Vegan empire biscuits or cookies have been a popular British teatime treat for over 100 years.
These delicious biscuits taste like buttery vanilla and are a melt-in-the-mouth crumbly sweet shortbread experience. Perfect for afternoon tea, Hogmanay buffets, picnics and parties.
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 (cookies)
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.
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!
We have a tasty vegan shortbread recipe so be sure and check that out also.
Empire biscuits are a biscuit with many names.
In Scotland, nowadays these yummy treats are often called Belgium biscuits.Though I am from Scotland I've really only known these biscuits as empire 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!
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!
More Vegan Traditional Bakes
Old School Chocolate Concrete Cake (cookies/biscuits)
British Traditional Rock Cakes
Crunchy Cornflake, Coconut And Chocolate Traybake
Traditional Scottish Border Tart (Eyemouth tart)
Traditional Scottish Smiddy Dumpling (cousin of the famous Scottish clootie dumpling but easier to prepare as its baked and not steamed! Delicious with a nice cup of tea)
Traditional Vegan Empire Biscuits
- Baking tray (also a sheet of baking parchment if not a non-stick tray)
- Circle biscuit cutter, I used a 3 inch cutter but depending on the size of biscuit a smaller or larger cutter can be used.
For the shortbread biscuits:
- 340 grams self-raising flour sieved, or plain/all-purpose flour plus 2 teaspoons of baking powder
- 230 grams plant-based margarine or vegan butter.
- 115 grams icing sugar powdered sugar.
- 2 teaspoons vanilla essence
Decorating and assembling:
- 115 grams icing sugar sieved. Plus 1-2 tablespoons of water.
- 5 whole glace (candied) 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 your choice such as strawberry, raspberry, blackberry jam, or fruit jelly (US)
- 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 vegan 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 ¼ 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 tray 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 top 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 the finished biscuits in the refrigerator.
- Nutritional information is provided for guidance only and is not a strict calculation as ingredients vary.
- Nutrition data is for two biscuits filled with jam and icing topping.
Alexander Paul Burton
Don't forget Canada. We have these in Canada and they're called empire biscuits, too. I believe that in NZ they're called Belgium biscuits as well.
Oh that is interesting. So sorry I didn't mention Canada and New Zealand. Thanks for commenting, going to go look it up now, love learning more about food history 🙂