Iconic British Things No.11: Jaffa Cakes

For some reason, the world of flat, round, sweet confections that can be eaten with a glass of milk or a hot beverage is a hotbed of cultural difference all over the world. Even the terminology is askew. The thing on four wheels in your driveway? That’s a car. The thing you use to boil water? That’s a kettle. The sweet flat discs in the jar? Well that’s more complicated. Americans call them cookies, and the British call them biscuits. There are biscuits in America but they’re not the same thing at all. Similarly, we do call certain biscuits cookies, when they look like the sort of chocolate chip discus that the Cookie Monster might eat, but these are a subset of the larger group called biscuits. Got that?

Then there are Jaffa Cakes. They might look just like cookies or biscuits, but they are definitely very small cakes. There was even a court case on the topic, as biscuits are classed as luxury items in the UK, and therefore subject to a higher rate of tax than cakes. McVities, the company that makes Jaffa Cakes, were able to successfully argue that while biscuits become softer as they go stale,  cakes become harder, and as the sponge undercarriage of a Jaffa Cake most definitely hardens with time, they are legally cakes.

The anatomy of a Jaffa Cake is as follows: sponge bottom, chocolate top, with a flat layer of orange jelly in the centre. That’s it. It’s very simple, but devilishly tasty, and so Jaffa Cakes have been a British and Irish household staple since the late 1920s. But they are not, and never have been biscuits. Or cookies.

Also, they’re not just delicious, they can be used to form works of art. Can I introduce you to the peculiar mind of Dominic Wilcox? He made these out of Jaffa Cakes and his mouth:

For more of Dominic’s works of astonishment, have a shufty at his website.

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser is a British writer, broadcaster and the the author of the book Stuff Brits Like. He is Anglophenia's resident Brit blogger, having written BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog, the Top of the Pops website, and for NME, the Guardian and elsewhere. Favorite topics include slang, Doctor Who and cramming as much music into Anglophenia as he can manage. He invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic
View all posts by Fraser McAlpine.