I don’t think the Empire biscuit is as popular anywhere else as it is in Scotland. They are sold in most wee bakeries – you would struggle to walk more than 500 yards in Glasgow without seeing one for sale. As a kid I was only in it for the sweetie on the top (I have an uncle who adores Empire biscuits, so this was never an issue), but nowadays I love the whole thing. This version omits the jelly tot (I can only apologize) in favour of a more floral and slightly prettier theme. It is very much a floral Flora creation. I would highly recommend making the Strawberry and Elderflower Jam for this recipe, but you can, of course, use whichever berry jam takes your fancy. Simply make sure it is a fairly thick one so that it won’t come oozing out the sides.
For the biscuits
225g (8oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting
175g (6oz) unsalted butter, cubed
75g (2¾oz) icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1 teaspoon dried elderflowers, rose petals or lavender (optional)
For the icing
200g (7oz) icing sugar
For the filling and decoration
50g (1¾oz) mixed dried edible flower petals (I use dried rose, cornflower and marigold petals)
200g (7oz) raspberry jam or Strawberry and Elderflower Jam (see below)
Preheat the oven to 180ºC (350ºF), Gas Mark 4. Line a large baking sheet with baking paper.
To make the biscuits, blitz the flour, butter, sugar, vanilla and dried flowers in a food processor until a dough forms. Alternatively, rub the butter into the other ingredients and knead by hand until you achieve a dough.
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface until it has the thickness of a pound coin. Use a fluted round cookie cutter to cut out the biscuits, then reroll the scraps and repeat. You should get 24–30 biscuits, depending on your size of cutter. Transfer the shapes to the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 12–15 minutes or until just beginning to turn golden. Leave the biscuits to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool completely.
For the icing, mix the sugar with a splash of milk in a bowl until you have a thickish icing – it should be spreadable. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a round nozzle.
To assemble the biscuits, pipe a circle of the icing on top of half the biscuits. While the icing is still wet, sprinkle with some of the petals. Dollop a teaspoon of jam on the underside of each of the remaining half of the biscuits, then sandwich together with the decorated halves on top. Allow the icing to set fully. These biscuits are best eaten on the day of making, as the jam tends to soften them after 24 hours. You can, however, bake the biscuits up to 3 days in advance of serving and assemble them in the morning of the day they are required.
STRAWBERRY AND ELDERFLOWER JAM
MAKES 4 x 450G (1LB) JARS
1 kg (2lb 4oz) strawberries (if you can get wild ones, even better!)
juice of 2 lemons
150ml (¼ pint) elderflower pressé (or water)
10 fresh heads of elderflower
750g (1lb 10oz) jam sugar
If the strawberries are large, halve them. Put them into a deep saucepan with the lemon juice and elderflower pressé, bring to the boil and cook for about 10 minutes over a medium heat until the berries have softened.
Add the elderflower heads to the pan and stir through, then add the sugar. Bring to the boil and cook until the temperature of the mixture reaches 104.5ºC (220.1ºF) on a sugar thermometer, stirring regularly to ensure the mixture doesn’t burn at the base of the pan. Once the mixture is up to temperature, take the pan off the heat and, using a sterilised teaspoon, place a little of the jam on a clean, chilled plate. Leave it to cool for a minute or so, then push your finger through the mixture. If it has formed a skin on the surface that wrinkles when pushed by your finger, then it has reached the setting point and the jam is ready. (If the mixture fails the wrinkle test, return the pan to the heat and repeat the wrinkle test again after a few more minutes of cooking.)
Once the jam has reached the setting point, remove and discard the elderflower heads (lots of flowers will have fallen off by then, which is fine, but you want to ensure all the stems are removed). Allow to stand for 5 minutes, then transfer the jam to sterilized jars and seal. Store at room temperature for up to 2 months. Once opened, store in the refrigerator and eat within 4 weeks.
Extracted from Gatherings by Flora Shedden. Available here