When I was growing up in the 1950s, a Chocolate Ripple Cake was a special treat. Rich, gooey and chocolatey, it wasn’t exactly a health food. The cake was already a couple of decades old by then. The earliest recipes I can find were in 1933, and in 1934 Chocolate Ripples were still being referred to in advertising as a “new biscuit line”. So I think it’s pretty safe to nominate 1933 as the biscuits’ launch date.
Until Arnott’s became ubiquitous, Australians used to be a lot more parochial about their biscuits. Brockhoff’s Biscuits Pty Ltd, founded in 1880, became Victoria’s largest biscuit company and their products enjoyed their greatest success in their home market. This continued even after the merger with Arnott’s in the early 1960s.
In the mid-1970s, when I was living in London, I asked a friend visiting from Australia to bring me a few staples for an Aussie-themed dinner I was planning. Among my requests was a packet of Chocolate Ripple biscuits. But he lived in Sydney. Apparently, he couldn’t find them on the local shelves. I concluded that Victoria was Chocolate Ripple Cake heartland and had to be content with making my own chocolate biscuits to construct the cake.
It’s not clear who invented the original recipe (perhaps Brockhoff’s themselves), but in July 1933 The Argus published two, virtually identical versions. The first, supplied by “Enseetee” (Melbourne) read:
Half a pint of cream, 20 chocolate ripple biscuits (stocked by most grocers), chopped nuts for decorating. Whip the cream fairly stiffly and sweeten. Make the biscuits into a roll by putting a teaspoonful of cream between each and pressing together. Cover roll with more cream, and sprinkle with chopped nuts. Put in an ice-chest for three hours, or if that is not possible make twelve hours before needed and put in a cool place. This also makes a nice individual sweet for Sunday supper, by putting three biscuits on top of each other and treating the same way.
The second version, from “East Malvern”, added powdered gelatine to the cream and instructed that the log be built vertically, then carefully turned to be horizontal. Other recipes from the 1930s suggested that the biscuits be dipped in sherry before being sandwiched together.
It’s notable that some early recipes called for half a pound of biscuits – recalling a time when biscuits were measured out by the grocer from big square tins. They were also available in packets, selling for around ninepence (9 cents) in 1938.
Chocolate Ripple biscuits are now made by Arnott’s so we can assume that the cake is no longer a Victorian specialty. It remains popular today and has infinite variations, including the Bailey’s Chocolate Ripple Cake, the Christmas Chocolate Ripple Cake and the Espresso Chocolate Ripple Cake.