80s Food Week: British Edition Jaffa Cakes
To generations of Jaffa Cake fanatics, they are a mouthful of heaven; the perfect tea companion. They have legions of Pinterest followers posting their own homemade versions and so help you to suggest anything less than eating the whole box. Not technically cakes but soft biscuits a little bigger in circumference than an Oreo (I’m going to be hunted down soon for daring to type Oreo and Jaffa Cake in the same post but that’s a hazzard of my job I accept in the interest of bringing the truth to the people) and covered with a dollop of orange marmalade covered in chocolate, McVities (of digestive biscuits fame) named their crack-like bites of addiction Jaffa Cakes after the Jaffa Orange.
Okay, let me clarify for the sake of the purists: there are 3 layers to a Jaffa Cake: a genoise sponge base, a layer of orange-flavoured jelly, and a chocolate coating. Strangely, McVities never trademarked the name so you can find other non-McVities varieties on store shelves. There have been variants found in strawberry flavour, lemon-and-lime, blackberry and a bar version as well as Halloween cakes. And incidentally, the Jaffa Orange is also called the Shamouti Orange, a very sweet, nearly seedless orange developed by Arab farmers and has a very colourful history.
Now is a Jaffa Cake a cake or a biscuit? This a ‘how-many-licks’ question it would seem, controversial enough to have landed McVities in court in the early 90s. In the UK where snack classification as a biscuit means you would have to pay the Value Added Tax (VAT) to purchase, classification as a cake food sneaks on by tax-free. McVities claimed that their cakes were cakes and should not be subject. Legend has it that they even baked a gargantuan Jaffa Cake to prove the point. Apparently this did the trick – the government agrees they are cakes and no VAT is applied to sales in the UK.
Jaffa Cakes are still very much a part of British snacktime with mini cakes being introduced in 1994 to cater to the brown-bagging-it market. Taking 18 min per cake to make, the production factory spans 10 acres. Last year in 2013, a big cake called “the Big One” was sold in select stores but tanked- apparently you can’t cram that much Jaffa Cake in at one time and as one fan reports, he got 2 regular size cakes in but then couldn’t chew.
Did you know? The workers at the production plant for Jaffa Cakes are permitted to eat as many as they want. I’m not sure how anyone managed to walk out of work again seeing that 1 billion cakes are eaten every year, but sign me up!