Biscuit (bread)

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Popeyes biscuits.JPG
Place of originUnited States
Main ingredientsFlour, baking powder or baking soda

A biscuit in the United States and Canada, is a variety of small baked goods with a firm browned crust and a soft, crumbly interior. They are usually made with baking powder or baking soda as a chemical leavening agent rather than yeast. They developed from hardtack which was first made from only flour and water, with later first lard and then baking powder being added.[1] Biscuits, soda breads, and cornbread, among others, are often referred to collectively as "quick breads", to indicate that they do not need time to rise before baking.[2][3]


Earlier history[edit]

American English and British English use the same word to refer to two distinctly different modern foods. Early hard biscuits (North American: cookies) were derived from a simple, storable version of bread.[4] The word "biscuit" itself originates from the medieval Latin word 'biscoctus', meaning "twice-cooked".

The modern Italian baked goods known as biscotti (also meaning "twice-cooked" in Italian) most closely resemble the Medieval Latin item and cooking technique.

In the Hispanic world a bizcocho refers to an array of differing baked goods depending on the country, from Spain and throughout Hispanic America. In the Philippines, a biskotso (also spelled "biscocho"), derived from a word used by the Spanish conquerors, refers to a type of garlic bread.

The definitive explanation for the differences in the usage of "biscuit" in the English speaking world is provided by Elizabeth David in English Bread and Yeast Cookery, in the chapter "Yeast Buns and Small Tea Cakes" and section "Soft Biscuits". She writes,

It is interesting that these soft biscuits are common to Scotland and Guernsey, and that the term biscuit as applied to a soft product was retained in these places, and in America, whereas in England it has completely died out.[5]

Early European settlers in the United States brought with them a simple, easy style of cooking, most often based on ground wheat and warmed with gravy.[4] Most were not wealthy men and women, and so it was a source of cheap nutrition. A very similar practice was also popular once with the Royal Navy as hard, flour based biscuits would keep for long journeys at sea but would also become so difficult to chew that they had to be softened up. These were first introduced in 1588 to the rations of ships and found their way into the New World by the 1700s at the latest.

The biscuit emerged as a distinct food type in the early 19th century, before the American Civil War. Cooks created a cheaply produced addition for their meals that required no yeast, which was expensive and difficult to store. With no leavening agents except the bitter-tasting pearlash available, beaten biscuits were laboriously beaten and folded to incorporate air into the dough which expanded when heated in the oven causing the biscuit to rise. In eating, the advantage of the biscuit over a slice of bread was that it was harder, and hence kept its shape when wiping up gravy in the popular combination biscuits and gravy.

In 1875, Alexander P. Ashbourne patented the first biscuit cutter. It consisted of a board to roll the biscuits out on, which was hinged to a metal plate with various biscuit cutter shapes mounted to it.

Later history[edit]

1948 ad for Ballard Biscuits as described.

Southern chefs may have had an advantage in creating biscuits. Northern American all-purpose flours, mainly grown in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, are made from the hard spring wheats that grow in the North's cold-winter climate. Southern American bleached all-purpose flours, originally grown in the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee before national food distribution networks, are made from the soft winter wheat that grows in the warm Southern summer. This summer growth results in wheat that has less protein, which is more suited to the creation of quick breads, as well as cookies, cakes and muffins.[6][7]

Pre-shaped ready-to-bake biscuits can be purchased in supermarkets, in the form of small refrigerated cylindrical segments of dough encased in a cardboard can. These refrigerator biscuits were patented by Ballard and Ballard in 1931.[4]

Cooking and eating[edit]

American biscuits are almost always a savoury food item. Sugar is rare and not part of the traditional recipe; such would have been difficult to get during the Civil War as evidenced by supply lines in the South getting disrupted by battle and the blowing up of railroads.[8] (Non-sweet and crunchy foodstuffs are always called "crackers.") They are not, and as illustrated above, never have been intended for consumption as a dessert or a sweet treat and are strictly savory in nature. A typical recipe will include baking powder or baking soda, flour, salt, shortening or butter, and milk or buttermilk.[9] The percentages of these ingredients vary as historically the recipe would pass orally from family to family and generation to generation, but unlike scones, no recipe for Southern biscuits includes nuts, raisins, or dried fruit and they are never served with clotted cream.

Biscuits can be prepared for baking in several ways. The dough can be rolled out flat and cut into rounds, which expand when baked into flaky-layered cylinders. If extra liquid is added, the dough's texture changes to resemble stiff pancake batter so that small spoonfuls can be dropped into the baking sheet to produce "drop biscuits", which are more amorphous in texture and shape.

Large drop biscuits, because of their size and rough exterior texture, are sometimes referred to as "cat head biscuits". A common variation on basic biscuits is "cheese biscuits", made by adding grated Cheddar or American cheese to the basic recipe.[10].

At other times, biscuits are consumed for breakfast. They are meant to be served warm with a choice of spread of butter, honey, or some fruit based jam; otherwise they are cut in half and become the Southern version of the breakfast sandwich, in which any combination of Country ham, tomato, scrambled eggs, bacon, or sausage is put in the biscuits halves as a filling. For dinner, they are a popular accompaniment to fried chicken, nearly all types of Southern barbecue, and several Lowcountry dishes.[11] They also often figure in to the Southern version of Thanksgiving dinner as well. [12]

Home cooks may use refrigerator biscuits for a quicker alternative to rolled or drop biscuits. Refrigerator biscuits can even be cooked over a campfire on a stick.[13]

A sweet biscuit layered or topped with fruit (typically strawberries), juice-based syrup, and whipped cream is called shortcake. A type of biscuit called an "angel biscuit" contains yeast as well, as do those made with a sourdough starter.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dupree, Nathalie; Graubart, Cynthia (2011). Southern Biscuits. Gibbs Smith. p. 12. ISBN 9781423621775.
  2. ^ Irma S. Rombauer; Marion Rombauer Becker; Ethan Becker (2006). The Joy of Cooking. New York: Scribner. p. 627. ISBN 978-0-7432-4626-2.
  3. ^ Ojakangas, Beatrice A. (2003). Quick Breads. Sally Sturman (ills). University of Minnesota Press. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-8166-4228-1.
  4. ^ a b c "Biscuits & Cookies". Food Timeline. Retrieved 15 January 2011.
  5. ^ Elizabeth David (1977) English Bread and Yeast Cookery, Penguin Books Ltd., London ISBN 0-7139-1026-7
  6. ^ Dewan, Shaila (2008-06-18). "Biscuit Bakers' Treasured Mill Moves North". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-01-15.
  7. ^ "How to make the best Buttermilk Biscuits". Retrieved 2010-01-15.
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Check out what I found on the Paula Deen Network! Biscuits". Paula Deen Network. Retrieved 2017-02-04.
  10. ^ Better Home's and Garden Cookbook
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Campfire Biscuits,

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