The history of the Garibaldi biscuit is an interesting one, though Garibaldi can mean many things depending on who you ask. For Canadians they will most likely think of Garibaldi Lake in British Columbia. Americans may think of the bright orange fish found in the northeastern portion of the Pacific Ocean. Italians will know Garibaldi as the general who contributed to the unification of the Kingdom of Italy. For us Brits though, a Garibaldi is a biscuit which somewhat resembles a squished Eccles cake.
Although many people likely wouldn’t call the unassuming Garibaldi biscuit their favourite, these “squashed-fly” biscuits have managed to stick around as a biscuit aisle staple for the last 150 years in Britain. The majority of Britons likely think a Garibaldi biscuit isn’t either great or terrible, making them great for filling out a biscuit tin.
For those unfamiliar, a Garibaldi biscuit is made of 2 layers of thin golden dough and filled with currants between, alongside a sweet sugary glaze on top. The layer of currants is what gives these biscuits their less than appetising colloquial names: “squashed-fly”, “dead-fly”, “fly-sandwich” and more.
So why are they called Garibaldis?
One of the more interesting parts of the history of the Garibaldi is how they got their name, derived from the Italian unification hero Giuseppe Garibaldi. By the time Garibaldi arrived in the UK in 1854 on his way to New York he was already considered somewhat of a celebrity. His fame only further skyrocketed following his conquering of Sicily and Naples in 1860. This led to coverage of his exploits in all of the major British news outlets at the time.
It was in 1861 that the Garibaldi biscuit was invented by Jonathan Dodgson Carr for Peek Freans. Coincidentally, this was the same year when Victor Emmanuel II was sworn in as king of a unified Italy – partially thanks to Garibaldi. Who knew the history of the Garibaldi biscuit involved Italian kings?
Because of his popularity at the time there are numerous theories as to why the biscuits why an Italian general was the namesake of a British biscuit invention. Some of these theories are darker than others, with one claiming that Garibaldi and his redshirts were at one point forced to soak their stale sliced bread in horse blood and berries. Others claim that after conquering Sicily Garibaldi became enamoured with a specific type of bun filled with beef spleen, leading to his association with “dark-coloured” foods. The idea follows that this then transferred to the biscuit world using berries, figs, and raisins.
The most likely theory however is that Peek Freans simply chose to capitalise on the fame of Garibaldi at the time and attached his name to the biscuit to boost sales.
Try making your own Garibaldi biscuits
You will need:
· 110g unsalted butter (as well as some extra to grease your pan).
· 200g currants.
· 280 self-raising flour, plus extra to dust.
· Pinch salt.
· 75g caster sugar.
· 6 tbsp whole milk.
· 1 large free-range egg white, lightly beaten.
· 1 tbsp granulated sugar.
- Preheat your oven to 180c/160c Fan/Gas Mark 4.
- Lightly grease a baking tray, preferably non-stick, with butter.
- Roughly chop up the currants.
- Sift flour and salt into your mixing bowl or food processor. Add butter and work together until the mixture takes on the appearance of fine breadcrumbs. Stir in caster sugar and then begin slowly mixing in the milk, just a few drops at a time, until the mixture becomes a firm dough.
- Chill dough for 20 minutes if it is warm.
- Knead your dough briefly on a lightly floured surface until it is smooth and pliable, then roll out the dough to a large, even rectangle 4mm thick. Cut this in half to form 2 rectangles.
- Sprinkle one of the rectangles evenly with your chopped currants before laying the second rectangle on top. Sprinkle the work surface with a little more flour, then evenly roll out the layered dough into a large rectangle 4mm thick, aim for around 24cm x 30cm.
- Trim the edges for neatness, then cut the rectangle in half lengthways before cutting across into fingers around 3cm wide and 8cm long. Prick the dough with a fork, brush with egg white and sprinkle over with granulated sugar.
- Carefully lift the biscuits onto the prepped baking trays, keeping them evenly spaced. Bake for 12 minutes until they are lightly golden brown. Leave to cool before serving.