Over May half term week my family went on holiday to the Isle of Mull. It’s a place very special to me and to my hubby. We had loved trips to the island before we met, he watched the Isle of Mull Rally which takes place every October and I had been to Mull a couple of times before as a student on travels around the UK. So when we first started going out together about 18 years ago, we chose to spend a week on the Isle of Mull as our first holiday together. We always said we would go back and visit when the kids were older and that’s what we ended up doing.
We stayed in a very remote, midge infested, but beautiful part of the island near Lochbuie in the south. Our cottage overlooked a loch and was absolutely stunning. It was comfortable, immaculately clean and was definitely a home from home. The only thing that spoilt it was all the midges which swarmed round the front porch and somehow managed to get in through the bathroom and our bedroom window. I was covered in bites and one became infected when I came home. But apart from that we had a fantastic time, wandering around Tobermory, playing on the beaches at Calgary Bay and on Iona, exploring Duart Castle and eating of course!
Now whenever I have a UK holiday I love to try out the local baking delicacies. I don’t really think about sweet stuff when I go to Spain or something like that but in the UK it’s definitely about the cakes! There was one bake I couldn’t get enough of and that was the Empire Biscuit.
I’ve had Empire Biscuits before and I’m sure they used to sell them in my local Sainsbury’s years ago on the bakery counter. They are shortbread biscuits sandwiched together with jam and have glace icing spread on top with a cherry to finish. But they’re very popular in Scotland and according to Wikipedia you can also get them with Jelly Tots on.
On the ferry over to Mull I had the 4 o’clock munchies and we went up to the Coffee Bar on the top deck. I ended up buying a cup of tea and an Empire biscuit for myself. It was just what I needed and kept me going until we had dinner that evening. But throughout the week all I could think about were Empire Biscuits. We enjoyed some Selkirk Bannock which I bought from a local Spar shop but I wanted more Empires! On the last day of our holiday we were in Tobermory and I popped into the bakery on the High Street. They had some scrummy looking Empires for sale and they were massive! I bought four to take back to the cottage with us to have with a cup of tea and they were absolutely delicious. The shortbread was perfect, which melted in the mouth and the icing wasn’t too sweet and sickly. A perfect treat and ever since I’ve wanted to bake some Empires for myself.
Last Friday was my usual day off work and I had been really busy all day catching up on chores. I hadn’t baked anything for nearly three weeks, apart from a quiche for last Sunday lunch and I was having serious withdrawal symptoms. So I got Googling and found out all about Empire biscuits through Wikipedia. I decided to use my usual shortbread biscuit recipe but my biscuits would come out smaller as I couldn’t get in the garage to get my big circular cutters out. We had a workman putting a new back door on and it was chaos. So I used my small circular cutter I found in the kitchen drawer from last time I baked cookies.
My daughter, who is on study leave at the moment doing her GCSE’s came downstairs and asked what I was doing. She asked if she could roll out the dough and cut out the biscuits. I let her as she is a great baker. I just wish she would use a pallette knife to put the biscuits on the tray, not her hands! Grrr! Anyway, she rolled the biscuits out beautifully and we looked forward to them being ready to ice. The workman, as if on cue asked if I knew where the nearest cafe was for when he finished. He was probably hoping for a biscuit but they weren’t ready then.
The biscuits were left on the tray to cool while I went out to walk the dog. Then out came some seedless raspberry jam and the biscuits were sandwiched together.
When this was done, I made up a quick glace icing but in my usual rush I made it a bit too runny. It still spread ok and made the biscuits look presentable. Finally, for the finishing touch I added half a glace cherry to each one.
So the verdict? These biscuits were just absolutely divine. We all had one each, hubby and I had one sat outside in the sun with a cup of tea before I got on with the dinner and he said they were lovely. That’s a compliment from him! The rest got hidden away in a biscuit tin!
Now, if I ever realise my dream of owning a tearoom then Empire biscuits will definitely be on my menu!
Love Sam xx