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There are quite a few videos online where British (or Commonwealth) people try American Biscuits and Gravy. They always say that American's just call scones "biscuits", and they usually confirm that understanding after they try the recipe.

However, we have scones in the United States, and the product is quite distinct from biscuits, especially if we are talking about buttermilk biscuits. If I get a scone here, it tends to be dense, drier, and a bit crumbly, and I would describe biscuits in pretty much the exact opposite manner: airy, moist, and flaky.

Is this difference just that they are failing to make proper biscuits in these videos, or is it that the American scones differ from the rest of the Anglosphere (or have I just had bad luck with scones)?

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    See also the ‘baked goods’ section of cooking.stackexchange.com/q/784/67
    – Joe
    Oct 31, 2023 at 0:14
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    @Kaddath although I agree, most biscuits (British English, or indeed French), which the Americans would call cookies, are only cooked once. The only double-cooked thing along those lines that I've made is biscotti - the etymology is of course the same.
    – Chris H
    Oct 31, 2023 at 11:08
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    There also many UK-only facets to the scone debate, most of which will be completely alien to the typical American: how to pronounce it (does it rhyme with "cone" or "gone"?), do you put the jam or the cream on first (Cornwall vs Devon), etc. Oct 31, 2023 at 12:42
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    @ChrisH : the best explanation of UK cookies vs biscuits that I’ve seen is on this site somewhere… effectively it was ‘if it’s hard and goes soft when stale, it’s a biscuit; if it’s soft and goes hard when stale, it’s a cookie’. (Biscuit is from Romance languages (twice cooked; like biscotti). Cookie is from Germanic (dutch koekje; little cake)
    – Joe
    Oct 31, 2023 at 21:53
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    @TRiG there are styles of chocolate chip cookies that are hard and crispy, as well as ones that are soft and chewy. If my earlier classification system is accurate, that would mean that some in the UK would be considered biscuits, while some would be considered cookies
    – Joe
    Nov 1, 2023 at 11:22

3 Answers 3

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A large part of the issue is how variable British scone recipes can be.

I looked at a good few recipes over the weekend, mainly for cheese scones, as that was what I was making, but also for plain scones (unsweetened, but little or no salt and no other savoury ingredients).

The recipes I looked at ranged from no egg at all, to 2 eggs for 200 g (7 Oz) of flour. That's enough to have a big effect on texture, with eggs adding fat, binding, and so reducing crumbling. They don't add moisture, as most recipes call for milk to be added, after the egg, until the dough comes together. The water from the egg therefore replaces that from milk.

There's also variability in the amount of baking powder, which will affect the rise. And if the butter softens while rubbing it into the flour, the texture becomes less crumbly and fluffy, so my daughter makes better scones than I do with my hot hands.

Overall, certainly the American biscuits I've had have been within the range of what's normal for scones here in the UK, but I've never tried American scones.

Scones also have quite a different texture freshly baked to fully cooled, and rewarming them only partially restores this.

There's another factor to consider as well - serving biscuits with gravy has a big effect on the mouthfeel, masking small differences in the texture of the baked item.

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  • This makes sense. In the US, the biggest variation in scones is in regards to flavor, not texture. It probably also doesn't help that we mostly encounter scones in cafés when they've likely been sitting in a display case for a while and are far from fresh.
    – Nelson O
    Nov 1, 2023 at 14:00
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I think you’ve hit upon the main issue: British scones are not the same American scones. (And British biscuits aren’t American biscuits, either)

There are two items vaguely similar to a British scones: There’s what Americans call scones, which is a sweetened dough often with fruit added, and American biscuits, which are not sweetened

But there are many types of American biscuits… there’s flaky biscuits, drop biscuits, and a style that’s sort of in between.

A British person trying to find the American item closest to a British scone is likely going to say it’s the in-between (southern?) biscuit, or maybe a shortcake (if it’s even available.

I don’t know if Brits have a specific bread product that’s closer to the different types of American biscuits than a British scone. (We probably need a Brit to weigh in, as I’m not sure what baps, teacakes, and some of their other items are)

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    Without ruling out some potential regional specialty that fits, I'd say there is no widespread item in British baking that's especially similar to a British scone. But British scones can be sweet or savoury, and the 'default' version isn't especially sweet until jam is added.
    – dbmag9
    Oct 31, 2023 at 6:13
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    Possibly the closest thing to an American scone in the UK is a en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rock_cake Oct 31, 2023 at 12:37
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    @SeanEberhard - The Scottish "Tunnock's Tea Cakes" are as you describe, but a teacake is a bun/roll made of enriched bread dough with a small amount of dried fruit in it. Oct 31, 2023 at 17:19
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    @KateBunting Except if you’re from Lancaster, Yorkshire or Cumbria (quoth Wikipedia), in which case a teacake is just a bun/bap/roll with no fruit at all. Or apparently if you’re in West Yorkshire, where it may also be a very large plain bread roll used to make large sandwiches. I’m almost surprised ‘teacake’ doesn’t seem to refer to grissini or doughnuts anywhere with the amount of variation it has! Oct 31, 2023 at 17:51
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    @FuzzyChef fruit scones are quite common in the UK, and all scones have a fair bit of butter, rubbed in like in making shortcrust but with self raising flour (and additional baking powder in some cases). But they're not as generous with the fat as some things, and seem less generous than they are
    – Chris H
    Nov 1, 2023 at 6:58
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Additional confusion comes if you consider "biscuits in gravy" tends toward what a commonwealth person might know as "dumplings".

From my experience in NZ, dumplings are basically scones cooked submerged in a stew, but added part-way through cooking. This results in a scone texture but very wet with savoury juices

A side thread might be the Yorkshire pudding, which is sometimes likened to the American Popover. Again both are served with meats, and often covered with a savory sauce or gravy or similar.

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    From my experience in the UK, dumplings are always made with suet. Nov 1, 2023 at 14:24

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