Biscuits, in their countless forms, have woven themselves into the culinary tapestry of cultures across the globe. From the flaky buttermilk biscuits of Southern kitchens to the delicate macarons gracing patisserie windows, these baked delights have a story to tell.
Beyond their mouthwatering charm, they have evolved over time, adapting to diverse palates and dietary preferences. This article delves into the rich history, regional variations, and even healthier renditions of biscuits, uncovering the secrets behind these beloved treats.
What Are Biscuits?
Biscuits can refer to different types of baked goods depending on your location. Biscuits, in several parts of the world, especially in the United Kingdom and many Commonwealth countries, are sweet treats baked in various flavours, shapes, and sizes. They can be crispy or chewy and often contain sugar, butter, flour, and various flavourings such as chocolate chips, nuts, or dried fruit. They refer to what Americans call cookies.
In the United States, American biscuits are a soft, fluffy, buttery bread product often served as a side dish with meals. They are similar in texture to scones but typically savoury rather than sweet. They are made from a simple mixture of flour, baking powder, salt, butter, and milk or buttermilk. The dough is mixed, rolled or dropped into portions, and then baked until golden brown on the outside and light and tender on the inside.
So, depending on where you are from, biscuits could mean either the soft and savoury bread product like in the United States or the sweet baked treats like in other parts of the world.
What Is the History of Biscuits?
The history of biscuits is quite interesting and varies depending on the type of them and the region you are looking at. Here is a general overview of the history of both British and American styles:
The History of British Biscuits
The history of British biscuits, or what Americans call cookies, is tied to developing baking and confectionery traditions over centuries. In medieval times, they were considered a practical food item because they could be baked until dry, making them suitable for long journeys and storage. Over time, they evolved to encompass a wider variety of baked goods, including sweet and savoury items.
The creation of increasingly complex and diverse biscuits happened between the 17th and 18th centuries due to commerce and technological advancements. With the expansion of the British Empire, biscuits made their way to various parts of the world. The popularity of tea in the 19th century further boosted the demand for them, as they became a common accompaniment to tea drinking.
The Industrial Revolution brought about mass manufacturing techniques, making biscuits more accessible to a wider range. The development of transportation and preservation methods allowed these treats to be distributed globally. Different regions and cultures put their spin on biscuit recipes, leading to the wide variety of biscuits we see today, each with its unique history and cultural significance.
The History of American Biscuits
The origin of American biscuits can be traced back to early American history. They have roots in British and European baking traditions, particularly baking powder and soft wheat flour. Early colonists adapted their recipes to the ingredients available in the New World.
These baked goods became popular in the Southern United States due to the prevalence of soft wheat and the fact that they could be easily made without yeast, which was sometimes scarce. These Southern treats, often made with buttermilk and lard, became a staple in Southern cooking and were typically served with meals.
Overall, whether in the form of American or British styles, these baked goods have a rich history intertwined with cultural, culinary, and technological developments over time.
What Are the Types of Biscuits?
There are many types of biscuits worldwide, each with unique ingredients, flavours, and cultural significance. Here are some popular types of them from different regions:
Shortbread or Shortie is a traditional Scottish biscuit made with butter, sugar, and flour. It has a crumbly texture and buttery flavour.
Digestive Biscuits are semi-sweet, whole wheat biscuits often used as a base for cheesecakes or enjoyed with tea.
Jammie Dodgers are popular biscuits in the United Kingdom. They have a layer of jam sandwiched between two shortbread-like biscuits.
Custard Creams are sandwich biscuits filled with a sweet custard-flavoured cream.
Bourbon is rectangular chocolate-flavoured biscuits with a chocolate buttercream filling.
Gingerbread Men are sweet and spiced biscuits shaped like human figures, often associated with holidays and decorations.
Buttermilk Biscuits are a classic Southern staple made with buttermilk, baking powder, and flour. They are light, fluffy, and often served with gravy, butter, or jam.
Drop Cookies are made by dropping spoonfuls of cookie dough onto a baking sheet. This results in a more rustic shape than rolled and cut cookies.
Cheddar Biscuits is a popular recipe in the United States. Incorporating shredded cheddar cheese into the dough adds a savoury and cheesy flavour.
Sweet Potato Cookies include mashed sweet potatoes in the dough, creating slightly sweet and vibrant orange-coloured cookies.
Angel Cookies is a combination of yeast and baking powder, giving a lighter texture and flavour.
French Macarons are delicate meringue-based cookies with a creamy filling. They come in various flavours and colours.
Italian Biscotti are twice-baked dry and crunchy biscuits, often enjoyed with coffee or wine.
German Lebkuchen are spiced gingerbread biscuits often associated with Christmas markets.
Spanish Polvorones are crumbly and sweet almond-based cookies enjoyed during Christmas and other celebrations.
Chinese Almond Cookies are crispy almond-flavoured cookies that are popular during festive occasions.
These are just a few examples of the wide variety of worldwide biscuits. They come in countless shapes, sizes, flavours, and textures, each reflecting their respective regions’ culinary traditions and preferences.
How To Make Healthy Biscuits?
Making healthy biscuits involves making thoughtful ingredient choices to reduce the use of refined flour, sugars, and unhealthy fats. Here is a basic recipe that you will enjoy with tea:
½ cup oats
1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
½ cup plain Greek yogurt or unsweetened applesauce
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 to 4 tablespoons milk (dairy or plant-based)
¼ cup cold unsalted butter or coconut oil
Optional: honey, maple syrup, or a natural sweetener, if desired
Preheat the oven to 180-200°C and prepare a baking tray with parchment paper.
Put the whole wheat flour, oats, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl.
Add the cold butter or coconut oil to the dry ingredients. Use a pastry cutter or your fingers to work the butter/oil into the flour. Do so until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Add the Greek yoghurt or applesauce to the mixture and gently stir until combined.
Add some milk, one tablespoon at a time, if the dough seems too dry, until the ingredients are evenly combined.
Knead the dough gently on a floured surface until it forms a cohesive ball.
Roll out the dough to a thickness of about ½ to ¾ inch. Then, cut it out with a biscuit cutter and place them on the prepared baking sheet.
Gather any remaining dough scraps and gently knead them together. Repeat the process until you have used all the dough.
Bake the biscuits for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown on the top and bottom.
Take them out of the oven and let them cool before serving.
Tips for Making Healthier Biscuits
Use whole wheat flour or mix whole wheat and all-purpose flour for added fibre and nutrients.
Add rolled oats for added texture and fibre.
Add coconut oil or olive oil for healthier fats instead of butter.
Use plain Greek yoghurt or unsweetened applesauce to add moisture without excessive fat.
Add natural sweeteners like bee honey or maple syrup. We can also use brown sugar as it is less processed than white sugar if you want a little sweetness, but keep it minimal.
Avoid overmixing the dough to avoid making these delights tough.
Experiment with adding healthy mix-ins like chopped nuts, seeds, or dried fruit.
While these adjustments can make these baked treats healthier than the traditional recipes, they are still treats. So, it is better to be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet.
How To Make Flakemeal Biscuits?
In this video, Kathy from The Daily Apron, a cafe and bakery in Northern Ireland, will take you through this step-by-step guide to making delicious Flakemeal biscuits at home. This recipe revolves around porridge oats or oatmeal. It is quite a basic recipe, but it makes for some seriously tasty biscuits.
1 lb butter
½ pound caster sugar
1 lb porridge oats
4 ounces desiccated coconut
½ lb self-raising flour
For the chocolate-dipped Flakemeal version, we only need milk-cooking chocolate to melt and dip!
Cut the butter into small chunks, add sugar, then mix them with a mixing bowl.
Add oats, desiccated coconut, and self-raising flour, and then mix them gently and slowly till we get a nice dough.
Roll out the dough and make it thick enough to taste after baking. Then, use a biscuit cutter or a glass to shape them. Place them on the baking tray and then into the preheated oven.
Bake them for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown on the top and bottom.
Microwave chocolate chips for 20 seconds to melt them.
Take out the biscuits from the oven and let them cool before serving.
Divide them into two batches; Garnish the first batch with sugar and dip the other patch into the melted chocolate to serve them. Enjoy!
As we close the oven door on our exploration of biscuits, it becomes clear that these baked creations hold more than just flavour within their layers. They carry tales of tradition, innovation, and the creative spirit of bakers worldwide. Whether indulging in a buttery Southern biscuit or savouring a guilt-free oat-packed version, the joy is universal.