Quickbreads: Biscuits, Biscotti, Scones

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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Quickbreads are appropriately named in two ways: they are quick to prepare, being leavened with rapid-acting chemicals and mixed briefly to minimize gluten development; and they should be quickly eaten, because they stale rapidly. Batter breads are moister, richer, and keep longer.

The term biscuit is an ambiguous one. It comes from the French for “twice-cooked,” and originally referred to breads and pastries that were baked until dry and hard. The Italian hard cookies called biscotti remain true to this heritage; they’re lean doughs leavened with baking powder, baked in flattish loaves, then cut crosswise into thin pieces and rebaked at a low oven temperature to dry them out. French biscuits proper, and English biskets, were long-keeping sweets, small bread-like loaves made from foamed egg whites, flour, and sugar. To this day in England, the word is used for little sweet dry cakes, what Americans call cookies. Modern French biscuits are dryish cakes made from egg foams, usually moistened with a flavored syrup or cream.