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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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biscuit is a word which covers a vast range of flour-based items, generally small in size, thin, and short or crisp in texture. A more precise definition is difficult, as Garrett (c.1898) discovered; he concluded that a crisp or brittle texture was the only shared characteristic and that ‘Pastrycooks and confectioners, both British and foreign, appear to have mutually agreed to retain this feature as the only one necessary to distinguish a tribe of kinds which differ from each other in almost every other particular’. However, he had reckoned without N. America, where ‘biscuit’ means a soft, thick scone-type product, and the words cookie and cracker are used for items similar to English biscuits. (In modern Britain the application of the word ‘biscuit’ to breads which are soft and fresh has survived on Guernsey, and in the north-east of Scotland, where ‘soft biscuits’ are flat buns made from bread dough kneaded with butter and sugar. This is possibly the origin of the N. American habit of referring to scones as biscuits.)