Confused about scones and biscuits? Believe us, you’re not alone!
These baked goods are two of the most popular in the world, but they also fall in a gray zone that often causes mix-ups when looking for recipes or ordering at a bakery or cafe.
In today’s scone vs biscuit guide, we’re settling the matter once and for all by explaining the origin of each yummy treat and the differences between them. Let’s get started!
In the most classic sense, scones were originally made by rolling oats into large loaves then cutting them into triangles and cooking them over a fire at high temperatures.
Scotland is widely regarded as the birthplace of scones. While it’s not very clear when exactly scones made their first appearance, it’s estimated that it happened at some point around the 1500s — way before the United States came to be.
Nowadays, when the word scone is mentioned, it either refers to British scones or American scones. Let’s take a look at each one:
After scones became a thing in Scotland, they grew more popular over the years. Soon enough, scones had traveled south to England where people welcomed the treat and started tweaking the recipe.
Instead of oats, flour was used as a base. Also, English bakers ditched the open flame cooking method and switched to ovens to make their scones, which stuck around to this day.
With time, people in England started getting creative and incorporated dried fruits into their scones — mainly currants and raisins.
In most areas of the country, scones were -and are still- served with jelly and clotted cream (a type of thick cream that falls between whipped cream and butter).
Which one you should put first is a weirdly intense debate that hasn’t been settled yet — kind of like the whole peanut butter and jelly situation.
As more years passed, scones across Europe and Commonwealth countries were the version known as British scones nowadays.
Settlers from these regions introduced the Americas to scones, where people made their own changes to make the baked goods more in line with their resources and taste.
Here’s a basic recipe for British scones:
- 8oz self-raising flour
- 2oz butter
- 1oz sugar
- 5fl oz milk
- pinch of salt
- 1 egg, beaten
- Mix the ingredients well.
- On a floured surface, knead lightly and pat to approximately 3/4 inches thick.
- Use a 2-inch cutter to stamp out circles.
- Brush the circles with the egg.
- Bake for about 15 minutes until golden brown and well risen.
When scones hailed from Britain to the United States, the recipe took different detours across the country.
Generally, scones in the northern regions of America didn’t stray too much from the authentic British version.
Bakers up there continued to use eggs or milk as liquid ingredients in their scone recipes, which meant that the baked goods turned out dense and crumbly but not flaky — pretty close to the classic scone.
They didn’t stop there as they also incorporated dried fruits into the equation, as well as new flavors such as cheese and lemon or orange zest.
With time, they started adding more sugar to the recipes to make their scones sweeter and a bit crunchier than the original version.
On the other hand, scones in the southern parts of America were altered into a more fluffy and flaky version that became known later on as the Southern biscuit.
This change was the result of using wheat flour, lard, buttermilk, and more butter to make the sones, which meant more fats and more crispiness.
The reason why northern areas of America stuck to the classic version of scones more than the southern regions was probably that coffee and tea snacks were more popular among Northern Americas.
Southern Americans were more into savory foods and rich dishes that can go with gravy and such.
Here’s a basic recipe for American scones:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, frozen
- 2/3 cup and 1 tablespoon heavy cream
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Line a baking pan with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients.
- In another bowl, combine the wet ingredients.
- Grate the butter and add it to the dry ingredients.
- Toss the butter in the flour mix to evenly coat all the pieces.
- Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients to make the dough.
- Pat to approximately 1 inch thick.
- Cut the dough into triangles or wedges and transfer them to the baking pan.
- Refrigerate the scones while the oven preheats.
- Once the oven is ready, brush the scones with heavy cream and sprinkle with sugar.
- Bake for about 20 minutes until the scones are golden brown.
Unlike scones that share many features in British and American versions, biscuits are a whole other story!
Biscuits are baked goods in both cuisines, but that’s about where the similarities stop.
As such, when we talk about biscuits nowadays, we need to make a distinction between British biscuits and American biscuits. Let’s take a look at each one:
For those in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Canada, Australia, and other European and Commonwealth countries, ordering a biscuit means that you’ll get something quite similar to what’s referred to by Americans as “cookies”.
Also known as English tea biscuits, the traditional shape of these baked goods is round. Depending on your preference, their edges can be smooth or wavy and the top can be plain or textured with a fork.
British biscuits have no layers, unlike British scones or American biscuits. They’re soft, rich, and usually crumbly. In most recipes, they’re made plain without adding dried fruits or other flavoring agents.
This is probably why these biscuits pair well with a wide range of foods. For example, you can serve them as a treat with a cup of tea or coffee or use them instead of graham crackers when making a cheesecake base.
Additionally, you can include them as part of a cheese platter or present them alongside a selection of sweet toppings such as honey, jelly, or jam.
Here’s a basic recipe for British biscuits:
- 250 grams softened butter
- 125 grams of white sugar
- 350 grams flour
- Pinch of salt
- Beat the butter and the sugar until fluffy.
- Mix in the flour and salt.
- Knead until you get a smooth dough.
- On a floured surface, pat the cookies to approximately 2 inches.
- Transfer to a greased baking sheet.
- Bake for about 15 minutes until golden brown.
American biscuits are what’s referred to as Southern biscuits. They’re typically round with a bread-like consistency and a savory but slightly sweet flavor.
However, American biscuits can also be blop-shaped, square, or rectangular. They fall in the same carb category as bagels, bread, and rolls.
Comparing American biscuits with British scones appearance-wise, you’ll find that they look pretty similar. But instead of jam and clotted cream, Southern scones are topped with gravy.
American biscuits can be also served in multiple ways such as:
- Plain and simple.
- Split and stuffed with a cheese, veggies, and meat mixture for a breakfast sandwich.
- As a side dish to fried chicken.
The South’s love of hearty meals had a major effect on biscuits.
They started out as scones brought from the UK, but then butter, lard, buttermilk, and heavy cream were thrown into the mixture, and voila — Southern biscuits were born with extra volume, flakiness, and fluffiness.
Here’s a basic recipe for American biscuits:
- 2 cups flour
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 4 tablespoons cold butter
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup cold buttermilk
- In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients.
- Blend in the cold butter.
- Add the buttermilk and mix until the dough comes together.
- On a floured surface, fold the dough over several times and pat it to approximately 1 inch thick.
- Cut the dough into circles and transfer them to a baking pan.
- Bake for about 15 minutes until golden brown.
Now that you have a better understanding of what scone and biscuit mean in different parts of the world, let’s have a quick, head-to-head comparison between British and American varieties:
For starters, British scones tend to be a lot sweeter than American biscuits as they’re made using more sugar and fat.
Not to mention, British scones are typically served with jam and clotted cream toppings, whereas American biscuits are commonly served as a savory dish alongside gravy, chicken, or soup.
Although they look somewhat similar, British scones are richer and denser than American biscuits. The former contains milk while the latter contains buttermilk or cream to yield a flaky, light consistency.
Finally, British scones are originally from Scotland, where the American South is the birthplace of American biscuits.
British scones share many similarities with American scones. They’re both soft, moist, and on the sweeter side.
An American scone is a bit heavier and more crunchy on the outsider. It also crumbles easier than its more dense British counterpart.
An American biscuit is flaky, airy, and a bit sweet. It comes in various shapes and is quite rich.
Originating from the South, American biscuits are associated with savory and hearty meals.
On the other hand, British biscuits are basically what Americans and many others in the world call cookies. They’re round disks that possess a soft, crumbly texture.
No, scones and biscuits don’t taste the same as they’re made differently. Not to mention, they’re usually paired with different toppings, flavorings, and side dishes.
There you have it, a detailed scone vs biscuit comparison to settle the confusion along with basic recipes to kick off your baking journey.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.