I’m starting a series of posts that will hopefully explain some of the obscurities and mysteries of food as we know it all around the world. Since the maxim “a picture tells a thousand words” is a very true one, I have enlisted the aid of some of my friends from the International Recipe website (Recipezaar) of which I am a member and together we will photograph products from our various parts of the world to illustrate our ingredients and to hopefully cast some light on those niggling questions on why that recipe you tried from across the world did not maybe turn out as well as you hoped … All of the photographs taken by my friends for these articles are used in this blog with their kind permission.
I try new recipes constantly, not just my own, but also recipes from all over the world, and that’s sometimes true that simply opening a cookbook may possibly lead you unwittingly into a recipe minefield. Ingredients are simple enough.. aren’t they? Well, not always …
Say that someone tells you that ” I’m making homemade biscuits today!” .. so .. what exactly springs to mind? That would depend largely on where you live and what the concept of the word ” biscuit” means to you. I’m half Dutch and half New Zealander… and Kiwi’s like the Australians and British, know exactly what a biscuit is… it’s what you in America or Canada call a “cookie”, something you dunk into tea, or crumble to make a sweet pie base. Easy Peasy!
Huh? all the North Americans are shaking their heads… ” Dear Kiwi, you are wrong” , If we are making “home-made biscuits” we are probably intending to serve it with sausage and gravy and …. probably for breakfast !
So I will leave it to you to imagine my eight year old daughter’s face and delight (with her anglo-saxen understanding of the word “biscuit” ) when my American friend and host announced at bedtime that the next morning she would be making us a real American treat for breakfast ie) “biscuits” for breakfast. … and you may well imagine too, said child’s complete and utter disappointment next day when she found out that ” cookies” were not on the menu after all.
“Biscuits” by the American/Canadian definition are a scone-like item, generally larger than a scone, but of similar texture and taste. They are accompanied by a gravy.. a white gravy (as opposed to the dark brown gravy’s that are standard fare elsewhere in the world) and often have cooked pork sausage added to this white gravy. The whole ensemble is served as breakfast.
“Cookies” by the American/Canadian definition are the same as the Biscuits demonstrated in AskCy’s photo at the top of this post, but their specific cookies of choice when “cookie crumbs” are required are often ” Graham Crackers” (which has always totally confused me since a) I had never seen one until recently, and b) they are not a “cracker” as in savoury or salty!).. or another firm favourite: “Nilla” wafers.
Please note that I now know from experience that Graham Crackers will NOT give the same required taste if used in a recipe that originated in Australia, New Zealand or the UK… Maria cookies are available in the International Isle of many North American supermarkets and they would definitely be a far better substitution as far as texture and taste. However, if your local supermarket doesn’t carry the Maria’s then certainly Graham Crackers or Nilla waffers would be the next best substitution.
“Biscuits” by the Australian/New Zealand/UK definition are thin sweet “cookies”, they might be covered in chocolate, plain, be layered with a cream filling, have fruit or chocolate chips etc added, and are nibble food… for instance with Afternoon Tea, a chat with a neighbour, office coffee break or similar occasion.
“Plain” Biscuits by the Australian/New Zealand/UK definition are usually less sweet, and are used when a semi-sweet crumb base is needed, for instance in a cheesecake base, or as part of the dry ingredients in a recipe like Rum Balls, or crumbed in various desserts. They are also good “dunked” into tea or coffee and then it is an art form to eat the softened portion before to breaks off and falls back into the cup.
Down Under there are perennial favourites especially for this type of baking: Brand names include ” Round Wine, Vanilla Wine, Super Wine, Milk Arrowroot” .
In South Africa they are called “Tennis biscuits” or “Marie” and in the Netherlands and in Italy ” Maria”.
Recipezaar Member Zurie tells us that “Tennis biscuits” are a favourite staple in the South African pantry.. that they contain dessicated coconut and are a crisp semi-sweet biscuit ideal for use in crumb crusts , fridge cakes and a wide variety of desserts.
Hopefully this has gone a little way to explain the differences in the meaning of the word ” biscuits” depending on where you live around the world… so after all that … phew maybe time for a cuppa.. and a “biscuit?”