Biscuits with honey
|Main ingredient(s)||Flour, baking powder or baking soda|
A biscuit in the United States and parts of Canada, and widely used in popular American English, is a small baked good with a firm browned crust and a soft interior. They are made with baking powder or baking soda as a chemical leavening agent rather than yeast. They are similar to British scones or the bannock from the Shetland Isles.
Although the 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 or as a storable version of bread.
The definitive explanation for these differences in usage 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.
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.
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.
Perhaps these southern chefs 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 a 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.
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.
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.
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.
A sweet biscuit layered or topped with fruit (typically strawberries), juice-based syrup, and cream is called shortcake. A type of biscuit called an "angel biscuit" contains yeast as well, as do those made with a sourdough starter. In Canada, both sweet and savory are referred to as "biscuits," "baking powder biscuits," or "tea biscuits," although "scone" is also starting to be used.
- Irma S. Rombauer; Marion Rombauer Becker; Ethan Becker (2006). The Joy of Cooking. New York: Scribner. p. 627. ISBN 978-0-7432-4626-2.
- Ojakangas, Beatrice A. (2003). Quick Breads. Sally Sturman (ills). University of Minnesota Press. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-8166-4228-1.
- "Biscuits & Cookies". Food Timeline. Retrieved 15 January 2011.
- Elizabeth David (1977) English Bread and Yeast Cookery, Penguin Books Ltd., London ISBN 0-7139-1026-7
- Dewan, Shaila (2008-06-18). "Biscuit Bakers' Treasured Mill Moves North". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-01-15.
- "How to make the best Buttermilk Biscuits". pinchmysalt.com. Retrieved 2010-01-15.
- Better Home's and Garden Cookbook
- Campfire Biscuits, OutdoorCook.com