Wednesday 16 January 2008

You say biscuits, I say scones!

It’s not that long ago I was musing on the cultural differences in the international (English-speaking) world of blogging. But here I am again finding myself slightly bamboozled, albeit in a pleasant way!

I made some soup this week, which was most delicious. I had a yen to bake some ‘biscuits’ that I had seen on Lisa’s Kitchen. They interested me, as sometimes I want to bake something quick and savoury that can become part of dinner. As I started following the recipe, I began to question my assumption that we were talking about the same thing when Lisa and I referred to biscuits. It didn’t take me too long to find out we weren’t.

It has struck me previously that what Americans refer to as biscuits is more like what we in Australia and the UK call a scone. As usual, I have gone to Wikipedia to check out what is a biscuit. Apparently the word comes from Latin (via Middle French) and means twice baked. So in UK/Australia it makes sense that a biscuit is hard baked product. How this translated into its softer scone-like cousin, I am not sure. But the other difference is that in the USA biscuits means predominately savoury scones and the sweet version is referred to as shortcake (which clears up another misunderstanding of mine – I always thought shortcake was more like shortbread!).

So now I think I’ve got it! I say biscuit when Americans say cookie (ie sweet), I say dry biscuit when Americans say crackers (ie savoury), I say scone when Americans say biscuit, and when my scones become sweet (and usually topped with sweet stuff like fruit and jam) Americans say shortcake. When I say dry biscuit, the Brits say water biscuits or cream crackers (it took me a long time in the UK to realise these biscuits weren’t filled with cream!). But I am still not sure about digestive biscuits in the UK – I think they are just at the plain end of Australian biscuits. All I can tell you is that chocolate digestives taste good and were often my best friend while travelling in the UK (but in Australia we would call them chocolate wheatens). How confusing is that!

Lisa, you are messing with my head but your ‘biscuits’ were delicious, simple and a fine accompaniment to our soup. Plus you provided much fodder for dinner table conversation – picture me picking up one of these and asking E if it was a scone or a biscuit. Definitely a scone, we decided, after careful consideration. Not a traditional scone dough that you roll out and cut into round circles but still a scone in our countries!

As if my head wasn’t spinning enough, I also found the soup wasn’t as I expected. It had cashew nut butter in it and I was thinking nutty soup rather than creamy soup. I should have known about this too because I have been interested in lots of recipes using cashew nuts to make them creamy. Cashew nut butter adds a sweet creaminess to soups that is quite different from adding peanut butter. I increased the vegetables and found it was still quite rich so we only needed small servings. This also tasted really good. Dinner was a pleasant surprise indeed!

Olive Oil Parmesan Scones
From Lisa’s Kitchen
Makes 12-15 scones

1¾ cups self raising white flour*
½ teaspoon of sea salt
5 tablespoons of olive oil
1 cup of milk
¼ - ½ cup of parmesan cheese
* I was out of baking powder so I used self raising flour but you could use 1¾ cups plain white flour and 1 tbsp baking powder which is what Lisa used.

Line a baking tray with baking paper or grease tray lightly. Put flour and salt in a medium bowl. Add the olive oil, milk and cheese. Stir until just combined. Drop the dough onto prepared baking tray using a dessert spoon (or generous tablespoonfuls ). Bake in a preheated 230 C oven for 12 - 17 minutes or until lightly browned. Taste good served with soup or spread with jam, peanut butter or promite!

Curried Cashew Vegetable Soup
(adapted from Nava AtlasVegetarian Soups for All Seasons)
Serves 4 (with scones or salad accompanying it)

1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large celery stalk, finely diced
3 cups water, or as required
½ cup cashew butter
1 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
1 tsp curry powder, or to taste
½ tsp ground cumin
pinch of nutmeg
½ tbsp lemon juice, or to taste
juice of ½ an orange (approx ¼ cup)
3 cups steamed green vegetables (I used broccolini, asparagus, zucchini)
cashews and spring onions for garnish (optional)

Heat oil over low heat in a medium to large saucepan. Fry onion, celery and garlic til soft. If it starts to stick tip some water in (or you can use more oil which is what Nava Atlas did). Nava also pureed this mixture but I didn’t bother and prefer the chunkiness for this soup – of course it is also the path of least resistance!

Whisk the cashew butter and remaining water in a small bowl, by gradually adding the water. Add to onion mixture. Add spices and juices. Simmer for 5-15 minutes. (Nava says 15 minutes but I don’t think it needs so much time and I found mine was getting quite thick.) Add more water if getting too thick. Stir in steamed vegetables and serve with garnishes of spring onions and cashews.

On the stereo:
1998 – the album [Melody Maker freebie]: various artists


  1. I know what you mean about different names for the same products. I too often get confused between the UK and American names for foods. Its interesting how the same word can have differnet meanings in other countries.

  2. Now, this is interesting, as I've read that both scone and biscuits are pretty much what you call scone, except "scone" here is a bit sweeter and "biscuit" here is plain or savory. Shortcake recipes I've encountered are usually made with scones. Oh, well, it's just a name, right? I love them both.

    Thanks for the info on all the definitions. It can get mighty confusing at times, I agree! (But don't get me started on measurement conversions. . . ).

  3. Those are some very num looking scones there! And I think the differences in terms between countries is always going to be bit of a tripping point when it comes to recipes...if only we could get the darn US to be reasonable and sensible and convert to metric, the world would be SUCH a better place :P

  4. This is a great post Johanna! It is funny how even English speaking people talking together can get confused over words! No wonder people say it is the hardest language to learn, we don't even know what we are talking about! LOL!

    Nice looking biscut/scone thingies.

  5. Very sorry for the confusion Johanna, but I'm flattered to have inspired this discussion on the biscuit/ scone controversy :) I'm very glad you enjoyed the biscuits / scones. Thanks for the information!

    A lovely soup too. Nice combination.

  6. thanks Katie - the whole etymology of food names is quite fascinating!

    thanks ricki - so many different terms, it makes me feel a little wary of believing anything I think I read - and measurement conversions are another scary topic I'll have to leave for another day!

    thanks ellie - I am with you on the metric issue for the US - imperical has charm but metric is so much easier

    thanks Jenn - I think your term 'biscuit/scone thingies' might be the most appropriate I've found yet :-)

    Thanks lisa for a great recipe and for food for thought - helped me clarify something that has been lurking in the back of my mind for a while!

  7. Hi Johanna, I find it confusing too and I am not always sure of what is being referred too! On the same note, I sometimes wonder if my posts will be understood by anyone! But one thing I can say is that Lisa's recipes are always yummy!

  8. For me, biscuit always linked with baking powder and had lots o' layers to slather with jam whereas scones were, yes, sweet, with fewer layers. Still lathered with jam.

  9. whoa! that comparison was quite mind boggling to say the least. Even I have always gotton confused by the terminology..but am saving this piece of info for future use cos am sure I will get confused again :)

    I esp loved the sound of curried cashew vegetable soup. Thats a must try!

  10. thanks holler - I too sometimes worry no one knows what I am on about - paranoia was part of my reason for writing this post - but, don't worry, your posts are always lovely and cheery and, like you say, as long as the food tastes good we all get along just fine :-)

    thanks chou - jam is always good on scones - but never have thought of them as having layers! (maybe you mean the strawberry shortcake kind) but yes layers are good for lots of jam!

    thanks DK - I have a feeling I will come back to this post for some clarification in future too!

  11. Those scones sound great! I think I shall have to make a batch over the weekend.

    Food s one of those clear proofs that English and American are different languages. And then you have to make room for additional regional settings. Looking at a recipe in English can be quite a puzzle sometimes...
    But not only in English:
    One time, my mother saw a sweet recipe from Italy which was calling for mascarpone (it could have been tiramisu).
    Unfortunately, that name is often used in France for a cheese with layers blue cheese and mascarpone itself.
    She's an excellent cook but, that time, she wasn't lucky with the results...

  12. thanks Spacedlaw - hope you enjoy the biscuits - and indeed the whole area of translations must get even trickier - but your story made me laugh!

  13. I think of scones primarily as mildly sweet (going with jam and butter or clotted cream). Shortcakes tend to be really sweet. Biscuits are usually savory, unless otherwise noted. (I live in the Southern U.S. We definitely have regional differences in these definitions, too.)

  14. thanks Sally - it is really useful for me to hear what these terms mean to others, and to get an appreciation of all the regional differences!

  15. Made the scones for Sunday brunch, added a pinch of oregano and cooked them in a muffin tin (that's what I had), therefore prompting my SO to comment that I had made scoffins. That's how they shall be known in the household, and I plan to make them many more times!

  16. thanks Tallulah - a great addition to our scone terminology to confuse and amuse! Glad you enjoyed them!

  17. Wow, I looked at this site to check that US biscuits were UK scones after doing a search and found some great recipes!

    Cheers for both.

  18. To me scones and biscuits are the same and shortcake is a dessert (I.e strawberry shortcake) and not the pastry from which the dessert is made. My friend uses biscuits in her strawberry shortcake but I use cake. How's that for another layer of confusion? I am Canadian so I am sure I would be shot for my slanderous use of the word biscuits if u went to the American south. If I that should say, cannot correct on my phone. Boo


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