A Look at the Different Types of Biscuits
Delicious Blueberry Scones Make a Perfect Breakfast Treat
A biscuit is just a biscuit . . . or is it? Biscuits are a quick bread known and loved the world over and while they are usually made with flour, lard, leavening, and liquid, biscuits come in many varieties, different shapes and sizes, and can be baked, steamed or fried.
The name "biscuit" is derived from Latin, meaning "baked twice" or "twice cooked." Historically, biscuits were first baked and then dried in a slow oven, in a two-fold cooking process. Hence the name.
Initially, people made small round cakes or quick breads out of wheat flour or whatever ground flour they had available. These small cakes were either fried or baked. As time went on and as leavening agents became available, these were incorporated into biscuit dough, which made them softer and higher. Through the centuries, the biscuit-making process evolved, became established, and recipes were formalized.
Both unleavened and leavened biscuits are prepared in modern times. Preferences are largely determined by countries where biscuits are prepared and sold but recent years have seen greater offerings and people are discovering even more types of biscuits.
Simple but so Good
Few ingredients and easy to make.
A Basic Food and so Versatile
Breads have always been a staple food and biscuits are a quick bread that can be made without yeast. Because of this, they can be easily thrown together and can be quite tasty, which is no doubt why they became and remain a favorite food in so many countries.
While biscuits can be made without yeast and without a long list of ingredients, they are still very tasty, are good either warm or cold, can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, supper, or a midnight snack, and can be topped with either cheese and meat or eaten with butter jam or syrup. No matter which way they are served, their versatility makes them a staple food in their own right.
What Did Early Biscuits Look Like?
As we delve into the different types of biscuits, let's start off with what is considered the world's oldest biscuit. As can be seen, it looks quite different from what many people would consider a biscuit in modern times.
World's Oldest Ship Biscuit
Hard biscuits were the foundation of all that came after.
Different Types of Biscuits
- Hardtack--Hardtack (or hardtack) was a hard, dry biscuit known as soldier's/sailor's bread or stone bread.
Hardtack, if sealed in airtight containers, could last for months, so it became a practical food for travelers. Hard biscuits were also called sea biscuits and might be cooked up to four times to ensure they dried out completely and would not spoil over long periods. They could be taken on long sea voyages and were also known as sailor's bread or ship biscuits.
These biscuits influenced modern variations that are still eaten today.
- Fish and Brewis--Another version of hard bread has survived up to the present. In meals such as Fish and Brewis, a traditional Newfoundland offering, the Brewis or hard bread is broken into bite-sized pieces and soaked overnight to soften it.
Hard bread was and is a common food item in countries such as Alaska, Russia and Japan which have had a history of seafaring.
- Biscotti--Similar to hardtack, Biscotti is a hard type of biscuit that originated in Prado, Italy. Also known as nooks or Cantucchini, this dry biscuit often contains almonds and can be dunked prior to eating.
While crispy and dry like its hard tack counterpart, it also serves as a desert item when sweet or may include chocolate or even be dipped in chocolate. Biscotti is a favorite served with tea or coffee and in recent years, it has become available in the Americas and is now offered in cafes and in supermarkets.
Yes, there is such an animal and it is delicious.
- Crostoli--An Italian favorite, these biscuits are ribbon-like in appearance and are fried and dusted with icing sugar.
- Fried Biscuits--Another variation of the fried biscuit is a round biscuit, dropped by spoonful in a pan and fried in butter--a quick alternative if only a few fried biscuits are desired.
While getting a bit of a bad rap as "homely," drop biscuits are called for when making certain dishes.
Drop Biscuit--The "Uglies" of the Biscuit World
- Drop Biscuits--For the lazy biscuit maker or cooks in a hurry, these biscuits are made with a moist dough and they are dropped from a spoon onto a baking sheet, saving on preparation time. Drop biscuits have a rougher appearance but are still soft on the inside.
- Dumplings--Dumplings are a close relative to drop biscuits. Dumplings are dropped into a pot and steamed, rather than baked in an oven. This gives them a delectable flavor. Dumplings are often served with soups and stews and they add a wonderfully wholesome flavor and somehow "round out" the meal.
Dumplings an All-time Favorite
So many delightful varieties can be made with a soft biscuit dough. Truly, the sky's the limit.
Baking Powder Biscuits--Also known as rolled biscuits, this common type of biscuit is kneaded, rolled out and cut into rounds. An old-time favorite, rolled biscuits are fluffy in the center and golden brown on the outside. They have a much nicer texture than drop biscuits, even though the ingredients are almost identical. See my recipe for Best Ever Biscuits
- Beaten Biscuits--Made popular in the South, beaten biscuits differ from their rolled counterparts because the dough is actually beaten to incorporate air. As can be seen from the picture, this method results in different-looking biscuits, especially when the tops are pricked with a fork.
- Scones--scones are sweet biscuits cut into wedges. Typically made with cream and butter, scones have a delightfully rich flavor. Scones can be dressed up with raisins, currents or cranberries and dusted with sugar on top. Because of the type of fat used, scones tend to be much lighter and flakier.
- Southern Biscuits--Usually these biscuits include butter, baking soda and buttermilk, so they are a richer variation.
Made With Yeast but Still a Biscuit
Angel Biscuits--angel biscuits are a different biscuit variation because yeast is used as a leavening agent in addition to baking power and/or baking soda. These are a cross between a biscuit and a bun, and the result is a fluffier biscuit. Angel biscuits are cut in rounds and left to rise, prior to baking. While not technically a quick bread, they are included in this listing of biscuit varieties, because they are still considered a biscuit
How to Make Angel Biscuits
Cookies Called Biscuits
This article wouldn't be complete without mentioning that in some countries, what we know as cookies, are called biscuits. This is not really surprising since the ingredients are so similar. Cookies, as we know them, differ from biscuits, though, usually being far sweeter and considered more a treat or dessert item, rather than a staple quick bread; and whereas biscuits might be served as part of a meal, cookies wouldn't be.
It can be gratifying to experiment when making biscuits and the results can be outstanding.
Standard baking powder biscuit dough has a flavor that is a close match to pie crust, which means it couples well with both sweet and savory. As such, it makes a good base for many spin-offs from the original.
Biscuit Spirals--Turkey and biscuits are considered a classic coupling. In Savory Turkey Filled Biscuit Spirals, turkey is spread over biscuit crust and then rolled in a spiral.
Cheese and Bacon Biscuits--An old-time favorite. Grated cheddar cheese and cooked crumbled bacon is added to biscuit dough for incredibly tasty biscuits.
Herbed Biscuits--Herbed biscuits add a nice touch to serve with dinner dishes.
Meat Pies Topped With Biscuit Crust--Some cooks like to fill a pie plate with meat and vegetables and then top this mixture with a biscuit crust for a delicious meat pie. Biscuit crust is faster to make than pie crust, so it is ideal for a dish like this.
Casserole Topper--If you make oven casseroles with meat, vegetables, and gravy, topping these with a drop biscuit dough can add a nice touch.
Cinnamon Biscuits--A nice type of cinnamon biscuit involves adding butter, cinnamon and brown sugar to biscuit dough, then rolling and slicing. These are sometimes also iced and are are often seen in markets. When making cinnamon biscuit rolls, replace lard with butter and substitute cream for milk for a much lighter and richer roll. These should be made with a slightly moister dough. These can be iced with cream cheese icing or drizzled with glaze. When made with butter and cream, these are surprisingly good.
Peach Breakfast Biscuit Slice--An easy and delicious variation for your standard biscuit dough is to layer peaches in the bottom of a greased pan and then top with a biscuit crust.
Multi-Fruit Breakfast Slice--Combine a mixture of berries, top with a moist biscuit crust and bake in oven.
A Biscuit for Every Taste
While different types of biscuits have emerged, the basic ingredients remain the same. The texture is largely determined by the moisture content and the cooking process but, whatever is preferred, there is most certainly a biscuit for every taste.
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© 2013 Athlyn Green