What's the Difference Between Scones and Biscuits?

These two beloved pastries are far from being the same.

scones and biscuits
Photo: rudisill / Brian Hagiwara / Getty Images

Biscuits and scones might look a lot alike — tall, flaky, golden brown. They're both made from a blend of flour, a leavening agent, fat, and a liquid. And they're frequently eaten at the same time of day, as a breakfast or brunch treat best served with some arrangement of jam, butter, or cream.

Now, don't get confused with the term "biscuits" if you're from overseas. In the United States, biscuits are a fluffy, often round, pastry that's served as a breakfast staple or dinner side. British "biscuits," on the other hand, are what we Yanks call cookies.

It's easy to see how some people can confuse a biscuit with a scone and vice versa. Each made with leaveners like baking soda and baking powder, scones and biscuits are both considered "quick breads" because they require no rising before baking.

When you work your way deeper down the ingredient list, the two have incredibly similar ingredients, but the key variance is in ratios and mix-ins. The way we came to enjoy both scones and biscuits in this nation is from a difference in ingredient availability.

British colonists brought over a pastry recipe to America, which quickly took on a life of its own in varying regions. In the South, settlers relied on soft wheat flour, butter, lard, and buttermilk to create their dough. The extra fattiness produced distinct flaky layers, thus creating what is now known as the Southern biscuit.

In the Northeast, bakers continued to stay more true to their English ancestors' recipe, often using cream or eggs as the liquid component. This resulted in a denser baked good with a more crumbly than flaky texture. It is often flavored with dried fruit, citrus zest, or savory ingredients like cheese. Over the years, a higher ratio of sugar in the dough became common, creating a more crunchy exterior pastry that is now the beloved scone.

So there you have it: Southern biscuits have more butter and acidity (from the buttermilk), making them extra fluffy and flaky. While scones rely on richer, denser, ingredients like heavy cream and eggs to get a sturdy, yet crumbly, pastry.

No matter which one you choose for breakfast, you can't go wrong. Just be sure to serve your pastry of choice with plenty of butter and jam for dressing up.

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