GRUB!: Chocolate Tiffin Cake

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Time for some more food, in the form of tasty make-at-home treats.  Our last foray into the kitchen was to whip up a batch of flapjacks, some of which are still languishing in my freezer five months later. (Note: this is NOT because the flapjacks were inedible.  Au contraire!  It's just because I wisely tucked them away in the freezer to prevent myself from eating the entire batch in two days.  And out of sight... well, you know the rest.)  This time, it's Tiffin Bars. Also variously known as Chocolate Tiffin, or Chocolate Tiffin Cake.  Like flapjacks, Tiffin Bars also fall squarely into the category of er... squares, and have the advantage of not requiring baking, which is handy indeed, especially if you're still trying to work out the symbols on the oven dial.  Tiffin Bars are a chocolatey, crunchy sort of a thing, with the added bonus of raisins and chocolate topping.  You're going to love them, unless you're one of those freakish people who doesn't like chocolate or raisins, in which case you probably also don't like puppies or rainbows or nice cups of tea or fuzzy socks and you should just leave now.

First things first: I have no idea why they're called "tiffin" anything, and they seem to have no relationship with the stackable Indian food containers.  Wikipedia goes on a bit about tiffin being a light lunch or snack, with the term originating in India under British rule, but again, I have no idea how this relates to the confection.

tiffin boxes
NOT Tiffin Bars.  Though they could certainly contain Tiffin Bars, which would be kind of cool. 

(On a totally unrelated but fascinating note:  Check out this Wikipedia article about the dabbawalas in Mumbai, who are, essentially, tiffin delivery men.  They fetch full tiffin boxes from the homes of workers all over Mumbai and deliver them to people in their offices in time for lunch, and then deliver the empties back to the workers' homes in the afternoon.  It's amazing.

But back to tiffin bars.  I've never seen them outside the UK, so I feel justified in including them here.  Also, they are yummy.  And they consist largely of a very very British thing: the Rich Tea biscuit.  Rich Tea biscuits present a real paradox.  They are, in fact, the dullest biscuits imaginable, so how did they ever end up being described them as "rich"?

See what I mean?  They don't exactly set the biscuit world on fire with their indulgent deliciousness.

I could go on and on about rich tea biscuits, but I think I'll leave that to the experts.  Here's an excerpt from the now-defunct blog A Nice Cup Of Tea And A Sit Down, which was dedicated to all things biscuit.
The Rich Tea presents us straight away with a paradox. If these are 'Rich' tea, where are 'Poor' tea biscuits and what on earth do they taste like? Well they would have to be fairly ropey old affairs because the Rich Tea itself is not exactly a self contained one biscuit flavour festival. What flavour it does manage to achieve comes from the various sugars in the recipe, sucrose, maltose and some glucose plus a little bit of salt...

There are attempts at turning Rich Teas into something more palatable, covering them in chocolate or sticking some sort of cream up the middle, but it's all a bit hopeless really. So what are they good for? Dunking of course. The Rich tea can drive even the staunchest anti-dunker to dunk. The Rich Tea then comes into its own, convincing you that you have done the right thing by giving the eater the reward of sloppy hot Rich Tea, which is actually better than what you started with.

What else are Rich teas for? Humility. Through Rich Tea biscuits we learn that not all biscuits have been blessed with a fantastic taste, and that there is space in this world for dry bland biscuits that you can dunk in tea.
I couldn't have said it better myself.  Rich Teas may be dull beyond belief (imagine a bland arrowroot cookie sort of thing), but they do make an excellent base for Tiffin Bars.  What else goes into Tiffin Bars? I'm glad you asked, because I took a carefully stage photo for just this occasion:

The Golden Syrup is back, along with cocoa powder, butter, raisins and a whole lotta chocolate for the topping.

And now for the recipe.  Note: this recipe includes metric measurements and weights, because I'm gradually getting all metric-ified with cooking.  Also, I now have access to a nice little digital scale in the kitchen.  This is because my housemate Paul, who previously only ventured into the kitchen to microwave something that came frozen in a black plastic dish, or to get a plate for his pizza delivery, has recently undergone a total cooking transformation.  He now owns (and shares) the aforementioned digital scales, and a meat thermometer, and a cast iron griddle pan, and a cupboard of herbs and spices AND two different cookbooks, including one by Heston Blumenthal. He also admitted that he has looked into the cost of a sous vide cooker. This is roughly the culinary equivalent of going from driving a tricycle to piloting the space shuttle.  Way to go Paul!

Paul's scale, and other good things.

Chocolate Tiffin Bars, adapted from a recipe at


110g (4 oz) butter (half a cup?)
2 tablespoons white sugar
3 tablespoons golden syrup, 1 reserved (Again, I caution you: coat the spoon and yourself with a bit of oil before you open the golden syrup tin)
4 teaspoons cocoa powder
225g (8 oz) Rich Tea biscuits, crushed (This is exactly 26 regulation-sized Rich Tea biscuits.)
1 cup raisins
250 grams chocolate divided between dark, milk and white. (That's about 3 large bars, don't scrimp!  You could probably substitute chocolate chips here, but don't get me started on the availability of chocolate chips over here again...)

  1. In a saucepan, melt the butter, sugar, syrup and cocoa over medium heat, stirring when it seems appropriate.
  2. Put the Rich Tea biscuits into a large ziploc bag (or other bag) and crush them until the pieces are, on average, about the size of a large pea.  Some will be bigger, and some will be dust.  That's all good.
  3. Add the biscuits and raisins to the saucepan when everything is melted. Stir to combine. 
  4. At this point I decided that everything was a bit to dry and crumbly to hold together, so I struck out on my own and boldly added a bit more golden syrup.  (It's a genetic thing.  I think my mother has never met a recipe she didn't "improve".)  So: stir in the last tablespoon of golden syrup.
  5. Pour the mixture into an 8x8 cake pan lined with foil or parchment paper and press it all down.
  6. Melt the different chocolates individually and swirl them together over the mixture in the pan to create a pleasing and tasty marbled effect.
  7. Put the pan in the fridge and leave for about 1 hour to set. 
  8. To serve cut into about 20 pieces.

The completed yummy Tiffin Bars

And that's all I've got for you tonight.  Frankly, I'm a bit surprised I found the time and energy to make anything today, let alone photograph and blog the whole business too.  Work in getting busier and busier and I honestly just felt like vegetating all night.  However, I'm glad I didn't.  Not as glad, though, as I am to be going to bed.  Right now.


Karen said...

Those look delicious! I may even try making those sometime.

Nice photos - you could consider starting a cooking blog now.

PS: Dunking biscuits are the best. Love them. And Rich Tea Biscuits have always been a personal fav....with no chocolate or cream
'up their middle'.

Phonella said...

Interesting post Pam, the addition of raisins in your tiffins made me smile because I've always enjoyed raisins in brownies and everyone else thought I was nuts :)

MumbaiTiffins said...

Nice. Thanks for sharing.

Mumbai Tiffins -

Anonymous said...

Look Pam, you've got fans in Mumbai! (I'll probably have to edit that later, so as not to look like a fool after you've deleted it.) Anyway, glad to pop in and see you're still doing well. Easter in the North is still calling... there are a few places open. Nigel+Margaret

Kathryn said...

I was quite giddy when I saw this post - those Bars looked so yummy. Then I read about the dreaded raisins. Hmmm - wondering if you can substitute something else? (And by the way - I DO like puppies and rainbows!!)

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