You can thank the British (sort of).
Advertisement
Buttermilk Biscuits Cooling on a Rack
Credit: LauriPatterson/Getty Images

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.

Biscuits and Scones Are Quick Breads

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.

Biscuits

Biscuits and scones 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.

The Southern Biscuit's Roots

In the pre-Civil War South, the biscuit was a delicacy reserved for Sunday lunch or dinner, says Southern Living's Robby Melvin, senior test kitchen director. Early versions of the biscuit used quick cooking methods and available ingredients, such as the cat-head biscuit, sweet potato biscuits, and the beaten biscuit.

Soft winter wheat, self-rising flour was a game-changer when White Lily started making it in 1883 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Not only was it more accessible, but soft winter wheat, self-rising flour has less protein than other types of flour, which contributes to the light texture of the biscuits we enjoy today.

Scones

The scone's origins are linked to the British Isles. "The first scones were baked in cast iron pans hung in the kitchen fires of rural England and Wales," cites the Encyclopedia Britannica. When pinpointing the scone's exact birthplace, Scotland is often credited: "…the first known mention of a scone that was printed, is from the translation of The Aeneid (1513) written by a Scottish poet, Gavin Douglas. In Scotland, scones are closely related to the griddle-baked flatbread, known as Bannock," according to the Daughters of the British Empire, a nonprofit organization based in the United States.

The Scone's American Evolution

While biscuits in the South were fluffier and layered using available local ingredients, 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.

So, What's the Main Difference?

The biscuit and scone share British heritage, quick bread status, and the basic foundation of flour, fat, and liquid. But as they evolved to what they are today, scone recipes use eggs and biscuit recipes do not.

We Love Our Scones and Biscuits

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.

Quick Bread Recipes and Baking Tips

Quick Bread Recipes

When you don't have time to babysit rising yeast and knead dough to bake your own bread, quick breads are a great way to make fresh, oven-baked bread that will fill your home with incredible smells. Quick breads use chemical leavening ingredients instead of yeast, so the long process of waiting for dough to prove is eliminated. Along with biscuits and scones, muffins, cornbread, and fruit- or vegetable-based breads (like banana or pumpkin) are all examples of quick breads.

Biscuit Making Tips

There's nothing better than warm, fluffy biscuits right out of the oven, whether made from scratch or even from a can. Southern Living's test kitchen has honed 11 tips for making buttermilk biscuits revered in the South that are soft, flaky, and have that signature tang, including grating frozen butter instead of cutting it in chunks, using White Lily self-rising flour, always using buttermilk, and remembering not to overwork the dough or twist the cutter. When we're short on time, even making a quick bread is too much to pull off, that's where canned biscuits come to the rescue. We tested four favorite grocery store-bought biscuit brands, and these sweet and savory recipes using canned biscuits are great in a pinch.

Biscuit Recipes

Versatile biscuits can be enjoyed any time of day. Southern Living's foundational recipe is our classic buttermilk biscuit. For breakfast, sausage and gravy biscuits will stick to your bones. Or skip the step of cutting your biscuits in this bacon and cheddar skillet or this breakfast biscuit sheet pan with sausage, egg, and cheese. Biscuits make great sandwiches, whether ham, chicken salad, fried chicken, or spicy pork tenderloin. For dinner, a savory biscuit completes any bread basket, but beef stew and cheddar biscuits, chicken pot pie, and chicken cobbler are comforting as is this Southern twist on a French classic—coq au vin. For something sweet other than a slather of jam, try blackberry drop biscuits or apple butter cobbler. Need a dish for your next party? Biscuit casseroles are always crowd-pleasers.

Scone Tips

When making scones, Southern Living's test kitchen recommends using full-fat milk, not overworking the dough, and using cold wet ingredients.

Scone Recipes

Like biscuits, scones can be savory or sweet, but either way, pairing them with coffee or tea is essential along with butter and jam. Buttermilk breakfast scones with currants are a good, basic starter recipe. Other fruity versions are peach or cranberry scones. Spinach feta, bacon cheddar, or pumpkin scones are on the savory side.