Biscuits. In America, the word conjures up memories of fluffy, homemade savory things with a light, crumbly texture, dripping with butter and honey, or maybe slathered with sausage and gravy.
In Britain, it’s a different story altogether. The word “biscuit,” to an Englishman, refers to a small, crispy, lightly sweet treat, somewhat akin to a cookie. (Though the American influence on the culture means that “cookies” are now their own thing in England, too. But that’s a story for another post.)
Most biscuits are not only terribly tasty, but also incredibly cheap so they’re an easy and inexpensive treat suitable for any day of the year. They’re best eaten with your afternoon tea, in which they should be (quickly!) dunked. Don’t have any tea? Well, that’s all right, too—you can just eat them as-is.
But don’t—I repeat, do not eat them with milk. That’s just gross.
1. Custard Creams
One of my personal favorites, these are a sandwich-style biscuit, with two crispy cookies held together by an unbelievably tasty custard-flavor cream in the middle. Think vanilla Oreos, only better.
Another sandwich-style biscuit, but bourbons (or bourbon creams, as they’re sometimes known) are chocolate biscuits with a chocolate buttercream filling. They have nothing to do with bourbon, the rye-based whiskey, other than the name: both are named after the royal House of Bourbon.
3. Ginger Nuts
Ginger nuts are essentially ginger snaps, but they’re slightly less sweet, less molasses-y, and more ginger-y. If you like ginger snaps, you’ll most likely appreciate ginger nuts. But if you’re not a fan of ginger, you’d best stay away from them.
4. Nice Biscuits
A new favorite of mine, Nice biscuits are nice and crispy, with just a touch of coconut in them. The name most likely derives from Nice, France; nevertheless, it is always pronounced ‘nIs’ (like the adjective, as in “have a nice day”), never ‘nEEs’.
Strikingly similar in both form and history to the graham cracker, digestives were originally created in the mid-19th century by two Scottish chaps who believed that the use of sodium bicarbonate in the recipe would aid digestion. Some still believe in the digestive-aid properties of digestive biscuits, but current scientific opinion is the biscuits have negligible effective on digestion.
These are usually round, sometimes flavored with orange or glazed with chocolate, and often crumbled to make a piecruts (much like graham crackers—told you they were similar).
6. Jammie Dodgers
Another sandwich-style biscuit, Jammie Dodgers consist of two shortbread discs with raspberry or strawberry jam inside. One of the biscuit discs has a little heart cut out of it, so the red jam can be seen through it. They are beloved by children and the Eleventh Doctor alike (also here).
7. McVitie’s Jaffa Cakes
Officially classified, for tax reasons, as a cake, Jaffa Cakes are nevertheless considered by many an English native as biscuits. They consist of a sponge-cake based, topped with orange jelly and then covered with chocolate. And they are … heaven. Seriously, I have to limit my purchases of Jaffa Cakes because I will easily snarf down a whole sleeve in one sitting.
8. McVitie’s HobNobs
Hobnobs may just be my all-time favorite biscuit. They are round, crisp, oaty biscuits, which may have chocolate smeared on one side (in which case, they’re known as chocolate HobNobs). If you’ve ever tried dunking one in a hot drink, you’ll appreciate this classic bit of Peter Kay standup. Assuming you can understand him.
9. Fox’s Party Rings
Circles of shortbread cookie with a hole in the center and hard icing on top, Party Rings are particularly beloved by children. I’m told these are a standard component of children’s birthday parties in England (though I’ve never witnessed one up close). To me, they’re just plain good eats. I like them dunked in peppermint tea, personally, though most grown Englishmen wouldn’t deign to dunk one for fear of being thought ridiculous.
… And Where to Find Them
Where do you find these, you ask? Well, pretty much anywhere, if you’re in England. Every grocery store (aka supermarket) stocks plenty of biscuits, as do convenience stores and off-license liquor stores. Many pubs even sell small packets of biscuits. If you go for a tea someplace, you may be given a biscuit or two for free—but not if you go for afternoon tea or high tea which, again, are whole different things.
Wherever you look for your biscuits, you’re sure to find them near the tea and coffee.