Cookies vs Biscuits

Do you ever find yourself contemplating the big questions of the universe? After all, there’s plenty in this world to think about. For instance … Why do pets always need to be let out the back door as soon as we sit down? … Why does chocolate never break evenly into equal parts? … and just what did Bill Murray whisper into Scarlett Johansson’s ear at the end of ‘Lost in Translation’? Such deep and meaningful reflections bring me to yet another of life’s (possibly contentious) mysteries … Are cookies the same thing as biscuits?

Perhaps it’s that strong historical connection between Britain and Australia which saw me grow up with people eating ‘biscuits’ rather than ‘cookies’. I may even be able to point a finger at the literary influences of my childhood, like Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl, who no doubt indirectly educated me on the distinctly British terminology of ‘biscuits’. Whatever the cause, those sweet and crispy treats of my youth such as Iced Vovos, Monte Carlos, and Scotch Fingers, were all most definitely biscuits.

Growing a few years older, and following several years of American cultural education via eighties TV shows like Family Ties, Who’s The Boss? and The Cosby Show, I then came to know more about similar sweet and crispy treats known as ‘cookies’. While I happily welcomed cookies into my life, one thing has always been clear – in my mind a biscuit is quite different to a cookie. However I have come to realise that some people seem to use these terms interchangeably.

Based on my own personal sweet classification system, the top image is of biscuits while the bottom image showcases the delicious choc-chip cookies I made last week. While I definitely know the difference between the two crispy treats, I must admit I struggle to eloquently define just what those unique criteria are … perhaps it is something just innately understood from childhood?

What do you think? Is there a difference between biscuits and cookies for you too? (it’s probably best if we stay well clear of that whole cracker vs crispbread debate … at least for now).

42 Comments

  1. MC

    From my North American perspective, a cookie is small baked flat or sandwich confection and a biscuit is either a) a small savory/salty item (a cracker) or b) a larger quick bread item which you slice open and spread with butter.

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Matt – Oh that’s really interesting … in Australia I think it would be a rare person who would potentially refer to a biscuit as something savoury … they’d just be crackers. Your second potential definition of a biscuit, ‘something that is sliced open and spread with butter’, kind of sounds something like a scone or an English Muffin from my perspective … cultural food terminology differences are fascinating.

  2. Katie of Sweet Rustic

    Such a timely post for me as my lovely contributor Beth has a ‘cookie’ recipe on my blog today. I think for me I call anything that is baked at home a cookie or if its purchased & it’s free form. Moulded like your first picture, tim-tams, anything choc-coated & crackers I call biscuits! I think its an important debate 😉

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Katie – I’ll have to pop over to your blog soon to check out that cookie recipe … yum!
      I love how you make the distinction between cookie and biscuit based on the aesthetic structure of the baked goodie … that’s pretty fantastic, and a difference I hadn’t thought of myself.
      xx

  3. Mel

    I’m with you, most treats like this are biscuits, but over more recent years I’ve allowed the term ‘cookies’ into my vocabulary – for certain TYPES of biscuit. But it’s difficult to define exactly what those types are, even though I know it very clearly myself!

    I really don’t understand American ‘biscuits’, though. I can just about cope with the savoury crackers, but the idea of biscuits being a bread item?! No, America, no!! Biscuits are meant to be hard and sweet!!

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Mel – I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who struggles with the distinction between biscuits and cookies, it’s seems to be a ‘gut feeling’ more than anything.

      The same as you, it seems so strange to refer to biscuits as a bread item … I don’t think that’s something I’d ever get used to! 🙂

  4. Erika Lee Sears

    well a cookie is like a sweet treat and more chewy? a biscuit is more like a muffin type texture thats usually more savory. They are putting a busciot cafe by house and I already know I am in trouble!

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Erika – Mmm … that’s an interesting point of difference between a cookie and a biscuit … I’m a big fan of the chewiness of cookies! 🙂

      It’s so fascinating that biscuits are more muffin-like in America and that they tend to be savoury … in Australia our biscuits would all be sweet and most generally crispy. Savoury biscuits would be crackers.

      Haha … a biscuit cafe near your house??!?!? Oh my! I completely understand the ‘trouble’ you’re in … I’d happily be your partner in crime there! 😉

  5. Melynda

    hooray for the aussie in you that knows the difference!! i feel like cookies are more chewy and can be had without a drink. biscuits definitely need to be accompanied by a coffee/tea/milo!! but like you, i can’t really put my finger on it…i think it’s the australian in us that “just knows” when a biscuits and biscuit and a cookie is a cookie.

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Melynda – Haha … perhaps it is a clear difference in Australia? It seems the differences between, and the interpretations of cookies and biscuits vary around the world.

      That chewy characteristic of cookies seems to be a popular distinction … and I know what you mean about biscuits needing to be accompanied by ‘something’ – like coffee or tea.

      😀

  6. Tammy

    Seeing as I’m American and I ate both a biscuit at dinner and some cookies (Girl Scout Samoas) today…there is a definite difference on this side of the pond…and that’s not even calling into account the whole “biscuits with gravy” thing going on

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Tammy – I think I’m going to have to take a trip to America to learn more about this whole savoury biscuit phenomena … it’s something we just don’t indulge in here in Australia.

      Biscuits with gravy sounds equally interesting … the closest I think we’d come is just having bread with gravy.
      🙂

  7. Gabrielle Bryden

    Haha – these are the great questions of life. I just thought we called those ‘things’ biscuits and Americans called them cookies. I never use the word cookie (unless I am talking about the Cookie Monster from Sesame street) and when I hear the word cookie I immediately think of chocolate chip cookies (and that is the fault of Sesame street – which I didn’t even watch as a child – haha)

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Gabrielle – It’s all about the BIG questions in life, isn’t it? 😉
      Your take on the biscuit vs cookie issue is interesting too … and you raise a really intriguing point about the influence of Cookie Monster (I’ve always loved him).

      Like yourself, whenever I think of ‘cookie’, I think of chocolate chip cookies … though perhaps the Cookie Monster is to blame for that as well … you didn’t watch Sesame Street as a child? (it’s nice to know the Cookie Monster influences us regardless!). 🙂

      Sesame Street was one of my favourite shows as a child! 😀

      1. Gabrielle Bryden

        I watched it a few times I suppose, but I remember not liking it and thinking that it was really weird how they kep counting over and over and repeating the alphabet (like we were really stupid or something – haha – and the guy with the cream cakes – why did he have to drop them everywhere).

        1. tracey (Post author)

          Hi Gabrielle – Haha, well that makes sense … there is a degree of monotony about those counting exercises. I must admit that it was probably one of my favourite shows because of all the cute and strange ‘animals’ … I just never have been able to resist a furry cutie like that! 🙂

          1. Gabrielle Bryden

            I do like the fuzzy animals – I did love the Muppets on Sunday night that’s for sure.

          2. tracey (Post author)

            Hi Gabrielle – Haha! Muppets on a Sunday night … oh yes please!! 😀

  8. Rol

    I think I’d agree with your classification system. Cookies are bigger than biscuits… but don’t start me on buns and muffins.
    Whatever, they both look quite yum. Especially the cookies you baked. And now I’m hungry,,,

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Rol – Awesome! It’s a tricky classification for sure. I’d agree that for me, cookies are bigger and flatter than biscuits … so that’s another characteristic to add to the list. I’m worried about opening up another great food debate like the differences between muffins, buns and rolls … who knows what we’ll find if we open that box? 😉

      I’m happy to say the cookies I baked turned out to be rather delicious, though I’m sorry they made you feel hungry … if I could safely send you a care package of cookies I would! 😀

  9. Sandrine

    LOL!!!! You made me hungry anyway 🙂
    Looks like a bit of debate:) Here Cookie is our dog and biscuit is a french word for the yummy little flat things above! So maybe the french introduced the “biscuit” terminology to the British and confused the whole lot!! LOL 🙂
    How about cup cakes and muffins??

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Sandrine – I’m always so happy to hear that you enjoy the humour in my posts! 😀
      Apologies for making you hungry for something sweet! 😉 (I know that once I have a craving it just won’t give up on me until I indulge! 🙂

      I love that your dog is called ‘Cookie’ (that’s adorable) … and your definition of biscuit closely aligns with my own. Perhaps the French did introduce ‘biscuits’ to the world of the British … it probably requires a lot more research, or at the very least, just some more biscuit sampling! 😉

      Cup cakes and muffins are really tricky again. For me, muffins tend to need that overflowing ‘muffin top’, whereas cup cakes should be more straight up and down. But then again, cup cakes are really just oversized ‘patty cakes’ to me, so the whole thing is all a bit confused! 😉

  10. jdaddyo

    A cookie is a cookie, but here in the Southern US, a biscuit is a quickbread that is ideally served for breakfast with large amounts of sausage gravy (with tons of pepper), eggs and grits (cheese grits optional) and maybe some bacon.
    YUM!!

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi jdaddyo – This biscuit as a bread scenario has me completely intrigued … I’ve never come across that before doing this post … I wonder how many references from American TV shows I’d misinterpreted?

      That concept of a ‘biscuit’ seems closest to my idea of an English muffin … but perhaps they’re actually worlds apart …

      1. jjdaddyo

        The only cookie you ever hear referred to as a “biscuit” in the US is a dog biscuit. 🙂

        Biscuits are in the same branch of the bread tree as English muffins (which seem to be related to crumpets), but they are more bread-like. They use baking powder, not yeast, and some versions use shortening. They are also used to make yummy breakfast sandwiches.

        1. tracey (Post author)

          Hi jjdaddyo – Haha, well I’ll be sure not to order a ‘biscuit’ at a US restaurant then! 😉
          Thanks so much for clarifying the whole American biscuit issue … as I thought, they share a similarity with English muffins … how interesting! 🙂

  11. Katie Yang

    I grew up under the British English influence so yes, I am completely the same in regards to Picture 1 and 2. They ARE different! Although I’m tempted to believe that most cookies *are* biscuits but no biscuit is a cookie. You know what I mean, right? Right?!

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Katie – Yes, it does seem to be that British connection that has us feeling a similar way towards cookies and biscuits … I’m so glad to hear that many of my lovely readers agree with me on that front.

      As for your thought that, ‘most cookies are biscuits, but no biscuits are cookies’ … YES! I most definitely agree with you there and completely understand where you’re coming from!! 😀

  12. Hayley Cafarella

    I agree with the dry/chewy distinction. For me, it also has to do with whether they are freshly baked or mass produced. The former are cookies, the latter biscuits. I think they perhaps also lean more toward being cookies dependent on how much fun they are…it’s not as awesome to be a biscuit monster!

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Hayley – Hmm, that’s another interesting point about the freshly baked vs mass produced nature of these sweet treats. That’s another side of the argument that I hadn’t thought about before.

      Haha, how true that it’s not as much fun being a biscuit monster – I think we’d all choose to be a cookie monster!! 😀

  13. Fourth Daughter

    Haha re the pets wanting to go out as soon as we make ourselves comfortable (or as soon as I’ve gone to bed, in Suki’s case).
    I can’t remember where I read it but I think the definition of a cookie is something that is dropped onto the baking tray straight from the spoon ie freeform as someone mentioned above. A biscuit is something that is rolled out and cut, so the mixture needs to be firmer and harder, which explains why cookies are chewy and biscuits are crunchy. But then why is there the expression “cookie-cutter” to describe people who all look the same… so I think my definition must strictly have been for non-Americans. I think “biscuit” is something like a scone for those in the US?? Cos I can’t imagine dipping the good old Monte Carlos into gravy!!! (aggh now I have the “Arnotts assorted cream” song in my head)

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Fourth Daughter – Haha, I’m glad I’m not alone in having pets that like to boss us around when we’re trying to relax (or trying to get to sleep) … they must enjoy messing us about! 😉

      I really like the wisdom you’ve brought along to the cookie / biscuit debate. I hadn’t thought about differences in baking methods before … I would tend to agree that a biscuit is something rolling out and cut, rather than the freeform nature of cookies.

      But again, you’ve raised another good point about ‘cookie cutters’ being people who look the same … it’s all a bit confusing isn’t it? I suppose never does cultural terminology differences show more than when we’re talking about food! 🙂

      I just don’t get that bread-y ‘biscuit’ idea that seems to be a common reference point in America … like you, I would think the closest we have here is a scone. Haha, I definitely couldn’t imagine dipping a sweet biscuit into gravy either … yuck! So it’s clear the American vs Australian biscuit ideas are vastly different.

      Oh no, that Arnotts assorted cream song is hard to shake … it’s been travelling around in my head ever since I read your comment … haha! 😉

  14. Pearl

    Ah! I wish I knew! Me, I’m still digging “crisps” and “car parks”. 🙂

    Pearl

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Pearl – Haha … it’s all a bit of a confusing world at times isn’t it? (especially when it comes to sweet treats!).
      😉

  15. Valerie

    Being from Texas, I suppose I’m firmly in the cookie camp, but I”ve always found it charming that Brits and Aussies called them biscuits. Thanks for visiting my blog, it gave me a chance to discover yours.Your blog is really lovely. I just love your banner image, but I’m forever drawn to vintage typewriters 🙂

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Valerie – Cookies do seem distinctly American to me, but I am happy to say that I am completely multicultural when it comes to sweet treats in my house … so cookies AND biscuits all round I say! 🙂

      Thanks so much for your return visit here … I’ve been an admirer of your blog for a very long time, I just can’t believe it’s taken me this long to leave you a comment! 🙂

      I’m so glad you enjoyed your visit (and my banner) … as you can see I’m rather a fan of the woodland world and the dreaminess of vintage homewares too! 🙂

  16. Camila F.

    I’ve always wondered what did Bill Murray whisper into Scarlett Johansson’s ear at the end of ‘Lost in Translation’!

    In portuguese we use the word “biscoito”, quite similar to biscuit. 🙂

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Camila – I’m still wondering about those whispered words between Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson too. I think I change my mind on what I think was said time and time again … I guess that’s all part of the mysterious charm! 🙂

      Oh, ‘biscoito’ is rather charming … so yes, it sounds like you’re in the biscuit ‘camp’ (a lovely place to be).
      xx

  17. Narnie

    I had to find one of my favourite artists quotes for you… not sure whether I’m allowed to embed links here but this is it… http://www.campusgifts.co.uk/acatalog/info_EM_104.html
    🙂

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Kiersty – Thanks so much for that lovely quote you left me … how wonderful to offer such a glorious prayer up to the wonder that we know as ‘biscuit’ … I feel much the same way about most sweet treats (as you well know from that whole 12 days of Chocmas adventure). 😉

      I hope all is well in your world, dear friend.
      xx

  18. Lauren

    oh those cookies look divine! i really want to bake some cookies now! 🙂

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Lauren – I’m glad you liked my cookies, they tasted rather wonderful too! 🙂
      I hope you found some time to bake yourself a delicious batch! 🙂

Comments are closed.