Cake? Biscuit? Something delicious in-between? And what does a port city in Israel have to do with any of this?
McVitie's Jaffa Cakes have been described as "irresistibly orangey," and "very simple, but devilishly tasty." They are little snacks (exactly 55 mm in diameter) composed of three layers: spongy cake, orange jelly, and a smooth chocolate coating. After doing a bit of research on the topic, my tongue is primed to try one of these...um...these...
What are they exactly?
At first glance they look like regular biscuits, and they're sold in a package like biscuits, and their chocolate coating bears suspicious resemblance to the coating of a McVitie's chocolate digestive. And yet they're called cakes. Believe it or not, this is no small matter in the world of confectionery--there was a law suit over the precise definition.
The whole kerfuffle began with the VAT tax. The UK government does not apply VAT to cakes, but it does to biscuits, so a few years ago McVitie's had to prove that these orange treats were actually cakes, or they would be forced to raise their prices, perhaps bring down factory production, lay off desperate workers, deny poor starving children of their favorite dessert...it was a dire predicament.
In the end, McVitie's was not forced to deprive any urchins thanks to two brilliant arguments. One was the objective fact that biscuits become softer as they age whilst cakes become rock hard if left out in the fresh air. A Jaffa Cake goes hard, ergo it is technically a cake. The other convincing proof was a giant Jaffa Cake (see one on video here), with the larger scale demonstrating that these are definitely cakes and not biscuits. I wonder if the jury got to eat the cake afterwards....
So now that we've got that sorted, what's stopping us from taking a bite? Americans may find it difficult to find Jaffa Cakes at the local grocery store, but what they might find is the very similar LU Pim's European Biscuits, which come in orange or raspberry (Jaffa cakes have also come in some flavor variations in the past, including lemon-lime, strawberry, and blackcurrant). If you can't find those, why not make your own? There's a recipe for homemade Jaffa cakes here.
One last thing, what is a "Jaffa"? Well the cakes are actually named after Jaffa oranges, which are sweet, almost seedless oranges native to the city of Jaffa in Israel (now part of Tel Aviv). Non-Brits may be wondering how to pronounce this name. I'm not sure how the Israelis say it, but I've heard the English pronounce it JAF-uh.
Before you go, you'd better watch Furious Pete consume the world record number of Jaffa Cakes in one minute, and also check out what the brilliant Dominic Wilcox has done with Jaffa Cakes using only his teeth and a little ingenuity.