You can thank the British (sort of).
If you live in a country with the Queen as your monarch, “biscuits” are cookies and “scones” are similar to American biscuits. However, just as with almost everything Americans inherited from the Brits, we had to make them our own.
Next to each other, a biscuit recipe and scone recipe may look deceptively similar. Both are classified as “quick breads,” which simply means they are breads that rise during baking because of chemical leaveners like baking powder and baking soda. Biscuits and scones are also built on the foundation of flour, fat (usually butter), and liquid. The two have the same British ancestor, but the versions being made by early Southern colonists were characterized by the butter, lard, buttermilk, and soft wheat plentiful in the South. Over time, this fluffy and layered bread evolved into a regional commodity: the Southern biscuit.
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However, elsewhere in the country (particularly in New England), certain communities made “biscuits” in a fashion similar to the English ancestor. More dense than its Southern cousin, these “biscuits” typically use eggs or cream as the liquid component. This creates a tighter texture and creamier flavor than the buttery Southern buttermilk biscuits. Over time, these dense pastries took on the name “scone,” and they are now made with more sugar than the scones of old. The white sugar in the dough gives the tender interior a crisp and crusty outside, creating a contrast of textures that goes perfectly with a cup of coffee.
Just as there are a million biscuit recipes across the South, so too there is no shortage of scone recipes being used by cafes and bakeries around the country. While savory scones filled with various cheeses and herbs make for a delicious savory breakfast, sweet scones flavored with fruits and nuts are the most popular in the States. But whether you bake a batch of raspberry scones or take out a tray of steamy buttermilk biscuits, you are partaking in a long lineage of ever evolving American quick breads.