Winter’s dark and snow drives domesticity. So here it is again: Empire Biscuit time. I can’t think of Empire Biscuits without thinking first of the recipe--spare directions (what is a “quick”oven?) written in a firm hand on a tattered piece of notepaper. Mrs. Clellan, one of my mother’s Scottish neighbors on Corby’s Deene Close, handed it over to my mum sometime between her first Christmas with my father and before she left Britain to live in the States. Even before I visited her for tea one sunny midsummer afternoon in 1972, I knew she was a worker of magic.
Each Christmas season, my mother rolled out then cut the gold-colored dough into rounds. My job: to sandwich the rounds with raspberry jam, spreadthe icing, and decorate the tops It took a steady hand and a good eye to match the rounds by thickness, judge the precise amount of jam so the biscuits would stick, not slide. Going too heavy on hundreds and thousands (better known as “nonpareil decors”) would simply ruin the look.
I’ve run across several versions of an amusing origin story: formerly known as “German” biscuits, the tea-time favorites were renamed in a fever of WWI patriotism. These days, of course, it’s pretty tough to believe that everything’s better with empire, especially if you’re midway (as I am) through the first season of HBO's Rome where cat fights and street fights explode with a vengeance.
Still, these are a great accompaniment for a steaming cup of tea. This year I’ve substituted flour for the half-teacupful of Bird’s Custard Powder (a cornstarch-based powder that, when mixed with heated milk, makes an orange-tinted and eggless custard--a godsend, I've been told, during the post-war rationing) that gave Mrs. Clellan's version their distinctive taste . Cat, my own daughter of empire, uses a heart shaped cutter and highly recommends giving these as valentines.
Preheat oven: 375 degrees
4 T sugar
8oz unsalted butter
2cups self-rising flour
Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg, then flour and mix until you have a stiff paste. Roll out and cut in round (or heart shapes) about ¼ inchthick. Place on parchment paper covered baking tray. Cook until slightly brown. When cool, spread jam/jelly on one round and place another round on top. Ice the top of the sandwich (add water gradually to confectioners sugar until icing covers the back of a spoon without running off). Put half a glace cherry in the middle of the icing or sprinkle with multicolor decors or sanding crystals.
Causes Jane Satterfield Supports
Associated Writers and Writing Programs (AWP)
Association for Research on Mothering (ARM)