Biscuit Varieties

biscuit varieties both home baked and factory made, are so numerous that no one has ever catalogued them all, worldwide. The entry for biscuit provides signposts to entries for many kinds. The present entry provides a further selection.

Abernethy biscuit, a plain, semi-sweet Scottish biscuit, sometimes flavoured with caraway seed. Named after Dr John Abernethy (1764–1831), a Scot who became chief surgeon to St Bartholomew’s Hospital. He used to take lunch at a baker’s shop, where he ate ordinary ‘captain’s biscuits’. After he suggested the addition of sugar and caraway, the baker gave the new biscuit his patron’s name; see Marian McNeill (1929).

Afghan, a New Zealand biscuit made from a creamed mixture with the addition of cornflakes, and flavoured with cocoa. These biscuits have no obvious connection with Afghanistan, but serve to illustrate the fact that wherever British colonists plant their feet, as in New Zealand, biscuits spring up around them and may be given whimsical names.

Anzac, a New Zealand biscuit made with butter, golden syrup, rolled oats, and coconut, named after the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzac) which fought at Gallipoli in 1915.

Bath Oliver, a flat biscuit with a hard, crisp texture, made from flour, butter, yeast, and milk. The biscuits are ‘docked’—pricked all over before cooking—which prevents them from rising and blistering too much. The original biscuits were created by Dr W. Oliver of Bath around 1750. The town was a fashionable health resort and this biscuit was introduced as a diet item. It is now popular with cheese. True Bath Olivers have an imprint of Dr Oliver in the middle of the biscuit.

Bourbon, a British commercially made sweet biscuit which has no known connection with the French royal family. It is a crisp sandwich biscuit of rectangular finger shape, composed of two chocolate-flavoured biscuits with a stiff chocolate paste filling.

Captain’s biscuit, an old-fashioned British biscuit, commercially made and once popular as a plain biscuit for eating with cheese, but now rare. ‘Thin captains’ and ‘thick captains’ were made from flour and water, with a small quantity of butter and eggs, and the mixture kneaded together very thoroughly. After baking the captains were set in a dry, warm place to dry out.

Charcoal biscuit, eaten in the 19th and early 20th centuries as an antidote to flatulence and other stomach troubles. It was based on ordinary flour mixed with powdered willow charcoal, made into plain dough with a little butter, sugar, and eggs.

Cigarette russe, a thin sweet biscuit popular in France. It is made from a soft, creamed dough, which spreads out very thin in the oven. While still soft after baking, the biscuits are rolled into cylinders. See also tuile; brandysnaps.

Digestive, the British name for a popular commercial biscuit. It is of the pastry dough type, made from coarse brown flour. It is thick, fairly crisp, but also crumbly and, being only moderately sweet, goes well with hard English cheese. The biscuit has no particularly digestive properties and is banned from sale under that name in the USA. Alternative names are ‘wheatmeal’ and ‘sweetmeal’. Recipes for home-made digestives generally include oatmeal to give the required texture.

Doigt de Zénobie (Zénobie’s finger), the common French name for a sweet, crumbly, finger-shaped Middle Eastern biscuit made from semolina and butter, raised with yeast, sprinkled with cinnamon, and saturated with warmed honey.

Garibaldi, a popular British biscuit named after the famous Italian patriot, but almost certainly unknown to him. It is a sweet, rather chewy biscuit containing currants, and is known colloquially as ‘squashed-fly biscuit’, from the appearance of the currants.

Langue de chat (cat’s tongue), a thin, flat, French biscuit, named for its elongated oval shape. It is made from a beaten mixture of sugar, cream, flour, and egg white.

Maria, the most popular of Spanish biscuits, accounting for nearly half the biscuits eaten in Spain. It was invented in England by the firm of Peek Frean in 1875, to mark the wedding of the Grand Duchess Maria of Austria to the Duke of Edinburgh. The crisp, thin round, stamped ‘Maria’, was an immediate success, but, although Marias were first produced in large quantities in Spain around the turn of the century, it was not until after the Civil War that they became an integral part of Spanish culture. They are dunked in milk, coffee, or tea. There are now numerous versions, all with a delicate design and ‘Maria’ stamped on top.

Miroir, a French product composed of an outer ring of almond paste with a mixture of sugar, butter, and eggs in the middle. When baked the biscuit has a flat centre and a raised lumpy outer edge, reminiscent of a mirror in a frame.

Oreillette (little ear), a French carnival biscuit, sweet and deep fried. Several other types of fried biscuit are called ‘ears’, from the way they curve and fold during cooking, for example the Middle Eastern hojuelos de Haman (Haman’s ears) and Afghan goash-e-feel (elephant’s ears).

Petit beurré, a famous French biscuit which has been made at Nantes since the 1880s. It was invented by Louis Lefèvre-Utile, so is known by the initials LU and may be called p’tit lu. Tradition requires that one eats the four projecting corners first; these are darker than the main body of the biscuit.

Polvorone, a Spanish and Mexican biscuit made from a simple pastry dough based on lard and mixed without liquid. They are flavoured with nuts or spiced with cinnamon, and rolled in icing sugar after baking. The biscuits are small, thick, dry, and apt to crumble; they come individually wrapped in fringed tissue paper.

Sablé (sandy), a French sweet biscuit made from a rich pastry mixture bound with egg, variously flavoured. The name refers to the texture; there is a place called Sablé, where production of sablés de Sablé has taken place since the 1920s, but the sablés of Normandy, which date back to the 19th century, came first.

Snickerdoodle, a biscuit made from a creamed mixture enlivened with nutmeg, nuts, and raisins. It is a speciality of the Pennsylvanian Dutch, a community with many sweet biscuit and cookie recipes.

Tostada, the second most popular biscuit in Spain, a close rival to the Maria (see above) and not unlike it, but rectangular in shape.

Vanillekipferl (vanilla crescent), popular in Germany and C. Europe, especially as a Christmas speciality. It is made from a rich pastry-type dough containing almonds and flavoured with vanilla or lemon peel.