July 2, 2008

Biscuits? Cookies? Scones? Muffins?

I used to think I knew exactly what each of them meant.
oh... was I terribly mistaken.
Su went on a mission to uncover the mystery behind the various terminologies used for these similar baked yummies.
It's best we start this long winded discovery with the most common : Biscuits.
.....By definition a biscuit is;

A baked flour confectionery dried down to low moisture content.
The word biscuit comes from the French bis cuit ("twice cooked"), which is what the original sea biscuits aboard ship had to be in order to remain crisp.
It has a number of cultural meanings. In the United States, a biscuit is a soft, thick scone product or a small roll similar to a muffin. The British biscuit is equivalent to the American cookie and cracker. These latter terms are relatively modern. "Cookie" comes from the eighteenth-century Dutch word koekje, a diminutive of koek (cake). "Cracker" is a North American term that also came into use in the eighteenth century, connoting the sound of the wafer as it was chewed or broken.


1. In America, biscuits refer to small quick breads, which often use leaveners like baking powder or baking soda. Biscuits are generally savory (but can be sweet), and the texture should be tender and light.

Biscuits are extremely soft and similar to scones. In the United States, there is a growing tendency to refer to sweet variations as "scone" and to the savory as a "biscuit". A sweet biscuit served with a topping of fruit and juice is called shortcake. In Canada, both sweet and savory are referred to as "biscuits", "baking powder biscuits" or "tea biscuits"
Biscuits are a common feature of Southern US cuisine and are often made with buttermilk. They are traditionally served as a side dish with a meal, especially in the morning. As a breakfast item they are often eaten with butter and a sweet condiment such as honey or jam. With other meals they are usually eaten with butter or gravy instead of sweet condiments.
Biscuits are now ubiquitous throughout the U.S. and feature prominently in many fast food breakfast sandwiches. The biscuit sandwich burst onto the scene primarily through the Hardee's chain of restaurants as an answer to the McDonald's Egg McMuffin. Along with the traditional country ham, Hardee's added sausage, cheese, eggs, steak, and even chicken to the breakfast bread. Breakfast biscuits are much bigger than ham biscuits, most as big or bigger than a typical fast food hamburger.

2. In the British Isles, the term "biscuit" usually refers to a flat, thin cookie or cracker. The British usage of the word biscuit was defined in the defence of a tax judgement found in favour of Mc Vities and their product Jaffa CAKES which claimed they were a 'biscuit' and was therefore liable to value added tax. The successful defence rested on the fact that "biscuits go soft when stale, whereas cakes go hard when stale". "WOW"...
Although there are many regional varieties, both sweet and savoury, "biscuit" is generally used to describe the sweet version. Sweet biscuits are commonly eaten as a snack and may contain chocolate, fruit, jam, nuts or even be used to sandwich other fillings. Savoury biscuits (such as creamcrackers, water biscuits or crisp breads) are plainer and commonly eaten with cheese following a meal.Generally Australians, New Zealanders and the Irish use the British meaning of "biscuit" (colloquially referred to as bickie or biccie or bikkie) for the sweet biscuit.

In the US and Canada, a cookie is a small, flat baked dessert. In most English-speaking countries outside North America, the most common word for this is Biscuit; in many regions both terms are used, while in others the two words have different meanings—a cookie is a plain bun in Scotland, while in the United States a biscuit is a kind of quick bread like a scone. The term "cookie" was borrowed from the Dutch, who settled in New York in the early 1600s. The word simply means a little cake, and "little cake" is what most cookies were called in early American cookbooks, just as they were in England. By the 1790s, however, the New York term began to show up in many places outside of that state.

The popularity of the term increased because of its connection with the fashionable New York New Year's cookies, highly ornamented stamped cookies served during New Year's Day entertainments. The word moved into American cookbook literature and eventually came to encompass any crisp, sweet finger food. But one further distinction has developed. "Cookie" is applied to foods of this kind that are either homemade or intrinsically American.

How is this known? Chinese fortune cookies were invented in the United States in the 1840s under the name of motto cookies. They are not foreign. By this same rule, imported French champagne biscuits are not called cookies. Likewise the Italian biscotti served at nearly every coffee bar would never be characterized as cookies. Cookies are comfort food. Cookies are what children are allowed to eat. The word separates what is recognizable and American from all the rest.

William Woys Weaver

In the UK the term cookie often just refers to chocolate chip cookies or a variation (e.g. cookies containing oats or candies).

How about scones?
They are a Britich snack of Scottish origin. The scone is a basic component of the cream/devonshire tea. British scones closely resemble a North American biscuit (many recipes are actually identical) — itself not to be confused with the English biscuit, which equates to the American cookie. American "scones" are often baked to a dry and somewhat crumbly texture, and are typically large and rectangular; more like a cross between a cookie and a muffin than a biscuit. In Canada, both tend to be called "biscuits" or "tea biscuits".

The griddle scone is a variety of scone which is fried rather than baked. In some countries one may also encounter savoury varieties of scone which may contain or be topped with combinations of cheese, onion, bacon etc. In the Scots language, a griddle is referred to as a "girdle". This usage is also common in New Zealand where scones, of all varieties, form an important part of the traditional cuisine.

In some US states in the Mountain West region, especially Utah and Idaho, a "scone" commonly refers to a deep fried flattened bread which serves as the basis for "Navajo" tacos and is commonly consumed by itself with honey butter. It is similar to frybread or sopaipilla.

Scones are quite popular in Argentina (brought by Irish and English immigrants and from Welsh immigrants in Patagonia). They are usually accompanied by tea or coffee.

So... can we finally get a taste of a biscuit/scone yet?!
In respect to my current geographical positioning in the Southern region of America; I will stay true to the ways of my neighbours with a recipe for good ol' southern savoury biscuits and gravy.

2 cups all purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
4 sprigs oregano finely chopped
1 stick cold butter (113g)- diced into small cubes
3/4 cup buttermilk / regular milk + 1/2 tsp of lemon juice
grated cheese of your choice as topping (e.g mozzarella, cheddar, gruyere, parmegiano-reggiano)

Rub butter into all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Do not over mix till butter melts. "chunks of buttery goodness is good a good sign'. Add the milk into the center and bring together to form a soft ball. Press soft ball into a lightly floured surface (1 inch thickness). Cut into circles with a 3-4 inch diameter cutter and bake in 180 degree oven till puffed and lightly golden. Sprinkle cheese over the top and bake for another 1-2 minutes till crisp and golden. Place the scones lined close together but not touching to help them to rise in the oven.


Anonymous said...

Hey again, congrats on your graduation. ^^ Yeah, somehow I wish I had known about Notter's school earlier but then again, I would still be in LCB Sydney anyway (for certain reasons).

It seems like you have so many hours to work in pastry and stuff. ^^ I'm looking forward to LCB Paris and it only has 2 classes a week for 10 weeks (or so) for my intermediate (there's 3 levels) and it somehow doesn't seem to equate to the amount of time you get to spend in your course.

I'll be taking a break now (for various reasons) now that my basic is finishing, and Notter's is definitely an option. ^^ But how do you beat studying in Paris? ;D

Anonymous said...

there is a great British blog called "A Nice Cup of Tea And a Sitdown" which chronicles all the best commercially available biscuits (er, cookies) found around the world. Try it. Written by Nicey and Wifey. (McVities are a favorite)

Looking forward with great anticipation to seeing where your travels take you next. Please do keep up the blog if possible!

Christina said...

That was incredibly interesting, informative, and also SO confusing!! Haha! Thanks for the great post :) I really enjoyed it (as I do all of your writings)!

Su-Yin -D├ęcorateur said...

foxy: Why of course LCB france must truly be living the dream! Without time restrictions; I would have picked paris in a blink!!! haha every one makes choices differently... i have $$, time, and lots of other things that I had to think about before making Notter my choice. We have 4 days of class a week; and it's crazy hours everyday. I love the intensiveness of it all. I'm sure you have tons of time to explore europe while you're there though. *sigh* i'm envious of u! haha food+pastry wise; I'm not sure if america is much of a comparison. I'm currently learning french on my computer. It's awesome! hey we should keep in contact via email. msn; or whatever's convinient for ya. Look me on my gmail address.

anonymous: hmm... I must! it sounds like so much fun!! I will; definitely. I'm keeping this up for sure. I might miss a couple of days more than usual some weeks; but i'm always going to be here. It's hard to explore beyond the pc and be blogging consistantly at the same time. Florida isn't exactly wi-fi friendly hehe.

christina: haha I hope i didn't confuse you too much; I put in as much as I could; didn't expect everyone to really read through it word for word. It's really good to know though. It's interesting to see how different regions have such different meanings to the work biscuit.