What is the culinary difference between a cake and a biscuit?

The European Court of Justice have agreed that a teacake is a biscuit. The Treasury could now be forced to pay £3.5 million after a VAT error was made over Marks & Spencer teacakes.


So in cooking terms, what is the difference?

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49 Responses to “What is the culinary difference between a cake and a biscuit?”

  1. Ms Know Nada says:

    In cooking terms, after thinking about it, every time I make a cake it is a thin batter before cooking. Every time I make biscuits, scones, crackers or cookies it is a very THICK mixture before cooking. When making biscuits, scones, crackers or cookies, I have to form individual servings. I can’t just pour them into molds. That would be the major difference aside from the difference in texture after cooking.

    "A biscuit goes soft when stale, a cake goes hard."*

    Where I live (the US) cakes have eggs added and are lighter(airier). Biscuits and scones do not have eggs, but our cookies sometimes do. And then we have biscotti which is a whole other thing for us.**

    For you all in the UK, it’s tea ‘dunkablity’ after it’s cooked seems to be a factor.

    "bis·cuit (bĭs’kĭt) pronunciation
    n., pl. -cuits.
    1. A small cake of shortened bread leavened with baking powder or soda.
    2. Chiefly British.
    1. A thin, crisp cracker.
    2. A cookie."***

    "cake (kāk) pronunciation
    1. A sweet baked food made of flour, liquid, eggs, and other ingredients, such as raising agents and flavorings.
    2. A flat rounded mass of dough or batter, such as a pancake that is baked or fried.
    3. A flat rounded mass of hashed or chopped food that is baked or fried; a patty."****

    I think a chemist is needed to truly answer this question properlly.

  2. jobby says:


  3. Harri B says:

    I think cakes should be soft and raised, biscuits are thin and crunchy!

  4. Sir Alan says:

    So wot’s a Jaffa Cake then?

  5. Jeff O1 says:

    Have you tried dipping cake in tea?
    thats why biscuits have to be harder.

  6. ♥Golden gal♥ says:

    There is no levelening in biscuit! Biscuits have no eggs. eggs will add to the rising of a cake along with baking power.
    Bisciuts have baking powders also but with out the eggs it will not rise as much as a cake will and it will not get the soft texture of a cake.

  7. Kit says:

    well i thought the difference was that cakes go hard when left out and biscuits go soft when left out, so despite the fact that jaffa cakes are usually down the biscuit isle they are actually a cake lol at least thats what i understood it to be

  8. Listel says:

    Biscuit originates from French for Bis Cuit, meaning twice cooked, so it would dry up and can be stored for longer period of time.

    Everything else is just "job justification" from the EEC.

  9. Clarity says:

    In the US a biscuit is a heavier, more dense, less sweet, miniature, cake that is actually more savory than sweet.

    The British (if I am not mistaken) refer to biscuits as to what Americans would call a cookie (a miniature cake that is not as light an fluffy)

    Cakes (on the other hand) are normally large enough to feed a small crowd, sweet, and light.

  10. Piglet says:

    Depends where you live, as Miss Know Nada shows… She regards a "biscuit" as something akin to a scone…

    But a biscuit/cookie is a reasonably hard, crunchy item with little or no raising agent or eggs and usually made in a small one or two-bite portion. You can dunk biscuits in tea, but not cake… A cake is soft, usually with raising agent and normally made with eggs. Although it can be of any size, you cannot normally "dunk" cake!

    I have reason to believe that the lobby for "teacakes" (which include such national treasures as Jaffa cakes and Munchmallows) has been decided under great pressure (especially with Tesco adding their financial clout) with the SHELF LIFE being the deciding issue, rather than the content or anything else!

  11. Gareth W says:

    I can tell you the answer to this…..

    When a cake goes off, it goes hard..and when a bicuit goes off it goes soft.

  12. fiddler says:

    Damnation.Meddling teabags.More food price increase.

  13. Kaapikad says:

    Cakes have egg and rising agents while biscuits need to be more crisp .The dough for the cake is thicker and the biscuit dough is thinner to give crispiness .

    Strange though question says ‘culinary’ diff answers like ‘cake gets harder n biscuit softer as days go by ‘ are present .

  14. fairy says:

    lol what about jaffa cakes? are they biscuits or cakes? umm, well they are placed on the biscuit isle in the supermarkets, should they be sued too?

  15. xxxin_love_girlxxx says:

    I really don’t know , i wish i did but I’m going to take a wild guess

    cakes have a hint more flour than biscuits and the fact that they use carbohydrates and i mean lots to get that scrumptious taste and biscuits….

  16. swordof_vermillion says:

    A fresh biscuit is hard but goes soft when stale…..a fresh cake is soft but goes hard when stale………the study on Jaffa Cakes proved this theory when the company who make them insisted they were, as the name implies, cakes. Despite this, most if not all, supermarkets still insist on having Jaffa cakes on the shelves down the biscuit aisle.
    The biscuit base of teacakes {biscuit base, thin layer of red jam, marshmallow & covered in milk chocolate}….must have gone soft when left out to go stale!

  17. JayBee says:

    ooooo – its coming back to the Jaffacake debate again isn’t it!

    I reckon we need to focus on the definition of what a Jaffacake is to really enable society to accurately classify what makes a biscuit a biscuit and vice versa.
    – i’ll get on the case straight away, taste testing firstly I reckon is the best bet 😉

    Very interesting story though!

  18. johntalka says:

    the difference is 3.5 million

  19. Alison O says:

    When cake is stale, it goes dry and hard. When a biscuit is stale, it goes soft. The word biscuit means twice (bi) cooked (cuit – cooked in French).

  20. Steve K says:

    Cakes go hard when stale, biscuits go soft.

  21. tobasco says:

    A cake will go hard if left unwrapped
    A biscuit will go soft

  22. Analki says:

    A biscuit goes soft when it gets stale,
    Whereas a cake gets hard when it goes stale

  23. bittersmiles2003 says:

    a cake goes hard once its old
    a biscuit goes soft when its old

    as seen in the case where jaffacakes proved its clam; that they are in fact cakes and not biscuit.

    hope that helps.

  24. SS says:

    are hard
    dip them in tea
    go soft if left outside the pack after a few days

    are soft
    cannot dip them tea
    go hard if left uncovered after a few days

  25. iaburchell says:

    A biscuit is what you dunk in your tea and a cake is made from a sponge mix

  26. gillespiebkk says:

    A cake is like a man (goes hard when unwrapped).

    A biscuit is like a woman (goes soft when unwrapped).

  27. Turbo says:

    A biscuit goes soft when it is stale, and a cake goes hard!

  28. Jon R says:

    Many have it correct,a biscuit goes soft when stale where as a cake goes hard.

    The Jaffa cake answer is this.It IS a real cake (even though its eaten as a biscuit).This was actually proved when McVities i believe went to court challenging the tax people because inland revenue classified it as a biscuit .A normal biscuit is deemed a food but a chocolate covered biscuit is in fact classified as a luxury item and thus taxed higher on ingredients . McVities baked a one off cake size jaffa cake and left it with the inland revenue who after a few days backed down as it had gone hard when stale,thus classifying it as a cake!

  29. M O says:

    Not sure about cooking terms but when a biscuit is stale it goes soft and when a cake is stale it goes hard.

  30. SARAH F says:

    If it is a biscuit and it goes out of date it goes soft. If it is a cake and it goes out of date it goes hard.

  31. blondie..x says:

    Cakes go hard after a while whereas biscuits go soft after time; so basically they are the same except they swap textures after time.

  32. Brian T says:

    This is as old as the chicken and the egg quandry. Does it matter really, and why are we brits paying VAT on cakes?

  33. brettdoolands9 says:

    from watching QI on television, they spoke about this very subject. Apparantly the answer revolves around what happens when it goes stale. A biscuit goes soft whereas a cake goes hard. So someone with to much time on their hands is going to have do an experiment with an M&S teacake!

  34. onyx blackstone says:

    Simple: Cakes rise, Biscuits don’t.

  35. michael b says:

    It’s all to do with the relative moisture content. A biscuit will go soft (absorb moisture) if left in the open where as a cake will go hard ( lose moisture). e.g. a jaffa cake( something there is a lot of debate about) is definitely a cake as the sponge goes hard.

  36. Sophie says:

    Don’t you think they could make a case for a tea cake being a sweet?! It’s 80% marshmallow and marshmallows were sweets last time I checked!

  37. Stephen J says:

    a cake starts of soft then goes hard and a biscuit starts hard then goes soft

  38. georgieXcore says:

    The easiest way to differentiate between a cake and a biscuit is what they are like when they are stale.
    Cakes go hard and crispy, whilst biscuits go soft and floppy.

    (That’s also how you answer the age old question of whether a Jaffa Cake is a cake or a biscuit!)

  39. Gary H says:

    No difference in cooking terms, the difference is in the way they go stale. Biscuits go soft when they go stale, cakes go hard.
    Basically biscuits absorb water from the air, cakes lose it.

    See, easy answer………………piece of cake

  40. Lady_Rachelina says:

    This issue was on QI some while ago.

    The difference is that biscuits go soft when they go off and cakes go hard when they go off. This was the official difference between the two.

    The Jaffa cake, was defined as a cake because it went hard when it went off. They baked a huge one to demonstrate when this issue came about.

    In answer to the Marks and Spencer teacake. I don’t know, I don’t really like them much anyway. I expect the "cake" aspect would be assessed by the bottom of the cake. If it goes hard when it has gone off, it’s a cake.

  41. bullocj_uk says:

    According to QI cakes are soft and go hard when stale , biscuits are hard and go soft when stale. Biscotto means ‘twice-cooked(baked) ‘ and biscuits are baked twice, cakes are only baked once normally. There was a similar case over Jaffa Cakes and they were deemed to be cakes in the end, I think.

  42. rachael n says:

    when a biscuit gets old, it goes soft
    when a cake goes old, it goes hard!

  43. Belle says:

    The general rue of thumb is that a cake goes hard when exposed to the open air too long, where as biscuits go soft/soggy…

  44. Richard H says:

    The courts ruled on the Jaffa Cake in a similar case and that is where the definition comes from, as some people have already stated, biscuits go soft when stale and cakes go hard. McVitees went to court to get out of paying the VAT on their Jaffa Cakes years back.

  45. Bill d says:

    31/2 million M&s didnt pay that the consumer did how much are the getting back

  46. D.W says:

    it all goes back to when Jaffa cakes won the right to be able to claim back VAT.

    From memory, the said object is classified to be cake or biscuit by the % chocolate is contains (by VAT purposes)

  47. Mrs Bertie says:

    A cake goes hard when it goes stale, and a biscuit goes soft! Simple!

  48. Tristen B says:

    Yes very simple!

    With Age:

    – Biscuits go soft
    – Cakes go hard

    Think of Jaffa cakes – they go hard and crumbly. choccy digestive on the other hand goes really soft.

  49. Richard F says:

    Jaffa cakes had a similar problem a few years ago. They are cakes because they are soft when fresh and hard when stale. I think the same applies to tea-cakes.A bisuit is hard when fresh (it gets it’s name from being ‘baked twice’) and becomes soft when stale.

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