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Most restaurants in the US bring either biscuits or rolls to the table with your meal.

What is the difference between the two?

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I think you might need to clarify about regions? It's definitely not true that most restaurants across the entire US do this. Maybe you're talking about the south, where biscuits are pretty common? – Jefromi Aug 16 '12 at 1:33
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I'm not sure I understand your question, could you please clarify which meanings of roll and bisquit you are using? The two I an thinking of are completely different things, it is like asking what is the difference between apples and parmesan. – rumtscho Aug 16 '12 at 1:33
    
Additionally, if you're basing this on having eaten in enough restaurants to say most of them served biscuits or rolls, could you not tell the difference? Are you asking about how they're made? What are you asking that en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biscuit and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bread_roll don't answer? – Jefromi Aug 16 '12 at 1:34
    
I think there's a certain European perspective that might provide clarity here - does the questioner actually want to refer to "bread sticks" versus "crackers"? – klypos Aug 16 '12 at 2:07
    
Biscuit = English scone? – TFD Aug 16 '12 at 8:15
up vote 7 down vote accepted

In the U.S. biscuits are made with chemical leavening, they use baking powder to cause them to rise.

Rolls (or dinner rolls) are yeast bread.

There are obviously other differences in the recipe(s) but baking powder vs. yeast is the essential difference.

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the baking powder vs yeast must be the ticket - thanks – warren Aug 16 '12 at 14:38
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Depending on what kinds of biscuits the OP has been having, they may also have a lot more fat, which can have as much an effect on flavor and texture as the leavening. – Jefromi Aug 16 '12 at 17:22
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@Jefromi, true, The fat-flour ratio is also significantly different for biscuits. Good point. – Cos Callis Aug 16 '12 at 17:43
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Biscuits, in my experience, tend to be more crumbly (i.e. cannot be successfully sliced), while bread it more... bready? – Adele C Aug 17 '12 at 2:20
    
This answer is a little misleading. Yes, rolls and biscuits are risen differently but this is not what makes the difference. The difference between them is how the fat is incorporated and how much gluten is formed. The leavening is a byproduct of this difference, not a cause. – Sobachatina Dec 21 '15 at 23:37

The principle difference between dinner rolls and biscuits is how they are assembled not how they are risen.

Dinner rolls are normal glutinous bread

With this method, wheat flour is mixed with water to form gluten. The dough is kneaded to align the gluten into sheets which can be inflated. Developing the gluten is essential to this type of dough.

When baked, this dough produces a springy sponge that is chewy and easy to slice.

Dinner rolls

Biscuits are assembled using the aptly named "biscuit method"

With this method, solid fat is cut into flour. The fat is not fully incorporated but is instead left in small pieces. Liquid is added and mixed in only briefly. Only a very small amount of gluten is formed and the fat is not homogeneously distributed in the dough.

When the dough bakes, the pockets of fat and lack of gluten produce a flaky, fragile product which is the characteristic biscuit texture.

Biscuit

Notes

  • Dinner rolls often have more fat and sugar than regular bread dough. This makes them more tender and richly flavored than regular bread.
  • Gluten also caused rolls and biscuits to be formed differently:
    • Rolls are made from balls of dough that are rolled to give them a tight skin
    • Biscuits are either cut into shape or spooned onto a pan
  • Rolls are risen with yeast, and biscuits with baking soda/powder. This does not cause the differences in texture but is a result of it.
    • Yeast acts slowly and, if used in biscuits, the rise time would allow gluten development which would make them less tender.
    • Conversely, baking soda doesn't have as much lift and wouldn't inflate a springy glutinous dough as much.
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