Biscuit: Wikis

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American biscuit (left) and one variety of British biscuits (right). The American biscuit is soft and flaky; these particular British ones have a layer of chocolate filling between two hard wafers.

A biscuit (pronounced /ˈbɪskɨt/) is a baked edible product. The word applies to two distinctly different products in American and British English.

Contents

Etymology

The modern day confusion in the English language around the word biscuit is created by its etymology.

The Middle French word bescuit is derived from the Latin words bis (twice) and coquere (to cook), and hence literally translated means "twice cooked."[1] This is because biscuits were originally cooked in a twofold process: first baked, and then dried out in a slow oven.[2] Hence:

This term was then adapted into British English in the 14th century during the Middle Ages, in the Middle English word bisquite, to represent a hard twice-baked product.[3]

However, the Dutch language from around 1703 had adopted the word koekje, a language diminutive of cake, to have a similar meaning for a similar hard, baked product.[4] This may be related to the Russian or Ukrainian translation, where biscuit has come to mean sponge cake.

The difference between the secondary Dutch word and that of the Latin origin was that while the koekje as a cake rose during baking, the biscuit which had no rising agent generally did not (e. g. gingerbread), except for the expansion of heated air during the baking process.

When peoples from Europe began to emigrate to the United States, the two words and their "same but different" meanings began to clash. It may hence have been an act of history, but after the American War of Independence against the British, that they adopted for American English the word cookie to have the meaning of a hard, twice baked product.

Further confusion to the modern language problem is added to by the adoption of the word biscuit for a small leaven bread popular in Southern American cooking.

Today, according to American English dictionary Merriam-Webster:

  • A cookie is a "small flat or slightly raised cake."[4]
  • A biscuit is "any of various hard or crisp dry baked product" similar to the American English terms cracker or cookie.[3]
  • A biscuit can also mean "a small quick bread made from dough that has been rolled out and cut or dropped from a spoon."[3]

Today, throughout most of the world, the term biscuit still means a hard, crisp, brittle bread, except in the United States, where it now denotes a softer bread product baked only once. In modern Italian usage, the term biscotto is used to refer to any type of hard twice baked biscuit.

History

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Biscuits for travel

Ship's biscuit display in Kronborg, Denmark.

The need for nutritious, easy to store, easy to carry, and long-lasting foods on long journeys, particularly at sea, was initially solved by taking live food along with a butcher/cook. However, this took up additional space on what were either horse-powered treks or small ships, reducing the time of travel before additional food was required. This resulted in early armies adopting the style of hunter-foraging.

The introduction of the baking of processed cereals including the creation of flour, provided a more reliable source of food. Egyptian sailors carried a flat brittle loaf of millet bread called dhourra cake, while the Romans had a biscuit called buccellum.[5] Roman cookbook Apicius describes:

a thick paste of fine wheat flour was boiled and spread out on a plate. When it had dried and hardened it was cut up and then fried until crisp, then served with honey and pepper.

Many early physicians believed that most medicinal problems were associated with digestion. Hence, for both sustenance and avoidance of illness, a daily consumption of a biscuit was considered good for one's health. Physically to this day, when biscuits get older, they get softer. So simply, the bakers of the time to solve this problem, extended this thought to create the hardest biscuit possible. Resultantly, because it is so hard and dry, properly stored and transported, the navy's Hardtack will survive rough handling and endure extremes of temperature. The more refined Captain's biscuit was made with finer flour.

To soften it, it was often dunked in brine, coffee, or some other liquid or cooked into a skillet meal. Baked hard, it would stay intact for years as long as it was kept dry. For long voyages, hardtack was baked four times, rather than the more common two, and prepared six months before sailing.[6]

At the time of the Spanish Armada in 1588, the daily allowance on board a Royal Navy ship was 1lb of biscuit plus 1 gallon of beer. Later, Samuel Pepys in 1667 first regularised naval victualling with varied and nutritious rations. Royal Navy hardtack during Queen Victoria's reign were made by machine at the Royal Clarence Victualling Yard at Gosport, Hampshire, stamped with the Queen's mark and the number of the oven to which they were consigned to be baked. Biscuits remained an important part of the Royal Navy sailor’s diet until the introduction of canned foods, with canned meat first marketed in 1814, and preserved beef in tins was officially introduced to the Royal Navy rations in 1847.[5]

Biscuits for pleasure

Traditional Polish Toruń gingerbread

Early biscuits were hard, dry, and unsweetened. They were cheap - early biscuits were most often cooked after bread, in a cooling bakers oven; they were a cheap form of sustenance for the poor. As trade routes developed from the 1400s to the 1600s, the addition of spices and sugar created a new form of sweetened and spiced biscuit.

By the 7th century AD, cooks of the Persian empire had learnt from their forbearers the secrets of lightening and enriching bread based mixtures with eggs, butter, and cream; and sweetening them with fruit and honey.[7] One of the earliest spiced biscuits was gingerbread, in French pain d'épices,literally "spice bread." Brought to Europe in 992 by the Armenian monk Grégoire de Nicopolis. He left Nicopolis Pompeii, in Lesser Armenia to live in Bondaroy, France, near the town of Pithiviers. He stayed there for seven years, and taught French priests and Christians how to cook gingerbread.[8][9][10] This was originally a dense, treaclely (molasses-based) spice cake or bread. As it was so expensive to make, early ginger biscuits were a cheap form of using up the leftover bread mix.

With the combination of the Muslim invasion of Spain, and then the Crusades developing the spice trade, the cooking techniques and ingredients of Arabia spread into Northern Europe.[7] By mediaeval times, biscuits were made from a sweetened, spiced paste of breadcrumbs and then baked (eg: gingerbread), or from cooked bread enriched with sugar and spices and then baked again.[11] King Richard I of England, (aka Richard the Lionheart) left for the Third Crusade (1189-92) with "biskit of muslin," which was a mixed corn compound of barley, rye, and bean flour.[5]

As the making and quality of bread had been controlled to this point, so were the skills of biscuit making through the Craft Guilds.[7] As the supply of sugar began, and the refinement and supply of flour increased, so did the ability to sample more leisurely food stuffs, including sweet biscuits. Early references from the Vadstena monastery show how the Swedish nuns were baking gingerbread to ease digestion in the year 1444.[12] The first documented trade of gingerbread biscuits dates to the 1500s, where they were sold in monastery pharmacies and town square farmers markets. Gingerbread became widely available in the 1700s. The British biscuit firms of Carrs, Huntley & Palmer, and Crawfords were all established by 1850.[13]

It is hence of no surprise that often together with local farm produce of meat and cheese, many regions of the world have their own distinct style of biscuit, so old is this form of food.

Biscuits today

Most modern biscuits can trace their origins back to either the Hardtack ships biscuit, or the creative art of the baker:

Biscuits today can be savoury or sweet, but most are small at around 2 inches (5.1 cm) in diameter, and flat. The term biscuit also applies to sandwich-type biscuits, where a layer of cream or icing is sandwiched between two biscuits, such as the Custard cream. European biscuits tend to be thinner, softer, and more sugary in consistency, and often more creative in design; while British biscuits tend to be harder and plainer - perhaps in deference to the country's naval history.

Dunking a biscuit

Sweet biscuits are commonly eaten as a snack food and are generally made with wheat flour or oats, and sweetened with sugar or honey. Varieties may contain chocolate, fruit, jam, nuts, or even be used to sandwich other fillings. There is usually a dedicated section for sweet biscuits in most European supermarkets.

In Britain, the digestive biscuit and rich tea have a strong cultural identity as the traditional accompaniment to a cup of tea, and are regularly eaten as such. Many tea drinkers "dunk" their biscuits in tea, allowing them to absorb liquid and soften slightly before consumption.

A dark chocolate Tim Tam

Savoury biscuits or crackers (such as cream crackers, water biscuits, oatcakes, or crisp breads) are usually plainer and commonly eaten with cheese following a meal. There is also a large variety of savoury biscuits that contain additional ingredients for flavour or texture, such as poppy seeds, onion or onion seeds, cheese (such as cheese melts), and olives. Savoury biscuits also usually have a dedicated section in most European supermarkets, often in the same aisle as sweet biscuits. The exception to savoury biscuits is the sweetmeal digestive known as the "Hovis biscuit," which, although slightly sweet, is still classified as a cheese biscuit.

Generally, Australians, South Africans, New Zealanders, Indians, Singaporeans, and the Irish use the British meaning of "biscuit" (colloquially referred to as a bickie) for the sweet biscuit. Two famous Australasian biscuit varieties are the ANZAC biscuit and the Tim Tam. This sense is at the root of the name of the United States' most prominent maker of cookies and crackers, the National Biscuit Company, now called Nabisco.

See also

References


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

BISCUIT (pronounced according to the old spelling "bisket," a Fr. form from Lat. bis, twice, and coctum, cooked, in reference to the original method of preparation; cf. Ital. biscotto, Sp. bizcocho, &c.), a form of unvesiculated bread, which is made in thin cakes of various shapes and baked in such a way as to be crisp and short. In the United States of America biscuits of this kind are usually called crackers, but the word biscuit is used there, as also in the north of England, for vesiculated bread baked in little flat loaves or cakes. Earthenware, porcelain, &c., which has undergone its first baking and is ready to be glazed is also known as biscuit or bisque.

The raw material chiefly used in biscuit manufacture is flour, but many other substances, such as butter, sugar, salt, various flavouring essences, &c., are also employed. The flour used by the biscuit-maker differs somewhat from that preferred by the bread-baker. In the main the bread-baker wants flour of some strength, that is to say, flour capable of absorbing a considerable proportion of water and of making a loaf of more or less volume. For biscuits flour strength is not such a desideratum, and as a matter of fact such moisture as is used to make the dough is largely evaporated by the oven; but, except for the commoner kind of biscuits, colour is most essential, as well as sweetness of flavour. In a large biscuit factory several hundred different kinds of biscuits are made, ranging from plain water biscuits to the daintiest fancy biscuits glistening in sugar and piping. The storage required for such an establishment is extensive, but lifts serve to handle both raw material and finished products with a minimum of labour. The flour used by a firm which has a reputation to maintain is sifted as a precaution against the presence of bits of string or other foreign bodies which will make their way into flour sacked by the most careful of millers, and like the butter, sugar and other raw materials, is carefully inspected and tested before being accepted. After blending it is run through a shoot or sleeve to the mixers, which may be of any type used in bakehouses (see BREAD). From the mixers or kneaders the dough is delivered on a flat table, or it may go direct to a pair of rolls. These consist of iron rollers with a reversing motion, between which the dough is rolled backwards and forwards into sheets of uniform thickness. The next stage is the feeding of portions of this slab of dough to a cutting and panning machine. In details this apparatus differs as supplied by different makers, but the broad principle is the same in every case. The dough, after first passing through a pair of gauging rollers, which still further thin out the sheet and are capable of regulating its thickness with the utmost nicety, is received by an endless conveyor-band of webbing or similar material. By this band it is carried forward by intermittent motion to a set of punches or stamps which descend on it in quick succession, and serve to mould the surface and cut the edges to the required pattern. This operation completed, the moulded dough passes forward on the same endless band. The dough has now been cut into two distinct divisions, the moulded biscuits and the unworked portion which forms a continuous sheet of a sort of scrap. The latter is separated from the moulded dough, and is carried upwards by another band, which delivers it on a tray or box whence it is returned to the rollers to be reworked. The moulded dough intended for the oven is carried along by the first band and is gently deposited on trays of sheet iron or woven wire. These trays are taken from the machine by boys and placed on the travelling-chains at the oven, or the trays may be automatically moved forward by a travelling-band and placed on the oven. The oven used for biscuit-baking is quite unlike any bread oven. It is much longer and is provided with sets of endless chains moving in parallel lines, and travelling over sprocket-wheel terminals and intermediate supports. The chains have special attachments on which the trays of biscuits are rested, and thus pass them through the oven, and discharge them at the opposite end. Some ovens are provided with a sort of endless belt of iron plates on which the biscuits are placed. These travelling bands are used chiefly for ship and also for dog biscuits, but the most usual type is the oven in which trays are moved on the travelling chains already described. The exact rate of travel, or the time during which the biscuits are in the oven, can be easily adjusted by means of countershafts and leather belts running on cone pulleys fitted at the discharging end. The heat of the oven as well as the rate of travel is varied according to the kind of biscuit, some varieties requiring a gentle heat and a comparatively long sojourn in the oven, while others must be exposed to a fierce heat, but only for a few minutes. The ovens, fired by coke, may be 38 to 50 ft. in length. Their temperature is not generally raised above 500 degrees, but the speed of travel of the trays ranges between 32 and 25 minutes. The whole process of biscuit-making is thus rapid and continuous. The dough is kneaded in the mixers in a few minutes, and when discharged on the dough table is rapidly moulded into the required form by the cutter and panner. By means of endless bands the material is kept moving forwards, whether on the cutter or in the oven. For certain fancy biscuits special processes are used. Piping and sugar decoration is still necessarily done by hand, and the glaze on some fancy biscuits is imparted by spraying the moulded biscuit with very fine jets of fresh milk. Cracknels are made from a very stiff dough, and when cut out are thrown into coppers of boiling water. They speedily float to the top, remaining apart and not forming into groups. From these coppers they are taken out in trays pierced so as to drain off the water. Then they go into vats of cold water, from which they are again removed, and after being strained of their moisture are panned and baked in a fierce oven. (G. F. Z.)


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Simple English

A biscuit is a type of food. They are small baked breads or cakes.

Biscuits in British usage

In British English, Australian English, Canadian English and New Zealand English, biscuits are usually sweet and can be eaten with milk or coffee. In North America these are called "cookies".

In spite of the difference, this is the meaning in the name of the United States' most famous maker of cookies and crackers, the National Biscuit Company (now called Nabisco).

Biscuits in American usage

In American English, a "biscuit" is a small form of bread, similar to scones, made with baking powder or baking soda as a leavening agent rather than yeast. (Biscuits, soda breads, and corn bread, among others, are sometimes referred to all together as "quick breads" to show that they do not need time to rise before baking.)

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