Column Sept 15 2010: Snacks – The Final Frontier

I HAVE recently become concerned that we’ve gone a bit mad, with regard to treats you might have with a cup of tea.

It started with the chocolate-chip cookie. When I was a boy, a cookie was something eaten by a blue furry monster, or it was a small, incredibly hard, wrinkly biscuit dotted with a small number of chocolate-flavoured chips and maybe the odd shard of hazelnut if one was lucky.

But now a cookie is an object roughly the size of a frisbee, which could do with another 10 minutes in the oven, and is filled with lumps of chocolate equivalent in volume to a broken bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk.

And that’s just an ordinary chocolate-chip cookie. There are double-chocolate cookies, with chocolate dough, triple-chocolate, with a coating of chocolate. At this point the cookie is essentially all chocolate, with homeopathic quantities of cookie crumb.

I don’t know what a quadruple chocolate-chip cookie would be. The only way they could get more chocolate into the cookie is if they started to expand into other dimensions.

Tesco is supposedly working on the concept along with Costa as a back-up plan for when there is no more room on earth for them to open shops.

But if cookies were in the vanguard, the cupcake smashed down the gates to the citadel. I remember when a cupcake was known as a fairy cake, a tiny confection with a scant speck of icing around the size of a 10p piece on top.

Now cupcakes are Incredible Hulks of sponge, atop which rests a pink whipped glob of butter and sugar around the size of K2.

I’m not even sure cupcakes are designed for human consumption. I see them everywhere, but I’ve never seen a woman eat them. Perhaps they feel guilty and only eat them behind closed doors, with the aid of a ladder and chainsaw.

And when the likes of me complained that cupcakes were so vast that they were starting to bend space-time to make it appear that The X-Factor was on telly for five months of the year, the confectioner’s solution was to say: “Oh, yes. It does look a bit unbalanced. I know, we’ll shove another Hulk’s worth of sponge on the top and call it a whoopie pie.”

It’s just too much excitement. When I was a child, the most fun I could expect with my cup of tea was a ginger nut or bourbon, maybe a fruit shortcake.

Occasionally, as a special treat, I might even get my hands on the king of biscuits, the Jaffa Cake.

Yes, I’m calling it a biscuit. I don’t really want to get embroiled in the Jaffa Cake “cake or biscuit” controversy. But, as far as I am concerned, Jaffa Cakes are biscuits in the same way as friends of your mum were known as Auntie Dot or Auntie Pat, even though they were not your relatives.

They sit on the plate next to the ginger nuts and the bourbons and are therefore biscuits-by-association.

No, dammit, I will go further. Imagine you are visiting a dear and close friend. “Nice cup of tea?” she asks, and she disappears into the kitchen. You hear the click and hiss of the kettle.

Then, she sticks her head around the door. “Ooh, and I’ve got you a cake.” You sit there waiting, rubbing your hands together with glee. This, I would contend, is the life.

Then in she walks with the tea tray. She sets it down in front of you, hands you your tea and a plate upon which rests . . . a Jaffa Cake. Imagine that gut punch. THAT is why a Jaffa Cake is not a cake, no matter what the manufacturers or the gnomes of Brussels say.

And the solution to that sort of disappointment is to lower your expectations, not to reinvent the Jaffa Cake as a bed made of sponge with a mattress of orange jelly and a chocolate duvet. That’s just how the cookie crumbles.