English isn’t always quite the same English when you travel to different countries. This can lead to a slight bit of confusion at teatime. One puzzle is the word “biscuit.” Ask a Brit for a biscuit, and you’re not likely to get something leavened, fluffy, and ready for butter and jam or a nice sausage gravy.
Simply put, biscuits in the UK are what we in the US call cookies. (I’ve heard there are exceptions, that the more soft and chewy biscuits are called “cookies” in the UK, not to confuse the issue any further.) But as Shakespeare said, a biscuit by any other name would crunch as sweet. (I’m quoting his original version. Willie was feeling a bit peckish that day. Later, after a filling teatime, he changed it.)
Biscuits began humbly as a type of food that could be carried on long journeys (there being no rest stops along the way) over land and on sea voyages. Today, there is a wide variety consumed by landlubbers and stay-at-homes alike. I saw a report that says biscuits are #3 on the list of the top 10 snacks consumed in the UK. Some of the better known brands are: Border, McVitie/Crawford, Fox, Cadbury, and Norfolk Manor. They come in quite a few types, like these:
- Sweet — relatively high sugar content
- Sweet and sour — equal amounts of salt and sugar
- Salty — salt content exceeds sugar content
- Sandwich — flavored cream (vanilla, mango, chocolate, etc.) between biscuit shells (like Bolands Custard Creams)
- Crackers — puffy leavened biscuits that are soft in bite
- Chocolate — either in the biscuit as chips or coating them
- Wafer — thin, crinkled sheets filled by creams (like Tunnocks Caramel Wafer)
- Flavored — contain flavors like ginger (like Foxs Ginger Crunch Creams), raisins/sultanas/currants, coconut (like Crawford’s Nice Biscuits), and lemon (like Norfolk Manor Lemon Biscuits and Bolands Lemon Puffs)
- Glucose — lots of sugar
- Fortified — contain extra vitamins
- Marie — low sugar content and crisp, almost a cracker (we have a version from Turkey called “Maria Cookies”)
- Digestive — heavier due to extra bran in it to make it coarse
- Shortbread — known for their relatively high butter content, come in various shapes (like Border Petticoat Tails), and some even have chocolate chips added (like Border Chocolate Chip)
- Oaty — made from rolled oats in addition to wheat (like McVities Milk Chocolate Hobnobs)
A close relative is the Italian biscotti (which means “biscuit”). Like biscotti, English biscuits, especially ones like Crawford’s Morning Coffee Biscuits, are great for a bit of a dunk in your tea. Even the chocolate coated ones such as McVities Taxi Biscuit, are dunkable. The hot tea softens them and imparts the tea flavor to the biscuit. A nice malty Assam with milk and sweetener is my favorite for this.
The plainer biscuits such as Maries are good with cheeses and fruits as an after-meal tidbit, very British. A nice cuppa Darjeeling or even a green tea seems to go well.
English biscuits are not to be confused with crisps, which are usually more like our chips. (And chips in the UK are like our French fries.) Don’t get me started on what they call “pudding”. The folks at Jell-O never made it like this. But that’s another article.
Want to share an intimate time with a loved one? Include some English biscuits in a Valentine’s Day gift basket. You can munch and sip over candlelight. Enjoy!
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