples.
Pour some plant-based custard over and it is so good!
Every traditional afternoon tea party needs a slice or two of the vegan classic fruit loaf cake.
Packed full of nutritious fruit and lightly spiced the old fashioned way.
So flavourful and satisfying.
Vegan traditional British chocolate flapjacks are just the ideal picnic and pack-lunch treat. So easy and quick to bake.
Not a fan of chocolate?
Just omit and bake plain flapjacks or sub out the chocolate chips for walnuts. Walnuts become toasted and crispier than usual when baked in flapjacks. So yummy.