The word biscuit means a lot of things to a lot of different people. In the United States, the word typically refers to a soft, leavened bread that’s popular in the South, a bit like a bread roll but a bit denser and fattier. In the United Kingdom, the word refers to a sweet, hard baked product (in the US they would be called cookies).
So maybe it’s necessary to go further back. The word biscuit comes from the French word “bescuit,” which means “twice cooked.” They got this name because that’s how they were originally made: first baked quickly at a high temperature, then for a long period at a lower temperature. The second baking session allowed for all of the moisture to be dried out of the biscuit without burning it, ensuring that it would last for a long time before spoiling (assuming it was stored properly). So it seems that Americans are definitely incorrect with their name, and the British are only partially incorrect—no matter. Language is always changing, after all, and more importantly—they are both delicious.
For the purposes of this article, we will use both interchangeably. We’re going to give you recipes for some of our favorite sweet and savory biscuits.
Afghan biscuits, the New Zealand favorite
The first is a biscuit in the British sense: a sweet, cookie-like chocolate baked item. These are the famous Afghan biscuits from New Zealand, a national favorite if there ever was one. Kiwis of every stripe enjoy this chocolatey baked delight as frequently as possible. It’s a unique cookie: made out of a combination of chocolate, crunchy corn flakes, and decorated with a single walnut. The finished cookie is a crunchy, decadent, and salty-sweet delight. In New Zealand, they’re often purchased at gas stations or grocery stores, but we can show you how to make Afghan biscuits at home.
Honey walnut biscuits
This is another sugary biscuit, this time sweetened with honey and accented with crunchy almonds. In many ways, this cookie resembles a traditional American oatmeal cookie, only sweetened with honey as well as sugar. The honey adds its distinctive festive twang, while the almonds provide a healthy crunch that really keeps you coming back for more. Our homemade honey walnut biscuits are sure to make your next guests happy!
These cute little biscuits studded with dried fruit are perfect for teatime or breakfast. Lightly sweet but delightfully fluffy, they are perfect for dunking into a nice cup of Earl Grey tea. The addition of egg yolk makes them wonderfully rich and creamy without adding too much weight. For your next teatime, definitely try out this easy apricot cookie recipe. If you want to mix it up a bit, you can substitute the dried apricots for raisins, dried cranberries, or any other dried fruit you can think of. Some nuts wouldn’t be out of place either!
Biscuits and gravy
This is going to be a bit of a departure. Remember that we said that Americans meant something else when they talk about biscuits? Well, we’ve finally arrived there: this is what they mean. Americans, when they say the word “biscuit,” are talking about the soft bread typically served with barbecue and other Southern favorites. Typically made with buttermilk, these treats are pillowy on the inside and crispy on the outside and 100% American.
Traditionally, they’re served with white gravy and sausage as a breakfast. And what a breakfast—this meal will leave you wanting to go back to sleep afterward. The soft biscuits are drowned in the gravy, but thanks to how dense they are, they don’t get soggy—instead, something magical happens. But to find out, you’ll have to make them: check out our homemade biscuits and gravy recipe here. One key tip to biscuit bliss? Make sure you have something to drink—we recommend black coffee or sweet tea—because these things are dry and dense, and if enjoyed without proper refreshment, can create a real sticky situation.
Lavender shortbread biscuits
Shortbread might be the closest to a synonym that exists for the word biscuit. These deliciously floral cookies make a great bedtime snack with a nice mug of tea, the perfect little bit before you drift off to sleep (lavender is a naturally relaxing herb, by the way). The use of rice flour gives these delightful little cookies just the right amount of crunch while keeping things light and easy to digest. Try out our homemade lavender shortbread recipe.
Biscuitness is in the eye of the beholder
It turns out that just about any breadlike thing can be a biscuit. And honestly, we like it like that. What’s the use of being prescriptive about how other people speak? It’s much better to get along, enjoy how different everyone is, and celebrate how many great biscuit recipes exist all around the world. A toast to biscuits!