why are these called biscuits? they look like scones. the recipe's like a cream scone recipe i've used. so what's the difference?
Biscuits and scones are kissing cousins. I'm guessing since these are barely sweetened, they've been called biscuits. We Americans like our scones sweet!
"biscuits" to Europeans tends to encompass a broader group that may include crackers, some types of cookies, scones, and what we think of as an actual biscuit, which hla correctly calls kissing cousins to scones.
In American biscuits, the fat is cut into the flour until the mixture looks roughly like cornmeal, then milk, cream, sour cream, buttermilk or other liquid is added. With cream biscuits, the cream allows the baker to stir in the fat instead of cutting it in.
The word "biscuit" is derived from Latin and means "twice-" (bis) "baked" (-cuit). Biscotti! America is the only place in the world where "biscuit" means a quick bread, a soft leavened bread product that is baked just one time. Sweet or savory, American biscuits are served with full meals; scones are eaten on their own, usually in the afternoon with tea or another hot non-alcoholic beverage.
Also, the way the dough is shaped before baking allows the recipe writer to decide what to call the finished product: Those Butternut Sage Scones pictured above could rightfully be biscuits if the dough was cut into circles, and, by the way, these are equally good when accompanied by a bowl of beef stew or a cup of tea.